Real Humans of HRIA: Stories From Full-Time Parents and Employees

gina blog

Gina Rodriguez, Project Manager of the Community Health Training Institute

My name is Gina, mom of three and full-time remote employee. I was a remote employee before the COVID-19 pandemic, which I thought might give me an edge in this whole new world of working from home. Oh, boy was I wrong! I come to you from under a pile of board books, in a corner of my house with cheerios stuck to the back of my leggings. My laptop sits on my crossed legs as I type, while my youngest child pretends to “comb” my hair with a remote control (currently her favorite toy). Lately, this is what working from home looks like for me. If I’m lucky, I get to sit at my kitchen table while my 10 and 14-year-old work on their assignments from school. And if we’re REALLY lucky, we all get our work done in the 1-2 hours of silence we get while the baby is napping. Which if I’m being honest, almost never happens. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this ‘new normal’ because there is nothing “normal” about this. We are all sailing uncharted waters and just trying to not drown. Each day I try my best to stay afloat and support my children to do the same. Some days we manage really well and the kids are able to submit assignments on time and I get to have uninterrupted meetings. And some days I’m barely able to send an email without someone crying or demanding a snack. Our boundaries between work, school and life have blurred and we are coping. We’ve redefined what learning looks like for us in order to save our sanity, because I’m awful at algebra but good at baking banana bread – and sometimes you just need to bake something warm and delicious to get through the day. So, here’s to all the parents out there trying to survive in these crazy times, I see you, I hear you, I am you – we’re in this together.

Valerie Polletta, Director, Research and Evaluation at Health Resources in Action

The Working Remote COVID-19 Principles shared by HRiA’s President have been a useful chti blog snipreminder, especially: “You are not ‘working from home,’ you are ‘at your home, during a crisis, trying to work.’” My 21 month old toddler is keeping me grounded through the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion of navigating our new reality. I appreciate that my husband and I have the option to work from home and care for our child while his day care is closed. I’m also grateful that our toddler is too young to know what’s going on in the world and is simply thrilled to spend more time with his parents. Although, he understandably expresses frustration and impatience when he needs to share his Mom with work. During video calls with colleagues, he may briefly sit on my lap but his curiosity rarely lasts more than five or ten minutes. Alternatively, he’s on the other side of a closed door calling: “Mom, Mom, Mom!” We’ve been getting outside when we can, even for ten minutes and even if it’s raining. During these uncertain times, I’ve been finding moments of joy and relief in sculpting play dough, drawing with crayons, or having dance parties with my toddler in the livingroom at the end of a long day.

Tamaki West, Associate Director of the Massachusetts Public Health Clearinghouse at Health Resources in Action

“Mama, I have too much energy.” is the phrase I hear often in our house these days. We have a very energetic 7 year old boyCHTI blog Tamaki. When he reaches the yellow zone, we have to take him outside to burn his energy before it gets too late. But most of the time, he is already close to the red zone or I am in the red zone trying to finish work right next to the child bumping around. The routine we have been practicing to help his self-regulation is to run outside first thing in the morning and come back inside to do meditation. It helps him focus on his school work in the morning and keeps him calm (relative term!) until the afternoon energy kicks in. I noticed that the morning running time gets longer and longer every week to manage his energy but I find that keeping him physically active (to the extent we can) saves us and is the foundation of his well-being, academic health, and family peace!

Brittany Chen, Managing Director of Health Equity at Health Resources in Action

See this picture? This, in short, is not what homeschooling while working from home looks like (in fact, it took 15 minutes to successfully take this picture, after much cajoling). But, this working mom can dream, right?
When Bay Area schools closed on 3/13 due to COVID-19, I had no idea how our family bchenwould manage teaching our second grader and preschooler, while both parents worked full time. But like most of the working parents across the country, we were thrust into this new rhythm suddenly to figure it out on the fly. And four weeks in, we definitely don’t have it figured out – but we are learning valuable lessons along the way.
For the first two weeks, we tried to keep the kids to a structured schedule – transitioning them from one activity or academic area to the next. We had them doing LEGO challenges, yoga, assignments from school, journaling, outdoor “recess” … and to manage all of this, there was lots of late night planning and daytime bribing, pleading, and yelling (sad to say) as we attempted to fit all these activities in amidst our packed days of remote meetings. After two weeks, we realized that the kids weren’t happy and we were stressed out – so it was time to pivot and regroup.
Week 3, I decided to do the “sandwich method,” where I would start work at 6AM, spend dedicated time in the middle of the day with the kids, and then work late into the night. It was great to spend time focusing on the kids without having to swat them out of view from my videoconference meetings (though there was still quite a bit of that). I actually had time to look at those Common Core math worksheets and figure out what on earth the assignments were asking my second grader to do (carrying the “1” is no longer a thing in addition – who knew!). I definitely felt more productive too, since I wasn’t being constantly interrupted during these early and late-night working hours. But, by the end of week 3, I was physically and mentally exhausted (and oh so crabby) – so that strategy wasn’t going to be sustainable.
For this week (which was also Spring Break for our second grader), we basically let the kids have a free-for-all while my husband and I worked. The kids played countless games of Uno, they watched TV, they built forts, they jumped down the stairs with open umbrellas trying to “fly.” The house is loud, messy, and chaotic. But – I will say it has been the least stressful week yet (for us at least, our middle school teacher housemate might feel differently!).
Next week, we will have the task of reintroducing some semblance of structure as my second grader goes back to virtual class and resumes assignments. I certainly want to find a way to maintain the freedom and fun of the past week with some of the focus and intentionality of the weeks prior, and to be honest, I have no idea how I will make that happen.

But here are a few things that I’m thinking about:

  • There’s value in learning and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t as a family. I am thankful that at the end of Week 2, my big kid could tell me that “Mama and Daddy school wasn’t that fun.” This allowed us to collectively pivot our strategy together. Through this, the kids know we don’t always have to have things figured out, that their feedback is valuable, and that we can always create space for continuous quality improvement.
  • Life skills may take precedence over core academic skills during this season. I’m not sure if I know how to assess if they are improving academically at this point, but I do see that they are learning to resolve sibling conflict, playing for longer stretches together, and accomplishing milestones like learning to ride a two-wheel bike (my little one) and learning to make eggs (both of them…sort of).
  • My “ok” is good enough. I’ll admit I felt some of the Pinterest pressure that I was seeing on my social media feeds, but in the end I need to give myself the space and grace to recognize that I can’t and shouldn’t put pressure on myself to do it all.
  • The quality of our family relationships should be my focus. While the pandemic is an incredible and destabilizing disruption to the normalcy of life, I want to do my best to reframe this moment as an opportunity to build collective resilience, adaptability, gratitude, and humility, which will serve myself and our kids well in this everchanging world.
  • 4 weeks down, 10 more weeks to go!

All of us at CHTI want to thank all the parents who are working harder than ever during this time. We see you and we appreciate you! We also want to encourage everyone to make space for love and appreciation in these times. We’re all doing the best we can, and that best will look different for every family. However you’re doing it though, know there is no wrong way.