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A Typical Day in Early 2021

TL;DR: I thought it’d be interesting to show people what it’s like to work from home with kids who are also doing school from home.

I debated several times during the start of the pandemic whether I should blog about what a typical day looks like in my household. On the one hand, I felt very unrepresented by all the Twitter and news articles I read about people with lots of free time due to the pandemic. Naturally, what they meant was “young people without kids.”

I thought it’d be interesting to help show people who might not be familiar with what it’s like to work from home with kids who are also doing school from home. But, on the other hand, I thought that would be really boring and no one but me would read it.

Well, a bunch of people I respect in the front-end community have been blogging about their typical days, so I thought it was time to finally do what I’d been thinking about.

6:50am: My alarm goes off, and some smart lightbulbs in our bedrooms slowly turn on. I read years ago about how our brains are wired to rise with the sun, and that’s why it’s so hard to wake up on dark winter mornings. Setting lights to automatically turn on is one of those things that doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything until one morning when they don’t work for some reason, and I’m dragging.

7am: Our youngest, John, who is currently 7 years old, comes popping into the room in a fairly cheerful mood, looking for Annie to come downstairs and get him breakfast. She’s usually still sleeping so I send him downstairs to eat a Z bar. Then I clean the cat box, feed the cats, and grab a shower.

8am: Annie heads downstairs while I’m in the shower and makes some protein — scrambled eggs, sausage, something like that. She and John eat breakfast and talk and read while I go for a walk. When the pandemic started, I realized that I’d lost my only real form of exercise — the hour or so of brisk walking I get going to and from the train to get to work, and then walking around downtown on my lunch break. To make up for it, I take a half-hour walk along the Springwater corridor every morning and listen to a podcast (nerdy stuff, like actual play D&D groups, or mini-painting discussion).

9am: My hobby time. Before I had kids, hobbies tended to happen in 4-8 hour bursts on the weekends or evenings, whenever I felt like it. Now, almost every hour of every day is structured, so I have to schedule it. I don’t mind, though, I find I have a much easier time with a predictable routine and know that I’ll be working in short bursts more regularly. Last year, this was mostly coding on MLTSHP, but this year I’ve been getting back into mini painting, and have been working on finishing all the troopers from the Star Wars Legion core set I got for Christmas.

9:30am: Time for work! My “office” is a desk in our bedroom. The cats hang out in the room with me, sleeping in one of their nooks. They get concerned if I’m late for work, and follow me around until I come upstairs so they can nap. The morning consists of getting caught up on emails and Slack, then trying to put in a good chunk of time on whatever task I have assigned to me before lunch.

Around now is also when our eldest, Oliver, is supposed to get up. He’s currently 13, and like most teenagers, is pretty slow-moving at first. He grabs some food and heads into his room for distance learning. His school day is still divided into periods, so he’s got video calls all morning, followed by homework time after lunch. He has been thriving in a distance learning environment because he’s been able to fine-tune his day to accommodate his ADHD much better than in-person school ever did.

John is supposed to be in class also, but he’s had an extremely difficult time. We’re in the early days of an autism diagnosis, and still working with his teacher and the school counselor to figure out what sort of accommodations he needs. At the moment, it basically looks like homeschooling, with Annie running some educational activities before she leaves for work around 11am.

11:30am: Lunchtime! I started eating lunch at 11:30 years ago at an office where everyone got lunch early. After a couple years, a newer coworker asked “Why do we always get lunch at 11:30?” And someone replied, “I dunno, I think Scott started it.” Either way, at this point, it’s been cemented because our kids also like to eat early. So I come down and get some food for me and John. He likes a simple lunch, just some deli meat and crackers. I vary between making a sandwich, eating some leftovers, or ordering Postmates. I eat in front of my computer, watching YouTube videos about home renovation projects or other things like that. I have no interest in doing any renovation, but it’s satisfying to watch.

Noon: John plays video games. He spends most days in the living room on the Switch, playing Breath of the Wild. He’s gone DEEP on Zelda lore and loves to tell me about how the castle on the great plain is the same one from Ocarina of Time, or similar.

1pm: Back to chorin’. I often have a video meeting scheduled for after lunch, and then when that’s over, I try to get some coding done before snack time.

2pm: Snack time. I accidentally typed “Snake break” into Slack one day, and ever since I just use a 🐍 emoji to let my coworkers know I’ll be offline for 15min or so. This is also when I have John take a screen break for an hour. If I don’t, he’ll forget to eat or go to the bathroom and is a total wreck at dinner time. So I come down and make him a snack (ritz crackers, goldfish, and a couple sticks of Pocky). Then he hangs out in the living room, usually reading (Dog Man, Captain Underpants, and Asterix are his favorites), and I go back to work.

2:15pm: Back to work. Typically by this point, I’m feeling a bit behind. It feels like the day’s mostly over, and I haven’t done enough coding. I try to go deep and get productive in this last stretch.

3pm: John’s screen break ends and he gets back on the Switch.

5:30pm: I have my laptop set to switch to dark mode at 5:30 as a reminder that I’m supposed to be done. Sometimes this happens when I’ve hit a natural stopping point, and other times it’s more of an “oh shit, I have to make dinner but I’m not done.” Often, it’s closer to 6pm when I go downstairs to make dinner. Then I tell John to save and quit, and he talks to me about what happened in Zelda while I make food.

