April 26, 2020

by eric

Weekdays and weekends have a lot in common these days.  But there are some differences.

Weekdays have some tension built in: starting with schoolwork.  Our oldest is in kindergarten, so the detailed learning standards and lesson plans emanating from the school district feel like overkill–but we still want him to improve his reading and writing in particular.  Unfortunately he is a strong-willed child, with many ideas of his own, few of them involving worksheets or pre-recorded lessons.

So as soon as breakfast ends my spouse cajoles him to the table while I secret the little brother downstairs to his room, where we try to while away an hour or maybe 25 minutes without too many meltdowns over thwarted desires to watch tractor videos on my phone.  Then back upstairs and all of us boys out to the muddy yard for a bit while Mom responds to all the messages that have come in regarding her latest piece of writing.

After that it’s time for me to squeeze in some work–usually a Zoom call or two, maybe some actual work if I’m lucky.  Typically there’s a chaotic half hour where we all try to eat lunch, then the youngest goes down for a nap, I work some more, and the oldest has some popcorn and watches Reading Rainbow with Mom.

At 2:30 I’m on kid duty again–time for a walk, if it’s not actively raining.  The walks are harrowing–typically both kids are pushing stuffed animals in strollers, crashing into neighbors’ plantings, running ahead or falling behind, and just generally not walking quickly down the center of the sidewalk contemplating real estate as father would prefer.

The nadir of the walk is when we find ourselves at the bottom of a hill, with a steep half-block to walk beside a still-busy street.  Everyone is tired, Dad’s nerves are shot, there’s no shade here–recriminations abound.  Sometimes Slack on my phone starts buzzing away with work messages I can’t respond to.

After arguments, threats, carrying we reach our yard once again.  The kids run rampant, crashing from front yard to back at high speed and volume while I stare vacantly at our decaying fence, wondering if it is going to fall over before I have time to fix it.

At 3:55 pm “watching time” is announced and the children sprint inside, to be wrestled through handwashing before getting seated in front of the iPads.  On good days this will absorb them through dinner, and I can take a couple of late-day calls, respond to the ever-growing email backlog, maybe do some work–or perhaps read a few more depressing headlines on Twitter, to paste into a file for later inclusion in that night’s blog post.  On average days after a bit the youngest will start demanding a different show every two minutes.  On other days the oldest will close his iPad far too early and either start pestering his brother or running in circles around the house.

In any case, soon enough it’s dinner time, which at least has all of us at the table.  There’s not much to talk about that everyone doesn’t already know, and usually I can’t finish my meal before the kids are done and bouncing off the walls again, but it feels good to have the end of the day in sight.  Then it’s bathtime, the oldest goes to bed, and one or the other of us goes off duty while the other puts the youngest down.

The days are getting longer, so if it’s my night off I might go do projects in the yard or go for a walk through the neighborhood or a short bike ride.  Then there are dishes and laundry to do, various sugary treats to be consumed away from children, and screens to attend to before realizing that once again we’ve stayed up too late and it’s past time for bed.

When you can’t in good conscience go anywhere or do anything, weekends are not so different.  But somehow removing schoolwork and my job makes everything so much easier. We do more things together all four of us, because we’re not trying to synchronize my ever-changing schedule of Zoom calls with mental health breaks for my spouse.  In the early afternoon 3/4ths of us usually get a nap, and I might take the oldest for a bike or scooter ride as well.  In the late afternoon during watching time I get the dishes out of the way, and maybe read a book for fun.

I’m grateful we have the flexibility we do, and am glad that the kids (the oldest in particular) have adapted to this new routine reasonably well.  There are some perks: I’ve gotten much more enjoyment out of the spring weather than normal, we’re doing more projects around the house than ever, and it’s been special to have so much time with the youngest right now–he’s stringing together hilarious new sentences all the time.  But every day feels like Groundhog Day, and I hope there is more variety in our future soon.