Anna Dusseau | 17th March 2020
I still get the words wrong to this. It just seems like the lyrics should be ‘it’s off to work we go’, am I right? I mean okay, 1930s Disney-lovers, I get that it doesn’t work so well with the story line, but in terms of the iambic rhythm, I just feel like ‘off to work’ is the natural thing to say here. My daughter, who has always been a stickler for lyrics, will still eye me carefully at the diamond-clinking start of this song when – I swear to you – every single time I enthusiastically break into: ‘Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to..wait, no!’ I can only assume that this how most of the UK are waking up this morning. Because, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or – possibly – barricading yourself inside a life-size toilet paper fortress, you might have noticed that we are on coronavirus lock down here. In fact, everywhere from Scotland to Sidney Opera House seems to be finally falling in line with those panicky Europeans who, it turns out, probably had the right approach after all. ‘Herd immunity, shmerd immunity,’ Boris officially announced yesterday. ‘Now keep your hands to yourself and watch Netflix through to May.’ If only! What you might be wondering now though, is how on earth you are going to manage working remotely with the full Snow White cast running circles around you, wielding their tiny pickaxes and demanding Frosties for breakfast. But hey, I’ve got your back. Because in our house, my husband and I both work from home and homeschool our 3 kids because we want to! Yes, people, every day is a COVID-19 quarantine chez nous. So, buckle up, grab a brew and let me break it down for you.
How flexible are your hours? In our house, we work very funny hours in order to be able to share the homeschooling of our children and enjoy family time during the day. So, my alarm is set at 4am every morning and I work from approximately 4:30am through to 9am every morning. After that, most of my writing jobs are covered and I might need another hour or so later to catch up with emails, but I’m not stressing about having to actually concentrate on the content of a job. My other half works night shifts (insert tiny blue scream emoticon..). Now then, this is how we operate and I am not advising everyone to universally adopt our routine, but my point is that you should begin by looking at whether your work can be flexible as to the hours you are logged in and, if so, how can you make this fit around the kids and their schedule. Nothing is worse than yelling at Dopey and Sneezy when, in your heart, you know that they are tiny people and can’t really be blamed for things like practising the recorder every time you take a work call, or placing their cereal bowl on the keyboard. That’s just what kids do. And that’s why you might now be questioning your decision to have seven.
Learn how to work smart. This sounds offensively simple so forgive me if you are already on this, but I only learnt how to work smart when I began freelancing alongside being a full-time homeschooling mum. Actually going to work (in a previous life when I taught at a London high school and – generally – wasn’t covered in vomit or feces) is not the same thing. What you have, when you are commuting to work every day, is travel time, and this is actually the key to your productivity once you hit the office, or whatever your work space is. Yes, you love playing car park catchphrase with jobless millennials on Capital FM, but somewhere behind the blank gaze of Tuesday morning, the cogs are turning and you are making a mental to do list for when you arrive. Not any more, my friend. Looks like you’re going to have to find another way to warm up your brain because, for the foreseeable future, you are going to have to shift gears from picking Cheerios out of the baby’s nose to drafting a formal business email in, like, 20 seconds. I mean, unless you live in a palace. Or now have plumbing and electricity in your toilet paper fortress. So, you need to work smart. Spreadsheets can be visualised in the shower. To do lists can be planned while putting the kettle on and buttering the toast. Car journeys to remote locations – where the two lesser-known dwarves, Crazy and Crazy, can run around like mad without infecting oldies with COVID-19 or infuriating them with their general aggravating buoyancy – are golden and you will find yourself thanking Stephen Fry for his audiobook genius, as you mentally plan your application for team leader. Do it. Get smart working today and halve the time you spend procrastinating in front of a screen.
