We are officially rounding up TWO FULL MONTHS at home! Sorry for yelling. But seriously, New York City has been “On Pause” as they call it, aka, Stay at Home, aka Quarantine for quite a while now. The experts and politicians are expecting that it will stay this way even longer, with school cancelled for the rest of the year and summer plans on hold. As other places are opening up, I thought it was definitely time for a look at what it has been like at home with four little kids. New York City life has definitely changed for the indefinite future, and in our own personal world things are moving as well. Here’s a peek at life with four kids in New York City under quarantine, and how we’re getting through it.
Major Life Events under Quarantine
Two months into quarantine life in New York City, we have had both a lot of sameness and a lot of changes. Nevertheless our family, personally, has had some major life events so I thought it was time for an update!
The first weekend under stay at home orders, we lost my dad (to reasons unrelated to the coronavirus). Everything about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and shutting down the city was new. But one thing was clear, we wouldn’t be able to travel to the funeral (not withstanding that I was also 39 weeks pregnant at the time).
We watched a video taping of the funeral, and sat on a Zoom Shiva. A few weeks later we would also sit through a Zoom memorial. It was very strange, somewhat fascinating and comforting to a certain extent.
What remains is a deep sense of lack of closure from not being able to say that final goodbye. I suppose the emotions that come with losing a parent will keep popping up as ebbs and flows for a while still.
A week later, I gave birth to our baby boy! Our baby was born at home, and just like the last time, Michael ended up catching the baby.
This time, however, we had planned for midwives to come. So they got there. Albeit five minutes too late, but it was still wonderful not to have to leave our apartment. The full birth story will come soon!
Again, so many emotions. It may be cliche, but it was indeed a rollercoaster after the previous week. So much joy and relief. That first very sleep deprived week was something else. We were scared to leave the apartment but for some fresh air after a few days. We had a new baby to cocoon.
A week later we had our baby boy’s bris at home. Just us, my sister, and the mohel. It was surreal. We understood deeply why you need the distraction of a big party. The emotions were so intense, having to rely on ourselves.
Looking back it is amazing just how quickly our perspective on routine outings had changed. The logistics involved procuring kosher food and wine. Thankfully we have friends that own a kosher store and they were able to bring our order out to the car. Simply driving into one of the hardest hit neighborhoods was suddenly a big deal.
If there is something I will never forget from that week, it is the sound of sirens. All day and all night, almost without a break. Combined with general newborn baby worries, we had this invisible brick pressing down on us.
Since then, the pressure has winded down, and things seem to be on the upswing.
Springtime in New York is indeed a beautiful time of year. So while we have mostly stuck to our neighborhood for walks, at least the flowers are blooming and the trees are sprouting more and more leaves by the day.
We celebrated Passover on Zoom. Everyone being home meant we actually saw more family on Zoom than we would have if we were celebrating in our home.
We have had long conversations with friends, laughed at memes, and discovered new shows on Netflix.
We celebrated our baby’s one month birthday by taking him for his first drive in the car, and first hike outside of our neighborhood. We weighed him on a kitchen scale!
And just like every time, when we reached the six week mark, the clouds parted. We could begin thinking about the next phase.
Finally, we celebrated our Little Girl A’s 4th birthday at home. Had a Zoom birthday party with her preschool friends, made her a cake and decorations, and played with new toys. She was happy!
Routine at Home when You’re Always Home
Anybody that has read this blog for some time, knows that I’m a big fan of routine. It doesn’t have to be a strict one; it doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. However, having even some semblance of a routine when you have little kids at home is imperative. The basic benchmarks throughout the day provide stability and security for your kiddos, and make it easier on us adults to pace our day to day.
Our kids at home have been, generally speaking (knock on wood), well behaved. A big part of that I attribute to keeping the basic format of a routine. [And full disclosure: when we took a week off of setting these boundaries and let things become a free for all, the kids were much more whiny, needy and “bored”. So there it is.]
What does our routine consist of?
Morning- The (big) kids wake up and can come play quietly until Mom and Baby are up. They are not required to get dressed as long as they do so later in the day without issue. Then we have breakfast.
