Coronakids aka #workingfromhomewithkids

A diary from the WFH-while-homeschooling frontline, as told by OUI’s Fiona Story

Some of us will emerge fitter, fatter, alcoholic, divorced, with an additional immunity to something (maybe our families?), or worse. Some are predicting a baby boom around next Christmas creating a generation of “coronials”. But for those of us suddenly finding ourselves WFH (working from home) with kids, some will also emerge with varying reactions: a deeper bond with their kids, a true appreciation for the class teachers, less hair, no nails or shot nerves..…..

Bear with me, as we’re gonna take the “mumsnet” short cuts here… ds (darling son), dd (darling daughter) etc, so dh (darling husband) finally joins us at 7pm (I write better after sauvignon o’clock), beer in hand — Sol not Corona since you ask — watching the latest coronavirus humorous meme — planting toilet rolls — hohoho, and laughing with the kids. I’ll take any lighter moment and roll with it right now.

Week one, and I’ve signed up for the neighbourhood coronawatch scheme, written to my elderly neighbours offering support, figured out a daily elderly parent and relatives (here read dazed and confused with the onset of dementia) comms scheme with my sister, done a big Sainsbury’s shop (I was too late for any pasta) and so we’re all set with two kids at home doing online schooling, one parent (dh) valiantly trying to run and keep a company afloat, fundraising in a hair-raising economic climate and me, WFH with kids.

Then there comes an avalanche of emails from online retailers desperately (yes I do understand) trying to keep their businesses trading. They try to sound truly altruistic and sensitive, but Sweaty Betty (purveyor of lovely ladies sportswear), and the rest (Johnnie Boden) chill out. You’re offering me more Hygge and WHF “relaxed” glamour than I could ever wriggle into on the bestest, longest most friend-filled Instagramable Skandi/Ibiza yoga retreat ever. And I cannot compute. Yet. I’m sure somebody (WFH”WNK” — with no kids) wants it. Just not me. And 24hrs into lockdown, Sweaty Betty was the first to pivot their marketing sufficiently to offer me “Dressed to Zoom” in the hottest, trendiest, yummy-mummy does it all, high-tech, soft to touch lycra/bamboo “serenity culotte jumpsuit”. No enough already. Ain’t no serenity here. Before long, they have sufficiently pivoted to offer me “waist up” to Zoom, waist down to “chill”. I presume.

I cannot compute issues such as what to wear as it frankly doesn’t matter and, mainly because as this school closure loomed, my fears about having to home school my tricky eight year old son in particular, climbed exponentially — rather like one of Bojo’s advisers worst case pandemic graphs, and my brain is full. Then it happened — school closures were announced and parents were bombarded with (well intentioned) advice and free resources from every direction. We were told (by our fee paying schools admittedly) to stick to the timetable and they’d be fine as they already knew how to use Google classroom. Can you hear the (being polite) long exasperated sigh here from me? Absolutely not true. At least not for my ds (darling son, remember?). He requires constant supervision at the best of times. And I can tell that his teachers definitely haven’t got the hang of it. In the week before lockdown, dd, who came home with a gradual tsunami of textbooks, on the other hand, is doing just fine (as predicted) as she’s older and far more independent.

Day 1 and I see if I can make this working while schooling thing happen. Lots of IT faff, and ds does really well in the morning, but I don’t, constantly running from my laptop to his to try and keep him on track. There’s a practical and “fun” maths session, “estimating volume” involving vessels of all shapes and sizes from the kitchen cupboards and water goes everywhere. The tasks pile up and in the afternoon we’re sent a CDT assignment using old unwanted fabric. It’s just before a long con call, so I sprint around the house trying to find some old fabric but I fear we’ve been too ruthless with the donations to charity shops and eventually pull out some lovely new tartan (for a project I never got around to). I grab my sewing box, some glue, paper etc and sit him down with it, thinking he’ll be immersed, and quiet, for the next hour at least. He likes sewing. I start the call and he raids my sewing box. About ten minutes into the call he’s also found a hammer and starts riveting tartan fabric to the kitchen floor. I wave my arms around frantically, from behind the laptop, whispering loudly that he should try a different approach (I daren’t mute the mike and shout for some reason), but once he’s set his mind on a course of action there is no persuading him otherwise. It’s a long painful, exasperating hour and a half. At the end of the day, once I’ve tidied up the mess, again, and shared frustrations with a friend on the phone, I resolve to take a different approach tomorrow.

I had thought about taking the Bridget Jones’ Diary approach in this piece, adding my Sauvignon and Wotsits count at the end of each day (for the above count 1 bottle of Sauvignon and a 6 pack of Wotsits) but quite frankly the days are all blurring into one.

The house is getting trashed (and no cleaners now) and the kids have decided that this is a good time to start experimenting in the kitchen. Interesting morning break time snacks are stealthily constructed…. crackers, peanut butter, honey, redcurrant jelly and Nutella mixed up and put in the microwave. They’re quiet and hoping not to disturb me, but realise I’m quite disturbed when I discover the sticky mess created. Then they repeat this at lunchtime. I know, yes it’s great in a way, they’re learning about food preparation (home economics right?), but they each make something different at different times, while I’m on a call, and I discover more mess when I eventually stick my head around the corner. Another sticky experiment has been “hidden” in the freezer. Chocolate and chutney slime has freeze welded a bowl to a pizza box.