I have a complicated relationship with dinner. I want my kids to eat well, and I get bored of eating the same things all the time. At the same time, my kids are kinda picky and love to eat the same things over and over. I aim to make what I consider a “real” dinner at least once or twice a week. Often this is a slow-cooker Chicken Chili Verde recipe that I love, and we’ll have burritos. Sometimes it’s a sausage casserole that the kids and I love. Sometimes it’s pizza.

The rest of the time, dinner is what I think of as “easy mode.” John only likes a few things, but he never gets tired of them so I can quickly cook up a salmon patty or a couple corn dogs for him (both are Costco staples in our freezer). Ollie really only likes veggies and pasta, so I tell him what I’m making, and if he doesn’t want it, he’ll make himself ramen. Lately, all he wants is Chapaguri, which I have to buy on Amazon since our local grocery stores don’t carry it. If I have it, we’ll make up a batch and share it. Otherwise, I’ve got a few staple meals for me, like chicken pot pies, or peanut-butter ramen.

6:30pm: Usually John and I watch YouTube videos while eating dinner, and Ollie eats in his room. (We try to eat as a family once or twice a week, on nights when Annie’s not working, but this post is about a typical day.) I have a collection of somewhat educational channels that John and I both love, like Slow-Mo Guys, Smarter Every Day, and Colin Furze. We also watch The Curse of Oak Island, which I unashamedly love.

7pm: Bedtime. I take John upstairs and get his pajamas and toothbrush ready, and then he reads in bed while I do a bit of picking up. The cats are just starting to wake up and want to be fed again.

8pm: Storytime. John and I just started reading the Hobbit and he is way into it. I fondly remember many years of reading to Ollie every night at bedtime. He and I read the entire Harry Potter series and many other books. John and I are just getting started. Harry Potter might be next, or I might look for something that wasn’t written by a notorious transphobe.

8:30pm: Lights out. I sit in John’s room with him for a bit to help him fall asleep. This normally looks like me reading on my iPad while John tries to tell me something he just remembered about Zelda, and I tell him that I love him, but we are all done talking and it’s time to go to sleep.

9pm: Around this time, John’s usually asleep, and Annie’s just gotten home. I head downstairs and have a snack while we watch a couple shows together. Before the pandemic, we watched a lot of hour-long serious shows, but now, it feels like such a mental commitment that most of our shows have fallen by the wayside in favor of comedies. Lately, we watch Letterkenny, Schitt’s Creek, and SNL. Ollie often joins us if we’re watching Letterkenny, and once a week or so he and I will watch a movie. I’m sharing the Fast and the Furious series with him right now, which I also unashamedly love.

One of the cats will sit with us on the couch, while the other lurks on the stairs, but they’re both really just waiting for Annie to go to bed so they can cuddle with her.

10pm: Oliver goes to bed. Annie is also supposed to go to bed at 10, but often she and I watch a few more episodes because it’s easy. Then she’ll go to bed and I’ll stay up watching something relaxing, like Grand Designs.

Midnight: Give or take, I head to bed.

That’s what life is like around here most days. There are exceptions and changes, of course. Annie only works four days a week, so on the days she’s home, the structure looks a bit different. Every couple of weeks, my D&D group plays over Zoom in the evenings, or Annie will have a video call with her brothers. But this is the kind of default arrangement.

There are things about this I don’t love. We get through the days by relying on John having screen time so Annie and I can both work. We’ve tried to scale it back, but he’s still young enough that he can only be self-directed for so long.

I also don’t love that education has become Annie’s responsibility. We try our best to be aware of the gender roles we’ve grown up in and question the typical American arrangement that puts 80% of household work on the mom. This is what’s working for us right now, but we regularly talk about what needs adjusting to find a balance that works for both of us.

The other thing I don’t like is that I have no time to myself until after bedtime is over, and by that point, I’m too mentally wiped to do anything I’d like to do. That’s why I had to schedule my hobby time in the morning, otherwise, it just wasn’t happening and I was miserable.

We also are struggling to get chores done. Our kitchen is pretty much permanently covered in dirty dishes, and the floors don’t get vacuumed enough. But work and basic needs come first.

I love our kids, but it’s hard to deny how much harder it is to be their entire social world. Ollie is an introvert like me, so he does pretty well with extended periods indoors, but John is really thrives with direct engagement, and frankly, he needs more than the rest of us can give him. But because of the pandemic, it’s not safe to send him anywhere.

It’s challenging to talk about what’s hard for us without acknowledging that many people have it worse. Like, things are mostly okay! No one is miserable, and I like my job. No one is going hungry or suffering needlessly. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m lucky to work for a company that understands the reality of working from home with kids and accommodates my needs and allows for flexibility.

I’m having a hard time imagining going back to an office, ever. Frankly, this experience has taught me that working from the same physical location was never a requirement for my job and going remote hasn’t hurt my team’s ability to work together. The only thing I miss about being downtown is the wide variety of food carts. But I can’t imagine going back to losing 2 hours a day to commuting.

However, the kids need more. John especially, when it’s safe, needs more people in his life. Whether that’s school friends and teachers, or just uncles and grandparents.

At the moment, vaccines are starting to be available. We’re expecting Annie to get vaccinated in the next couple of months, as an essential worker, and hopefully, the kids and I can get the vaccine by the end of the year. I hope that makes things easier.