After breakfast is “school” time. I’ll fill in more details in a second but we have changed very little since I wrote about planning your day at home. Then lunch.
In the afternoon, we try to fit in a neighborhood walk, and we let our screen time restrictions go out the window. The big kids can watch a show or movie, and also work on school work on their devices.
After dinner, we do a big clean up, because inevitably the apartment was trashed throughout the day with kids toys, books, cardboard cut-outs, etc. We wrap the day up with bath, and a family board game, time permitting. Bedtime is at 8 p.m. so that the parents can have an hour or two break before the night feeding/burping/rocking commences.
Schooling at Home
The new reality of schooling at home has been a huge adjustment for us, as for many families. Our kids were in a school that prioritized hands on learning, and a holistic mind-body-spirit approach that eschewed screens. We were very much on board with that methodology. So the last two months have had us navigating our kids’ proliferation of screens in learning.
Most mornings the kids have several live classes hosted on Zoom. This part has been great as it allows for some social interaction, as well as puts the onus of teaching on their teachers (thank you)!
In between they are given several assignments that require varying degrees of parental involvement. Though I can say clearly that there is very little that does not require our help.
“Our help” broadly means:
- Sorting out technical issues. Camera. Microphone. Headphones. Charger. etc.
- Teaching the kids where to find items, and general computer use.
- Sitting with them so that they actually complete an assignment and don’t mess around with changing colors and fonts indefinitely.
- Supervising so that they don’t end up playing with google doodles when they should be doing math. Or start reading on the kindle. Or listening to an ipod. The digital floodgates have opened…
- Calming the login/logout/why doesn’t this work frustration.
- And also some help with the actual school work…fractions, writing, grammar etc.
The outdoor education component has completely gone out the window. So we try to take them outside as often as possible…meaning every few days, for a bit of a longer excursion. But of course this also interferes with their afternoon live classes, so there’s that.
Otherwise we are just barely managing short walks in our neighborhood, while trying to maintain social distancing. The hardest part is just getting out of our building!
Coping with Being Home All the Time
Since the predictions do not have us returning to normal anytime soon, I thought it might be helpful to add how we have been coping with being cooped up with four little kids in a small two bedroom apartment.
As I mentioned above, leaving the apartment is the hardest part. Getting everyone organized and out, waiting to go in the elevator on our own, leaving through the lobby and getting away from our street is the more harrowing part.
That said, our kids eat a lot in normal times, and even more when they are home all day, so grocery delivery is imperative. Those first couple of weeks it was just about impossible to get a delivery window, making the stress so much worse. As time has gone by, it has been slightly easier to get delivery windows.
Taking notifications off my phone and keeping it on silent!
If there is one thing that has really improved my sanity, it is taking all notifications off my phone. When you’re home all day, it’s too easy to keep checking your phone every other minute.
That said, when everyone is home, the texts come in at all hours of the day. I find notifications very disruptive if I’m trying to complete a task. Since the kids are home all day, there is no need to be on call in case of an emergency. And the memes that keep coming in: they can wait!
Keeping my phone on silent means that I can engage when I’m ready to engage. Also the quiet is much appreciated when four kids are making noise all day, and no ringing is waking up the baby!
Despite our best efforts at staying at home, going out for some air is especially important to maintaining our sanity. It is imperative for the kids to get a little exercise and fresh air! They are most definitely better behaved when we can get out, even if only for a short neighborhood walk. It is also much easier to prevent running around our apartment (and the wrath of neighbors), when they’ve had that outlet.
Gratitude and Finding the Silver Lining
It is easy to to get frustrated spending long hours at home. The mess keeps getting made, the next meal is always around the corner, and someone always needs help with something.
Finding the silver lining is an expertise, but one that we can learn and practice. I remind myself daily of how lucky we are: that M is on paternity leave, that the kids are getting along, that they’ve had all this bonding time with the baby, that the weather is getting better, that we have been healthy.
Just being able to enjoy this season, as best we can, slow down our lives, and accept. Accept the things that are out of our hands, and make the best of our current situation.