The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us around the world and most countries are now in some form of lockdown – or ‘circuit breaker’, as we call it in Singapore. Along with social distancing, and masking up when we’re out, we have to adapt to working from home, and having the kids schooling from home too. Perhaps the best way to tackle these strange times is to take things one day at a time?
As Lindsay Ortega, 44, who lives in Toronto and has a 10-year-old daughter, suggests: “My philosophy is, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Not having our days as structured as we did before is not going to be the worst thing.” Read on to find out how Lindsay and two other mums around the world are dealing with this new normal.
Mum: Lindsay Ortega, 44, HR Manager. Dad: Karl Mamer, 54, Manager of Product Documentation. Daughter: Leah, 10
Toronto is in the province of Ontario, which declared a State of Emergency on 17 March 2020. Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed since then. Grocery stores and pharmacies remain open, with limits to the number of people allowed in. Food and beverage places are for take out only. Public parks and outdoor amenities are closed, but residents can go for walks or bike rides in their neighbourhoods, as long as it is with people from the same household, and social distancing is practiced.
8am Wake up, shower, and look (somewhat) presentable for the day’s virtual meetings. Catch up on work emails. Leah wakes soon after and we get breakfast ready. Without school, we have been letting her sleep in as long as she needs to. Sleeping in is a luxury that she doesn’t usually get on normal weekdays as she has to be up by 7:30 am. Before the lockdown, I would drop her off at school on my way to work. Breakfast is either a bowl of cereal, eggs, toast, fruit or yogurt.
9-10am Leah checks her emails and virtual classroom where she communicates with her teachers. We go over what she has to submit or work on for the day. She has breakfast while watching YouTube Kids or Netflix. Typically, she watches videos of crafts to make, or cartoons like Teen Titans. It gives me a chance to load up on coffee, and hop onto a virtual daily morning meeting with my work team.
10am We all re-convene, and clean up breakfast (which my husband helps with). He’s working remotely too but has way more virtual meetings than I do. Leah and I go over her teacher’s feedback on the work she submitted the day before, tying up loose ends. Her teacher is awesome and really understanding that everyone is figuring it out, which is a relief as a parent. All the school work being turned in during isolation counts towards report cards, hence my daughter is motivated to put in the effort.
Quick Skype call with grandparents in Singapore. They love it as pre-isolation, with a 12-hour time zone difference, we did not typically get a chance to talk to them on regular school/work day. After Leah showers, she does an online math-based game. She plays it while video-chatting with her group of friends. I get some focused work out of the way.
12pm The first few weeks of isolation, I did a lot of ambitious, elaborate meals like oven roasts, southern BBQ-style meats, pastas, and pastries made from scratch. However doing this three-meals-a-day was not realistic. No one needs to have Dalgona coffee or home-made fudge brownies at tea time.
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The novelty has worn off, and meals have become simpler as the weeks have gone on. I do more meal prep in advance now. Usually I keep lunch light, with rice bowls, pasta, soup or salads. Leah had buttered noodles with marinara sauce for lunch today. She also made a four-egg omelette to go with it, while I supervised (the kid can eat!).
1-4pm Leah and I spend the afternoon working next to each other on our respective computers. I set up a table beside mine so that I can be working while she does her assignments. Today’s is an essay about animal habitats.
Working beside my daughter allows me to keep an eye on her homework but it makes focusing on my work difficult as she has lots of questions. I take my calls and virtual meetings as they come up through the afternoon. Thank goodness for Zoom backgrounds so no one can see Leah sitting beside me.
She snacks a lot through the afternoon so I keep a lot of easy-to-grab items such as cut cucumbers/carrots with hummus dip, edamame, single-serve yogurts, cubed cheese and pre-washed fruit in the kitchen. An easy treat Leah can now make for herself is kid-friendly cheese nachos. These are just tortilla chips laid out flat on a plate, sprinkled with pre-shredded cheese, microwaved on high for 40 seconds and then topped with sour cream and tomato salsa.
4pm Leah turns in her school work. We take the time to bake some cookies as Leah wants to. I keep my laptop and phone ‘attached’ to me in the kitchen so that I can respond to work at the same time. While the cookies are in the oven, we go outside of the house for some air and sun. Leah checks her ‘friends’ mailbox at the foot of our driveway, which she built with my husband in the first weeks of isolation. The intention was for her friends to be able to walk over and leave things for each other at a distance.
