When we got the call two weeks ago that my kids’ school, Westchester Torah Academy, was closing and the school buses were turning around, I assumed it would blow over and quickly. I certainly didn’t imagine that our little New Rochelle community would become known internationally as the “epicenter” of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., and my kids wouldn’t enter their school for two weeks — and now, of course, even longer.
It became very clear, very quickly, that homeschool for older kids, ages 6 and 4, was going to be our new norm. And without any childcare, my 2-year-old would also be along for the ride.
For those first few days, my phone was buzzing like crazy with messages from friends saying variations of “you’re the perfect person to do this!” It’s like everyone assumed that my Masters in Jewish Education program included a class called “Homeschooling your three children under the age of 6 when there’s a global pandemic and also, by the way, you’re still working full-time.” (P.S. That wasn’t a real class. And even if it was, I wouldn’t have taken it.)
My family is fortunate to be healthy. We are fortunate to live in the suburbs and have outdoor access. We are fortunate to be a part of the Westchester Torah Academy and Young Israel of New Rochelle communities who have ensured that our family has everything we need and more — from groceries and toiletries to kids’ activities, mental health support, medical care, mishloach manot for Purim, and so much more.
Now that our two-week quarantine has come to a close and we move into self-isolation and containment, it feels like we may have begun to hit a stride, a new routine of sorts. I’m not going to tell you that there are no meltdowns in this house, or that everything is perfect or I’m perfect, but I have picked up a few tips that I want to share for managing this new normal that we are all diving into.
1. Self care.
Whatever you do, make sure you take care of yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You will never be the parent or homeschool teacher or caterer or janitor or do all of the roles that you’re now expected to do if you are not well fed and hydrated, and if you’re not doing your best to manage your mental health.
Before our two-week quarantine began, I planned for three meals per day and made a list of healthy snack options. I hung it on the fridge. (It’s titled “What can I eat?”) This will enable you to buy the right groceries, minimize food waste, and not scramble for what to eat when. Figure you’re going to go through WAY more food than you ever imagined. Also, every single night, no matter how exhausted I am, I try my best to get the counter clean, the schoolwork stations set up, the materials prepped for any scheduled activities — more on that below! — and that there is at least one meal option prepped and ready in the fridge. This helps give me some sense of manageability during the day.
3. Time blocks.
Take the time to write up a schedule for the day, and if you’re working from home, make sure you block in where you’ll be able to get work done, even if that’s not during regular work hours. Get all of the materials ready for each block the night before. Consider incorporating story time, science projects, art projects, cooking, gardening or recess (if you have private outdoor space), movement (YouTube has great videos), and free play.
4. Order all the things.
If your kids are doing Zoom school, make sure you have the right number of devices. If money is tight, contact your kids’ school for help. Make sure you have a printer, paper, and plenty of ink, as well as basic school supplies (pencils, construction paper, blunt scissors, crayons, glue sticks, etc.). You may want to order art or science kits. Everyone is stocking toilet paper, but I’m over here like, give me all the activities! And the snacks!
Depending on your social distancing situation, you may or may not be trying to minimize physical touch. My training is definitely not in social work, but I do know that surrounding our children in love, even when we are going crazy, and using tons of love language, transforms the tone of a day. The more frustrated I get, the more pet names I use, the quieter I try to make my voice. It makes a tremendous difference.
Our number one goal is to find one moment per day to laugh so hard it hurts. That means getting silly, telling jokes, or whatever it takes. Just laugh! It does the body good.
7. When all else fails…
Take a long shower. Or go to the bathroom. Or lock yourself in a closet. Find the space to take a breath, recenter, and think about what your best self looks like and what you need in order to get back to that person. No one expects you to be that way all the time, but also, focusing on your own needs will enable you to serve others. I love the quote: “Are you giving the ones you love the best of you? Or what’s left of you?”
Here’s the thing, friends. This is the deck of cards we’ve been dealt. We could spend the foreseeable future filling yourself with regret, dread, anxiety, and all of the negative emotions and thoughts about what could come, or we can keep putting one foot in front of the other, surrounding our kids with love and taking good care of ourselves in the process. WE CAN DO THIS!
Image by FrankyDeMeyer/Getty Images