So, two more weeks without daycare or school for all of us non-essential workers…or maybe more.

Now, I not only work from my home during this COVID-19 crisis and while New York is on PAUSE, but all the time. I am a freelance writer, so my office is literally where ever I am with my Chromebook and a WI-FI connection.

Before it was drive-thru only, I often called Starbucks my office. Sigh. Those were the days.

When did I call Starbucks my office you may ask? Well, when my four-year-old was in preschool of course. Because when she isn’t, I am a work at home writer/stay at home mom. Let me tell you that I remember now why I didn’t write steadily until the munchkin went to preschool. Because children are black holes of your time.

Don’t get me wrong, kids are rewarding and overall great, but they take away your ability to function or do anything that does not revolve around them. And now, in the COVID-19 era, they are around All. The. Time. Add in my wife also working from home and you have days that feel like weeks, weeks that feel like months and – well, you get the idea.

Talking to other parents in similar situations to mine, I know we aren’t alone.

And teachers? Teachers, especially early education teachers, are not given enough credit. My sanity would be gone if I did their job. They are heroes, all of them. From those who help to ready kids my daughter’s age for learning to college professors. Love them, miss them, can’t wait for them to be back.

I used to think I was a patient person. Now I understand there are people out there who have more patience in their pinkies than normal people have in their entire family – and they are teachers.

So my daughter, who gets these marvelous reports from her preschool teachers and cooperates with them, does her work, knows her numbers and letters, etc. has turned from that reportedly lovely four-year-old to a sulky tweenager. She is unable (re: unwilling) to do any work without hours of negotiation and playing real hardball.

When did this become my life? I have been reduced to negotiating with my child to trace the letter B on a sheet of paper. I just…okay. I guess this is my life now. I used to be somebody by the way.

I know many parents are in this boat and are even closer to the breaking point. At least my daughter and I have some kind of a routine established. She’s used to me working at home. People who are trying to adjust to this new world with everyone home at once all of a sudden….well, just keep breathing. It has to end some day.

One of the most important things we parents need to do right now is to manage our news intake and our out loud catastrophic thinking.

Remember that children are always listening, even if they seem obliviously plugged in to one screen or another. If we are constantly getting updated on the COVID-19 crisis and stressing out, then so will they. If we start worrying out loud, going to worst-case scenarios, they are likely to overhear it and react in kind.

Being conscious of that and having a certain time of day and place to update yourself and have your private freakouts is something we do normally in parenting, so we should try to be very mindful of doing the same right now. Kids are more hyperaware that things are weird and different at the moment, and we need to be doing all we can to minimize the stress on them.

The second thing to do with your kids, of any age, is to keep a schedule. Everyone can actually benefit from this. But for kids – from preschool to college – having a predictable routine is particularly important.

Luckily for us, the schools in the region have their guidance and plans, many of which can be found on the state Education Department’s website.

Schooling can’t be the only answer though. Especially for those of us who have pre-school kids. There are only so many hours a day I can have my girl go over her ABCs, numbers and the days of the week. I mean, in my case, she has also decided she is using this time to practice her master negotiation skills so she can be a lawyer or maybe even a hostage negotiator. Here are some ideas for parents of less argumentative children:

  1. Cook with them – I don’t know why, but in my experience kids from a young age up love to cook. My daughter does (after a hefty negotiation involving what to cook, what flavor, what kind of icing, and who will do what job – you think I am kidding, but everything to her is just the beginning of opening contract discussions). Stick to baking unless you want to lose your mind. I have found it useful to be able to plan it out maybe the night before and pre-measure ingredients when I can, to save on a huge mess and make sure that you keep the process moving. Even if you don’t have a chance to do that, cooking or baking with your kiddos can be a lot of fun, and delicious.
  2. Crafting Time – Almost all of us have things in our home available to craft with our children. This can be placemats for the table, rainbows for the 518 Rainbow Hunt, cards or pictures for people in hospitals, nursing homes and yes even jails who currently can’t have visitors, anything here. It’s fun! They can do it alone or you can do it with them. If you are craftier than I am and have more interesting or concrete ideas, let me know in the comments.
  3. Science – Yes, do science with your kids. Obviously, you aren’t a chemist or biology teacher (unless of course, you are) but even if you were one of those who barely squeaked by after Earth Science, there are a lot of fun things to do. From soda and mentos to dissolving eggshells, this site has a lot of awesome experiments to try with things around the house.
  4. Scavenger Hunts – Just because you can’t go out, doesn’t mean you can’t have a scavenger hunt. Hid something and then makeup clues for your kids to search the house and yard (weather permitting) to find. It is a great way to keep them off of screens, active and even maybe away from you doing an important work call. If you want to be sneaky, make it so that to find some clues they might have to clean a particularly disastrous area of their rooms…
  5. Theme Days – Make one day Pirate Day or one Alien Day. Play into what your kids like and have them come up with creative costumes and activities to do that will play into the day’s theme.

Those are some things I have found as a stay-at-home mom in general that gives me time to do some work things and keep my daughter happy. The longer we go without school, the more we will have to come up with new things. My daughter has had FaceTime playdates with her friends, and they have even played instruments together or read and watched a show together on these virtual hangouts. She has “written” to her grandparents in her four-year-old language.

Making sure to keep the kids busy and happy will seem like another full-time job on top of your full-time job, but hopefully one of these suggestions helps renew your bag of tricks that the kids are getting sick of.

If you have any activities to share, please let us know!

As I get ready to go I also have to say – while it would be a mistake to let the entire PAUSE period be screen time, if you need to use more screen time than normal because of the extreme situation we are in, it is okay. If you need quiet for work, and there is no other option, you need quiet for work – do what you have to.

Survival is the name of the game while we are all trapped together for incredibly long periods. Be easy on yourself. We can worry about normal later.