There are electronic devices, cables, schoolbooks and pencil sharpenings everywhere. One break time approaches and ds eagerly asks if we can make smoothies. Well, a great idea in principle, nice and healthy but not just yet as I’d rather avoid having to clear up another sticky mess. Another protracted negotiation ensues. The weather, thankfully, is great right now so the kids head out into the garden, phew, I might get some peace, but as I raise my head from the laptop to check on them I see ds stick a broom handle into the spokes of dd’s bike wheels as she cycles past. She’s OK, but righteous indignation and shouting follows, and I realise that I might have to monitor break times too.

Day five (maybe?) and dh emerges from his office to get some fresh air and they all muck around outside on the deck and I watch them having fun, play fighting, until the inevitable happens. There’s shouting again. Has someone got hurt? No, but dh’s glasses have been broken by a “friendly” head butt again (3rd time unlucky) and he calls the optician. He catches the optician packing all stock away, five minutes before they shut up the shop for six weeks. The optician rummages through his boxes and manages to find the right frame, so dh jumps in the car and speeds off to see him.

Out playing badminton later on (sports lesson) with my 11 year old daughter, she declared it was time for drinks (ten past four) so she looked at me and enquired, “Too early for wine, mum?” Oh dear.

One morning dd goes outside early whilst I’m trying to unearth my son’s maths on Google Classroom. She flops down outside on a bean bag, so I ask what lesson she’s meant to be doing right now (it’s not break time yet, I’m thinking). “PE” she says. So I ask what they sent them. “They sent us Joe Wick’s video”. Oh, good, I think “So have you done it?” I ask hopefully “Yeah, I watched it”… Nooo that was not the idea! I send her back inside to watch it and participate, then listen to the crashing and banging coming from the spare room.

Over on dh’s school dads’ WhatsApp group, a debate that was mounting during the week about reductions in school fees, has erupted into a fight. Having chosen to now ignore the constant flow of advice, rage, epic and fabulous positive team pep-talks (from former Team GB rower parent), suggestions for Zoom chats, games and resources for the children etc on my own school mum’s WhatsApp group, this is now quite interesting and a source of some amusement. The polite and carefully scripted put-downs are quite funny. We stay out of it, then close down the phone.

At the end of the day, gathered around the dining table, we talk about and give thanks for all that we are fortunate to have. We have space to roam around in, our health and food on the table. It’s nice to reflect that however much I’d like another kind of lockdown for the kids at times (think cage), they have been extra cuddly. They have tried to help out with the household chores (30 seconds of hoovering and washing up that of course, needs to be re-washed), so there are upsides.

We make it to the second weekend. Phew. Cleaning, exercise and a digital detox are on the menu. The long, empty (apart from work) Easter holidays beckon, but I’m not going to think about that right now.

And then… Things got dull, the kids not so hilarious but more demanding, the days got… more frustrating, more exhausting, more repetitive. We are now in week seven (I’ve lost count really) of lockdown. I’m officially done with homeschooling. Although I got a “Gold” from the PE teacher for being so diligent and enthusiastic (me?) with the sporting activity log (having been told off for not completing it in week two!). I filled it with timed laps of the garden etc. I’d prefer “creative”. I’m just amazed I got ds to participate in anything. Buy hey, I’ll take it. In the words of Lady Gaga, “we’re far from the shallows now”.

In fact we’re in so deep we’ve started buying the weekend papers again, and reading them from cover to cover — a feat not achieved since we were child-free. They provide a good kind of non-screen oriented respite from the relentless schooling, work and domestic demands. Two writers stood out for me this weekend, one being the wife of foodie Times writer Giles Coren. Esther Coren succinctly summed up their lockdown relationship as follows: “In his mind’s eye he is a struggling single dad, just trying to hold everything together, and views me as a sort of incompetent au pair.” I wouldn’t ascribe that view to my own dh, and do hope that my efforts rise a little above an “incompetent au pair”, but it made me a laugh.

Another writer, Emma Freud, more neatly summed up her attempts at writing a feel-good, “serotonin inducing” piece than I could about the joys available to a family in confinement. In her words, she thought she would be inspiring the reader with her stories of “earthly joy created by our family baking sessions using vegetables from the garden: “Beetroot instead of chocolate, you say?” “Oh yes, it’s a serotonin lifter.” Instead she reassuringly found that her column was there to “give you a serotonin rush as you realise how much better your family life is than someone else’s — and the oxytocin-filled relief that everyone’s family life is as hopelessly dysfunctional as your own.”

High fives to Esther and Emma.

Confession — for the entire time whilst writing this piece I have been wearing ancient Sweaty Betty yoga pants (sale purchase) — good for slobbing around in at home don’t you know? And we have baked, and eaten, a lot of cakes. The baking and consequent clearing up involved a lot of shouting. The eating did not. That would have been very messy.

Hope you’re feeling slightly less alone now. Lots of lockdown love, whether you are #WFH, #notWFH-justathome, or #WFHWK.

The research commercialisation office of Oxford University. #Spinouts #Startups #Universities #Venturing #Entrepreneurship #Innovation innovation.ox.ac.uk

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