As Governor DeWine announced that Ohio schools would be closed for a duration of three weeks, I sat in my home office, mouth agape.
I’ve worked from home since late 2006. I’ve endured the housing bubble crisis as a freelancer, H1N1—which I caught along with my youngest son, and too many mass shootings, natural disasters, and other crises to count. When I worked for an online media company, I covered many of these issues.
Yesterday, as our governor spoke to the realities of the COVID-19 crisis in our state and nation, I felt uneasy about the health of my family and my ability to adequately work from home for the first time in over a decade.
I originally worked in the broadcast newsroom. I enjoyed what I did, but the realities of the 24/7 news cycle didn’t mesh well with the realities of the 24/7, or more specifically, 24-on, 48-off, always on-call aspect of the firefighter life. Firefighting was my husband’s dream and life goal, and I knew I could take my passions in a variety of directions while working from home. So I did.
I went back to work just a week after our youngest son was born. There’s no maternity leave when you’re a freelance writer and editor. I knew that to make ends meet, I needed to work. And I did.
I now work a full-time, W2 style job that just happens to allow remote work. I am the luckiest among Ohioans, and specifically among Ohio firefighter wives, in that I don’t have to scramble to find childcare that will help us every third day while I work. It does mean, however, that I have to figure out how to survive the next three weeks of full-time work at home with children.
Yes, they’re a tween and a teen. Yes, they can make themselves lunch. Yes, they even do laundry and vacuum floors and clean their own messes and rooms.
But, here’s the hitch: I like spending time with them.
When you read all of the advice on the Internet right now, parents are being told to “enjoy this time with your kids.” Do more with them! Read! Play games! Do all the things you don’t usually have time to do!
In rolls the guilt.
Because I’m still going to be tied to my home office and computer and Zoom meetings from 9-5, if not earlier and later, Monday through Friday, for the next three weeks and on into eternity. They’re going to wander into my office, even when the door is closed, simply because they want to spend time with me. Sometimes I’ll be able to take a short break, play a hand of cards, laugh a joke, look at whatever meme they want to show me… and then I’ll have to get back to the task at hand.
I want to play endless games of Monopoly with them. I want to finish the 1000-piece puzzle that we started last month and can’t seem to finish due to a number of factors that include both our busy schedule and approximately 50 shades of green. I want to watch movies, some that we have and some that we haven’t gotten to yet. I want to shoot hoops, really badly, because not one of the four of us possesses a lick of basketball skill. I want to teach them to cook new things in the next three weeks. I want to listen to them practice their spring band concert music in the hopes that the concert will actually happen. I want to take walks and runs and bike rides. I want to spend absolutely every single second with them over the next three weeks.
But I can’t.
Do I have it easier than Ohio families who are scrambling to find childcare as they don’t have jobs that allow remote work? Yes, I do. Do I still wonder how we’re going to make it through the next three weeks with sanity and patience in tact? Yes. I do.
To boot, I don’t know what happens if or when one of us gets sick. We’re all relatively healthy, but I have some underlying issues that make me question how my body might respond to the illness. Additionally, even with a full-time job, sick time is a limited privilege. If I have to use my sick time to care for myself, what happens when the virus spreads within my family. How would I care for them if I had no time left?
These are the questions I pondered as I made a last trip out for dog food, Gatorade, and toilet bowl cleaner. The latter two were because, in order, first, I forgot to put it on the list and two of us are runners, and finally, we were simply out and you shouldn’t be out of toilet bowl cleaner. Ever. I don’t have the answers. I have an adequate but not hoarded amount of toilet paper. I have enough food for 2-3 weeks simply because I’ve been menu planning for two weeks at a time since 2006. I have enough alcohol to possibly burn off any virus if I maintain a buzz for three weeks, though that’s possibly not the most responsible way to approach the pandemic.
But I don’t know how to provide my children with brain-stimulating activities for three weeks while fulfilling all my job duties and running a household. I’ve already learned that I don’t possess enough algebra in my memory to help my teenager, let alone teach him. My tween is technically smarter than I am, though don’t tell him that, please. And, really, I need the wifi to do my job. While I’m good at setting boundaries, telling them that they can’t use the Internet between x-and-y time, even things that would keep them intellectually busy (Khan Academy, Google Classroom optional assignments, etc), take up bandwidth when I need to log-in to yet another virtual meeting.
In conclusion, this work-at-home-mom doesn’t have any answers for you as to how to handle the next three weeks with your kids at home. All I know is that 2020 is a weird one and, should we make it through this virus, we’re gonna have a story that our grandchildren (should we have them) won’t even believe. We are living some weird science fiction version of the future. Contagion remains the scariest movie ever.