5pm Leah has a dance class over Zoom where she does Acro, or ‘acrobatic dance’. It’s a form of dance that combines classical ballet technique with acrobatic moves. After class, Leah has a video call with a few of her best friends where they chat and play online games that are not school related.
Pre-isolation, we had limits on her device usage but it has since gone out the window. The devices have actually been a great way for her to stay in touch with her friends, and they love ‘hanging out’ together. I take the opportunity to make dinner, working on my laptop on the kitchen counter while cooking.
7pm We have dinner as a family and try to catch up with each other. This is usually the only time we are all not doing multiple things, so we make sure we sit down together. After we clean up, my husband does the pet care (we have two cats) while I prepare snacks for the next day. We are due for our once-a-week grocery run tomorrow so I chop up the last of the cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, with some hummus and ranch dips. I try to keep two kinds of fruit on hand so that everyone can just grab what they want from the fridge/counter.
8-10pm Post-dinner choices are usually to play a board game, put on Netflix, or have our own individual quiet time. We try to keep it less structured so no one feels restricted after being around each other all day. We played Settlers of Catan last night so Leah doesn’t want to play it today. My husband and I both still have to get some work done so I work on my laptop while watching a show Leah has picked out. Leah decides she wants to make elastic band bracelets while watching, so we are all multi-tasking now.
10pm Wind down time. Since our routines have been impacted by isolation, it takes more time for Leah to settle down for bed. Pre-isolation, her bedtime was 9pm. The rules are a lot more loose now. My philosophy is, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Not having our days as structured as we did before is not going to be the worst thing. Leah brushes her teeth, washes up, gets changed from the pyjamas she wore all day, to another set of pyjamas. Leah and I do our usual bedtime routine of tucking her in. Lights out.
10:30pm My husband goes to bed early as he has early work days. I take this time to finish up some work on my laptop, and do some stretching in the living room. I get myself a bowl of ice cream, sample some cookies and try to watch the news to unwind.
12am Reading and knitting time before lights out and the day starts again tomorrow.
Best part of the day: Not having to rush back and forth from work to do before and after school pick up. Spending quality time with my daughter.
Worst part of the day: The chaos in the late afternoon when assigned homework has to be turned in, work deadlines are due, everyone is hangry and dinner still needs to be made.
My secret mum treat: Late night ice cream with chocolate sauce while watching TV, after everyone has gone to bed.
Lockdown-with-kids survival tip: It’s okay to let things go. This crisis could be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Kids will remember this time not because they learned a list of new skills or they did enrichment courses on quantum physics while under quarantine. Life will go on, even if they live in pyjamas all day.
San Diego, California, USA
Mum: Natasha Richardson, 44, Human Resources Representative. Dad: Shawn, 43, IT Chief Petty Officer. Daughters: Nadine, 13, and Renee, eight.
In San Diego, businesses have to arrange for their employees to work from home where possible unless it is part of essential sectors. Restaurants are delivery or takeaway only, and no outdoor group activities are allowed. Beaches opened up with limited use from 27 April but only walking, running, surfing, and swimming are allowed. Boardwalks are closed and no loitering, suntanning or gatherings are allowed. The police patrol all day, and hand out citations if rules are not followed.
6-7am My time – coffee time.
7-8am Prepare breakfast, wake the kids up/shower.
8am Nadine walks the dog, then breakfast.
9am-noon Kids’ distant learning.
12-1pm Lunch break. Lunch is typically a sandwich or leftovers from the night before. Some days it’s McDonald’s or some other fast food, when we all get into the car and go through the drive through to buy lunch. We also eat in the car so, that way, it seems like we’ve gone somewhere for lunch.
1-3pm Finish any homework or school projects
3-4pm Break. Free time for the kids and snacks.
4-5.30pm Walk the dog and outdoor time/walk/exercise. As a family, we do a 10-minute workout using an app we all have that’s personalised for each of us.
5.30-6.30pm Kids shower and we prepare for dinner.
6.30-7.30pm Dinner, which ranges from steak, mash potatoes and broccoli to chicken stew, nasi lemak or yakisoba noodles. A mix of Asian and Western food.
7.30pm onwards We watch our favourite TV shows as a family like The Masked Singer or Modern Family. Or Renee will practice jiu jitsu, while Nadine works on her art drawing. Also WhatsApp video chats for the kids to speak to grandparents, friends or family.