Study together. I mean, this might already be a valid option if you have older children who are either more independent and motivated, or can withdraw for hours on end to check their social media accounts or play Fortnight. Lucky you. But if, like me, your children are of ankle-biting height and inclination, then you’re more likely to hear ‘mum, the baby’s playing with the toilet brush again’ than ‘dad, I think the WiFi’s down’. Studying together is, however, both possible and enjoyable even with the least industrious members of the Snow White cast; it just takes a little bit of investment to get them there. From my days as a teacher, I have two simple classroom techniques that I use now with my children if I really have to send a few emails and they are done giving the cat a pedicure. Modelling reading (whether a book, newspaper, or printed document that you can annotate by hand for work) is a very successful method of getting your assorted offspring to learn how to settle down for a period of time and occupy themselves. After only a few days of deliberately modelling this, you should begin to notice them following your lead occasionally and, the next time you announce that you need 10 minutes before going to the park because you are going to reply to a client, you might find your 7 year old writing his own to do list at the kitchen table next to you, while the baby looks through a picture book and repaints the wall with Weetabix. Blissful moments! The second – strewing – is a classic homeschool technique and it means simply laying out a selection of activities for the kids to choose from (a couple of books, some felt tip pens, stickers and play dough, for example) and allowing them the time and freedom to chose what they want to do, while you take a work call or wrap up something you couldn’t complete before breakfast. A bit of boring pedagogy for you but hey, I’m here to help. My stand-up show is cancelled due to coronavirus.
Give them a pinch of independence. Slow down, y’all! I know what you’re thinking and no, it’s not okay to give them a broom and send them off to clean chimneys yet (although that’s a great threat, if they are really pushing your buttons). What I mean here, is try giving your children some substantial, time-consuming activities which require a degree of independence and self-management which you wouldn’t usually grant them. Here are just a few things I do on a regular basis with my 3 very small people. 1) ‘Hey, you guys, who wants to bake cupcakes? Do you know how to do it? Do you know where the recipe book is? Are you okay to wash and clear up afterwards? Okay, first born, you are in charge of delegating tasks and let me know when it needs to go in the oven. I am sat here keeping half an eye on you, trying to write a witty response to the nationwide toilet paper crisis.’ 2) ‘You know what? If we are all okay to wear face masks and surgical gloves, I think today could be a good time to take a trip to the charity shop and give them some of our old books. What do you think? Can you get them all off the shelves and go through them one by one, to decide what we are keeping and what we are donating to charity? They can go here. And then all the books back on the shelf, please. Ideally in alphabetical order? Infant prodigy, you are in charge of this one.’ Sounds stressful but, sometimes, your kids can surprise you. And you might for once get a bit of work done without accidentally hyperlinking your presentation to your middle son’s favourite episode of Dude Perfect: Remote Control Assault Course (again, mentally insert the appropriate emoticon..)
Hold up, I’m on my own! Yep, this has the potential to make the COVID-19 forced quarantine a a tiny bit more tricky, so lean in close because here’s my idea. I’m betting you’re not the only person you know largely flying solo with the kids, for whatever reason or circumstance, and – Boris be damned – you might just have to join forces with another family to make this work. Hear me out. Yes, I know that non-essential contact has now been officially ruled out (adieu, stranger-licking! it was fun..) but when the world is on COVID-19 shutdown, anyone in employment can do their bit by ensuring that the economy doesn’t plummet beyond the eye-watering FTSE drop that we have already witnessed. This means that calling in sick and binge watching the Jeremy Kyle back catalogue is not an option for you. So, why not hook up with another parent and suggest that you meet every afternoon this week (or whatever is possible) in an open space where the kids can throttle each other in the fresh air and take turns working at the cafe across the road, while the other person keeps up with the head count, then swap and so on. I mean, if you know them well enough, you could make this less stressful and suggest taking turns hosting this at home. However, there is obviously more chance of a virus spreading indoors and, somewhat serendipitously, it looks like the sun is going to be out for most of the week. So seize the day, get your dose of Vitamin D, and finish that spreadsheet with a Starbucks soy latte in hand!
The clock is ticking here, telling me it’s nearly time to wrap up my shift and start making breakfast for Sleepy and Grumpy, who are currently feeding digestive biscuits to Sneezy (seriously, his nose hasn’t stopped running since October..what’s with that?) because apparently daddy is too busy reading the newspaper to notice that they are all ready for porridge. Okay – point taken – sometimes modelling reading is a fail. What can I say? These ideas are just here to guide you through this uncertain period when many families are, for the first time, trying to work from home and manage their children. Who knows? Maybe you’ll fall in love with this lifestyle and end up tofu-eating homeschoolers like us! Or maybe, COVID-19 craziness will serve as a reminder that, unless you are a traveling circus, kids and work just don’t mix. In any case, stay safe this week, wash hands and don’t forget to whistle while you work!
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