Get Thee To Naptime

Quarantine with the Kids: A Parent's Diary

How one of our editors is juggling work while trying to juggle an infant.

By Timothy Malcolm April 9, 2020

Our dining editor during the early days of quarantine with his now-11-month-old daughter. In background: Maggie the baby doll. 

What amazes me is how quickly we got here.

March 6: “We might have to think about what it looks like to both be working from home.”

March 10: “We might have to think about what it looks like to both be working from home with the kids.”

March 13: “We’re both working from home.”

March 17: “We’re both working from home with the kids.”

It’s 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and I’m just exhausted. The bags beneath my eyes weigh at least 15 pounds each. My fingers lock up, my wrist is tender, my elbow hurts from resting on the same hard space every day.

I should trim my beard, whose curls have now grown curls and is climbing down my neck. I should cut my hair, which itches even after I shower. I look at my hair in the mirror. Oh my, I’m fully gray.

My bouncy, spirally blond hair starred atop my head for years. It stopped people in their tracks. As a teenager I shaved it off in an attempt to be some version of masculine, then I grew it back in college because I was starting to accept myself. It was always gold with streaks of brown. Now it’s gray with streaks of white gold, and I swear all of this happened to me in the last month.

My wife and I have two daughters. When the quarantine started they were 3 years old and 10 months old, and now they’re 3 years old and 11 months old. The 3-year-old can entertain herself, almost too much so, because it’s easy to fire up a loop of Doc McStuffins episodes that she’ll watch for hours without moving. So it’s important to not do that sometimes. Her school supplied us with a folder stuffed with worksheets about numbers, letters, and simple words, so we spend 30 minutes each day on two. We encourage independent play in her bedroom. Also, my wife takes parenting duties in the morning, shepherding her on bicycle rides as long as we can go outside.

Somehow, the 3-year-old has responded well to this reality. She’s been courteous around the house, is eating most of her meals, and listens more than half the time, a huge improvement from two months ago. We told her last week that she hadn’t been sent to time out in nearly three weeks, a fact she gladly repeated to everyone on recent Zoom calls.

So the 3-year-old isn’t a problem. No, the problem is the 11-month-old, who has suddenly decided she has to be a tornado with no explanation for her behaviors. There are screaming crawls, flailing limbs, and during meals, this process:

She looks at a small piece of, say, chicken. She meticulously picks up the chicken with her thumb and forefinger, then thrusts her arm to the sky, chicken held high, satisfied shriek coming from her mouth, as if she had just recorded the final out in the World Series. She’s doing all of this while looking right at me. Then, she brings her arm down a little and too casually drops the chicken onto the floor. “See, I got it. Now, screw you, Dad.”

The floor is a salad. She ate maybe two ounces of food. Once again, we have all failed.

On some days, the best moments are when she falls into her three-hour midday nap at 1:15 p.m., and when she settles into her long sleep at about 8 p.m.

I don’t have a traditional eight-hour workday now. I start around 8:30 a.m. My wife, whose job has changed more than mine in the last few weeks, takes the kids until about noon. I take over from there, hanging out with them, preparing lunch, getting them ready for naps. After nap time I watch them until it’s time to cook dinner. After dinner, bath, stories, and bed, I walk for nearly an hour outside (as long as I can do it, night walking has been outstanding). I return home, shower, then head back to my laptop. My wife is already at hers.

We’ve watched two episodes of Tiger King (yes, it’s wild), but we’ve watched much more Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Other than those two tiger-related programs I’ve spent maybe 15 minutes total looking at the television. My wife has watched a little more; apparently Unorthodox is very good. I have this job and a side book project, so I have no free time. Maybe once or twice a week I’ll spend a night not at my laptop.

I’ve seen friends post pictures from their quarantines—maybe they’re catching up on television and movies, maybe they’re playing board games, maybe they’re reading or coloring. I don’t know what that’s like. If I’m not working, which is rare, I’m with the kids. I can sneak a little board game in with my 3-year-old, but half the time I’m keeping the 11-month-old from eating three-week-old Crispix that somehow was by the bar and we never saw it. But she did. She saw it.

We’re making the best of this. My wife has taken long walks and bike rides with the kids. I’ve cooked dinner consistently for the first time in two years. My wife and I have juggled our work schedules well enough, though I’m definitely more tired than I was before this.

But I’m seeing things I didn’t see before. My 3-year-old is remarkably independent. Lately she’s been “styling” our hair with toy scissors and rollers, and then there’s all the baby care she does (for her three dolls named Maggie, Emma, and Forrest, for some reason). She’s a sophisticated speaker with a real grasp on comic timing. Yes, she can throw the random tantrum, and I’m sure all this time spent with just us is doing a number on her psyche, but she’s really fascinating to watch.

Also, the 11-month-old is probably on her way to gymnastic glory. Her feet touch her ears. You can split her legs no problem. She loves hanging upside down—I mean she’d probably live that way, if she could. She’s not yet walking on her own, but she’ll attempt to balance while holding anything. Who needs the Olympics when I can watch her this summer?

I don’t think I said, “This can’t happen here, to us,” but I felt something like that a little more than a month ago. We’ve seen viruses spread into America, but having to go into quarantine? Us? Really? Who says?

But within a week, we were there. My life pivoted in strange ways, and yet there are plenty of similarities to life before the quarantine, and most of them have to do with our kids. The 11-month-old is living as if nothing is different, while the 3-year-old knows that germs have closed the playgrounds and school. That’s tough for her, but she still has us and her toys and Doc McStuffins, so hey, it’s okay.

And I still have my hair—somehow—and I can still type. My children eat a home-cooked dinner every night, which I make most of the time. I still hear birds outside this office, and I still see the lazy sun behind the thin clouds. We got here quickly, but thankfully for us, here is still home.

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