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9.30pm Bedtime for kids.
11pm The adults go to sleep.
Fridays are Family games night or movie night, we rotate on this. On Saturdays or Sundays, we do cooking or art projects and another movie night. Sometimes we just get into the car and drive to nowhere, or do grocery shopping. Some weekends, we help with food donations to the homeless with our church. We have church mass in our living room every Sunday morning at 8.30am, through the church’s online live stream. We also do the laundry and clean the house in the weekends.
Best part of the day: Going for our evening walks as a family. We used to only do it on certain days before the lockdown but now we have made it a routine and we will continue after the lockdown is over.
Worst part of the day: Usually in the afternoon, when I’m wondering if the kids did their homework correctly. And cleaning up after the kids since they’re home all day.
My secret mum treat: Getting my kids to bake or cook whatever they want at least once a week. So it’s not my treat but theirs for themselves or something they can create. Kinda like kids’ master chef.
Lockdown-with-kids survival tip: Take it one day at a time and keep a routine. On weekends we don’t really have a routine so we can distinguish weekdays from the weekends. Make plans for the weekends so there’s something to look forward to even if it’s something small like picking a family movie and a snack to make for it.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Mum: Hilary O’Hagan, 41, Sales Manager. Dad: James, 47, Managing Director. Sons: Jack, 10, Henry, seven, and Jamie, three.
New Zealand had one of the earliest and strictest lockdown rules. After almost five weeks, the country eased lockdown conditions from stage four to stage three on 28 April, allowing takeaway food shops and some non-essential business to re-open. Schools reopened on 29 April but only up to Year 10, and only for those who need to attend. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern advised anyone who could work or study from home to do so.
7-9.30am We wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, and make beds.
9.30am Check emails and make a list of people to call. Take the kids for a big walk (which my husband sometimes does while I work). As long as I’ve got my phone and my ear-pods, I can work while we walk. We live right on Lake Wakatipu, with access to stunning walks. There’s lots of fruit growing wild that we can pick and eat along the way at this time of year – blackberries, apples, grapes, and walnuts.
11.30am-12.30pm Jamie watches TV while I get Jack and Henry started on their maths. I sit down at my computer.
12.30-1pm Lunch. This typically consists of toasted cheese sandwiches or wraps, fruit, nuts, yoghurt and cake. I normally reheat leftovers from the night before for myself. My husband has been working long hours during lockdown so I’ve been managing most of the home schooling. He helps when he can, and sometimes prepares lunch for the boys.
1-3.30pm I work at my desk while Jack does his literacy schoolwork and Henry plays Lego with Jamie. When Jack is done, he swaps with Henry. There’s usually a bit of TV in the afternoons as well. I take short breaks to read Jamie a book or play for five minutes with the boys. In any given day, the way I see it, if the boys have eaten good food, done some exercise, done a couple of school activities and played for most of their spare time, that’s good enough.
3.30-4pm If all is calm, I’ll keep working away for a bit longer. Jamie could be on my lap, having a cuddle while he watches Henry play Prodigy on his Chromebook, or Jack create slides of spiders and insects in Powerpoint.
4-5pm We unplug and try to make the boys clean up their toys. We don’t do a lot of housework during the week but do try to keep a tidy house so we’re not living in chaos.
5-6pm Cook and eat dinner. Usually I cook, and my husband does the washing up. Jamie likes to help with dinner prep, which is as sweet as it is challenging.
6-7pm The bedtime routine starts. If Jack and Henry get themselves organised by 7pm, they can have an audiobook. They love lying in bed listening to audiobooks, so it’s a helpful motivational tool.
7-8.30pm Cuddles and bedtime. Both my husband and I are involved in the kids’ bedtime routine. Then I do a bit of tidying and finish any work items left unfinished during the day.
8.30pm-late One word: Netflix. It’s so good just to relax and zone out for a couple of hours.
Best part of the day: Morning coffee on the balcony, in the sun.
Worst part of the day: 4pm, when the kids are hungry and get into the packaged food – cookies, chippies, chocolate, crackers, nuts… whatever they can get their hands on.
My secret mum treat: Whittaker’s Creamy Caramel chocolate block (which I hide in the freezer).
Lockdown-with-kids survival tip: Limit social media. I have friends who post impressive daily schedules and pictures of baking and craft. It can make you feel inadequate, and I simply can’t do those types of activities while I’m working from home and looking after three children.
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