It’s been one month since the schools were shut down in Oregon. Today also marks the first official day of Distance Learning for All, the first day of the 4th Quarter. Since Friday, March 13th (yes, this all started for us on Friday the 13th) we have been working with a loose schedule (I personally prefer the word routine) here at home. More for my sanity than anything else. The routine is written on a large chalkboard where everybody can see it, but I still seem to have to remind them on a daily basis what they need to be doing.
From the beginning of this situation, it has helped cut down on the questions that I hear throughout the day: When can I play? (Never. We are Social Distancing), When can I be on electronics? (If you ask me that question again, you are losing all electronics for the rest of this quarantine. Wait, I will give them back to you now because you are driving me crazy telling me you are bored), When is dinner? (You want to eat again?! I just fed you a couple hours ago, and I have been picking up snack wrappers all over the house since then), When do we have to do school? (ALL. DAY. LONG. Wait, I didn’t mean that. Just do what you can and call it good). We still have plenty of battles, but the routine written in big letters on the chalkboard is something I can direct them to when they ask a question.
With a consistent routine my kids, who are 10 and 12, know when to expect the two most important times of the day FREE TIME and ACADEMIC TIME. We definitely don’t start at the crack of dawn. In fact, I got quite used to sleeping in until 8 or 9. It was quite lovely until it felt really lazy, and then I felt really bad about my momming skills. I started out strong with a couple days of yoga. I even made timelapse videos and posted them to social media! Now, I have figured out that it is important for me to get up early and go for a long walk by myself before I get the day started. If I can get home and help the kids get some EXERCISE in before ACADEMIC TIME it definitely helps to get wiggles out, but it doesn’t alway happen. We dedicate two hours in the morning to ACADEMIC TIME. If sitting for that long becomes a battle, we have super flexibility in our schedule to switch some ACADEMIC TIME around with OUTDOOR PLAY or CREATIVE TIME.
My kids are at the age where I don’t need to be constantly engaged to help them with ACADEMIC TIME. My 4th grader doesn’t want me to help her with anything and usually heads outside to the playhouse to get her work done. My 6th grader knows everything and gets it all done in minutes. Both of those facts are true in reality, but I also read over the emails that the teachers send, help them figure out what to get started on and how to manage their time, and am available to help them when they have questions, which happens multiple times during those two hours. They are reading and processing a lot of the stuff that teachers would be teaching them on their own, of course they might need me to explain it to them. It doesn’t always go as smoothly as I would like and I have sent my 10 and 12 years olds to have time outs in their rooms. However, it’s usually me who needs the time out. I try to sit with them and work on something like this blog post so that I can be available for their questions. I cannot imagine trying to do this with younger kids (or kids who have extra needs) who really need the help that they can only get from the teachers and specialist at their schools.
After ACADEMIC TIME, we eat LUNCH at the same time so nobody forgets to eat, or snacks throughout the day. After LUNCH the kids have to do a few CHORES (this term is used lightly, but they are learning to put away their own laundry and clean bathrooms…sometimes bribery is involved) before they can have their FREE TIME. FREE TIME is whatever they want it to be…FaceTiming friends, playing outside in our backyard, or playing video games. This is their time to do whatever they want, but it is also my time. I’m a stay at home mom, and I am used to having the house to myself all day long. With all these people in my house all day long it gets a little cramped. This is when I can make an escape and go grocery shopping with my mask and hand sanitizer. Or, lucky me, get other housework done. It is also a good time for me to do something for myself. And, I want to make this clear, I don’t know how parents who have to work from home and do this, teachers included (because lots of them are trying to teach their classes and teach their own kids), are able to do it all! My husband has had a home office since our kids were babies and they know if the office door is closed that it is off limits, but if you don’t have an office door to close and this is the first time you and your kids are all at home working and schooling together…all bets are off. You’re going to get caught on a Zoom Call with your kid in the background. Heck, you might even get caught yelling at your kid to stop making noise while you are on your work call because you forgot to turn your mute off. Your kid is going to be playing videos games instead of doing schoolwork just so you can get a tiny fraction of your work done. It’s all good. This is hard.
Our afternoons have a lot of room for flexibility. We can move FREE TIME to later in the day if we still need time to work on schoolwork, chores, or anything else. We also have some CREATIVE TIME built into the afternoon. This is for those times when the kids ask if they can bake something, paint something, or create something like play dough. Truthfully, CREATIVE TIME started because at the beginning of “quarantine” the kids each had an interest in baking cookies, but most times they would wait until after 7 o’clock in the evening to ask to do it. I would just about lose it every time they asked, “Are you kidding me? I just made dinner, the kitchen just got cleaned up, and now you are asking me to get up off to the couch and help you?” Now, they weren’t always asking for help, sometimes they just wanted to do it themselves, which is great if they actually cleaned up the mess they made. So, by having this hour of CREATIVE TIME before dinner they know it is a time where they can be in the kitchen and it won’t get in the way of making dinner or make a mess after the kitchen is cleaned up for the day. It also allows me to give them a little grace. They need to clean up their messes, but I also know I will be in the kitchen after them making dinner and the real mess with get cleaned up at some point. Plus, we have had a great supply of baked treats for when they ask, “Can I have a treat?”
Finally, there are a couple of hours between the CREATIVE TIME and DINNER when I ask the kids to get outside and play (otherwise known as, go outside and give momma some space). The first couple of days of “quarantine” I sent them out to ride bikes, but when social distancing became a requirement, I stopped. There is no way a 10 and 12 year old know how to social distance. In fact, we went for a family bike ride and ran into a few friends in the neighborhood and the kids automatically ran right up to each other as we were yelling, “SOCIAL DISTANCE!” Eventually, this hour of time has become a time where the kids jump on our new trampoline (thank goodness we spent the money we would have spent on skiing over Spring Break on that), help out with a project that we are working on (Ryan has been repairing and refinishing our deck), or spend time talking with our neighbors who live behind us from over the fence (it reminds me of the show Home Improvement and their neighbor Wilson). They are also taking turns to occasionally help cook dinner, and get the table set. Chores that we have always wanted them to do, but in the busyness of life (shoving dinner in front of kids as they get dressed to go to sports practice only 45 minutes after they get home from school) we have not had the time. There are blessings in all of this if we look for them…they are finally learning life skills!
In the evenings, we spend a lot of time together as a family. Walking around the neighborhood waving hello to our neighbors from a safe distance, riding bikes, playing card games (some of which may be mildly inappropriate), or watching 80’s movies (which I made an extensive list of and we are working our way through… it amazes me what was considered PG when I was young). We are also revisiting Stranger Things, and are a bit saddened that they had to halt filming of Season 4 because of all of this.
The kids and I are each keeping a journal during this time. I found the words that were handwritten in my grandfathers journal during the time he was in WWII to be so very interesting. The words he wrote as a young man were so very different from the words he spoke years later. I hope that generations from now our family members will be able to read our handwritten words and learn a bit more about each of us. My blog posts are here to share with the public. To give hope. To share our reality. And, hopefully, to lighten the mood. I do not have answers for any of us. I can share my life, and hopefully in sharing that, we can feel connected in all of this.
You are not alone. We are all in this together.