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Juggling. I thought I knew what that meant. But these last two months have taught me I had absolutely no clue.
Parenting. E-mail. Meal prep. Home schooling. Conference call. Laundry. Daily call to my aging father. Ordering groceries. The odd panic attack. Answering an endless stream of questions: “Mom, where’s my hat? Water gun. Comic book. That toy with the sticky stuff.”
As executive editor at The Globe and Mail, I’m in the thick of things doing my job at home during this epic crisis. And as a mom of two, I’m in the thick of things with them at home too.
It’s not easy. Many of our journalists have children who play, scream and cry in the background. And they don’t care if you’re on the phone with a CEO, public health official or a grieving widow. We’re trying to collaborate and design front pages over bumpy conference calls, sometimes while hiding out in bathrooms or basements. We crave a peaceful moment to think, write and create.
No different than a lot of our readers who are working full-time.
For survival tips, and a few laughs, I asked some moms at The Globe how they toggle between work and home life. Some common themes emerged, starting with, basically, doing whatever it takes to keep the kids alive and get work done.
“The first thing I did was buy a trampoline. Best investment ever,” says business reporter Clare O’Hara, who knew she was in for chaos, with a husband who works in health care and a four and nine year old. She’s also relying heavily on snacks to keep little hands occupied: “I’m not hoarding toilet paper – I am hoarding club packs of granola bars, goldfish, yogurt drinks – anything I can grab while on a call and throw down the basement stairs.”
And sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures, including doing interviews from her car (“This is golden. It’s so quiet in there and you can lock the doors”) and rewarding “good listening” – i.e., “go find something to do in another room” – with $2 an hour during her crunch time just before deadline. “My older son gets double the money if he entertains his brother. This has been a big hit – from a financial writer’s point of view, it is a win-win.”
Then, of course, there’s screen time. How could any of us survive this without good old TV? “Netflix, Disney, Prime, Cineplex – I have them all. On multiple devices,” says Clare. “The first week I was checking the daily time spent on my son’s iPad. Nope – never again.”
You bet I can relate (daily screenings of Star Wars or Avengers over here), as can editor Rasha Mourtada, mom of two boys, who says screens are the only activity that keep her kids reliably occupied for any length of time. “Otherwise, I’m stopping to play Hungry Hippos in the middle of an edit,” she says. “And because every single other thing devolves into wrestling, and, inevitably, tears, which I can’t deal with all day while I’m trying to work.” She tries to find balance by filling their work-free time with “walks in the nearby ravine, playing ‘the story game,’ where we collaboratively make up stories full of surprise twists by each saying a line in turn, and making dinner together. Using a knife is a real thrill when you’re seven.”
The first thing to slide for columnist Elizabeth Renzetti? Cleaning. “I’m not a cleaner at the best of times and I’m taking this period of having no company as an excuse to let everything go. I find it hard to worry about dust bunnies when the world is in crisis,” she says. Instead, like many moms at The Globe and beyond, she’s ratcheting up quality time with her teenage daughter. “The trick is to get her out of her bedroom so she doesn’t develop bedsores. We’ve been going on long nature walks, making up stories about various birds’ and squirrels’ lives."
Business columnist Rita Trichur, mom to a 10 and 13 year old, says she’s also learning to let things go, and some days that means writing in her pyjamas. Her family, like so many, has been personally affected by COVID-19, which has shifted a lot of things into perspective. “The most important thing we do as a family is talk. Three of our relatives have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died. Social distancing makes it difficult to grieve. Tragedies, though, teach us what is important in life. My top priority is supporting my loved ones. Everything else – the laundry, vacuuming and homework – can wait. “
Meanwhile, arts reporter Marsha Lederman, mother to an 11 year old son, admits, “I have not been able to Marie Kondo my house or make elaborate crafts or bake sourdough bread.” Instead, she spends her time helping her son with school work (“in theory”), keeping their household running (“unloading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, feeding the cat, all that glamour”) and, of course, doing her job. “At the beginning of this, I basically worked all the time. That, I quickly learned, was not sustainable.” She’s developed a daily schedule that starts with getting in a couple of hours of uninterrupted work in before her son wakes. She’s also found another key to maintaining sanity: a daily walk, by herself. “This walk is crucial for my mental health and on the days I’ve skipped it because I’ve been too busy or tired or whatever, there has been a noticeable difference in my mood.”
“The Wild West” of parenting is how Amplify editor Lara Pingue describes things at her house. “There are no rules any more. My seven year old is often bawling outside my ‘office,’ which is my bedroom – the only non-bathroom with a lock, while my youngest inhales his fifth helping of Goldfish crackers.” To help temper all that stress, she’s giving in where she can. “Tonight I will cuddle my four year old in his bed until he falls asleep; I will give them an extra cookie; I will allow them ‘just five more minutes’ of their TV show. They deserve a little grace as we grind through a workday of endless conference calls and e-mails.”
A little grace through all of this is what I think we’re all aspiring to. On that note, and just in time for Mother’s Day, I’ll leave you with some more candid confessions from Globe moms. Like me, you may find a few things you can relate to.
Kathryn Blaze Baum, environment reporter
My husband and I have become a pretty well-oiled machine when it comes to tagging in and out of child care duties. Although, sometimes it's not so seamless and I have to press “mute" during interviews so the source doesn't have to hear me negotiating with our toddler. There's also some hiding in the basement.
Lori Fazari, programming editor
Sanity saver: online Pilates classes at noon twice a week with my usual group of co-workers. Biggest surprise: learning to let go and realize I can’t do everything. We look at their weekly school work as a menu of options to choose from. Not fun? Not doing it. Makes a mess? I’ll pass. Requires ingredients or supplies I’m now lining up to purchase armed with a mask and hand sanitizer? That’s a hearty no thank you.
Clare Vander Meersch, photo editor
While the whole world seemed to be slowing down outside, conversely, my interior world has sped up dramatically. I have learned to schedule everything. Hungry mouths can’t wait. And I’m finally starting to see some appreciation for keeping life in these four walls pumping along. They are doing spontaneous acts of cleaning up after themselves. Helping with food prep. And cleaning a toilet. Actually, that one is my fantasy.
Robyn Doolittle, investigative reporter
I have an eight month old and a nearly three year old and we are drowning and tired and our house is a complete mess. My mother in law – who is lovely, hi Judy! – keeps telling us how lucky we are to have this time together. Ha. Ha. Ha. I’m sure in the years ahead I will look back on this period and think “yeah, that was nice to be together” but for right now, get me out of here! And I know we have it way easier than most.
Janet McFarland, assignment editor, Report on Business
We are trying to find a happy medium where my teenage son does some school work and doesn’t keep vampire hours. The biggest saving grace is his video game console with headphones and a built-in mic. He logs on with a group of friends, and they talk for hours while they play, giving them the friend access they desperately need.
Carly Weeks, health reporter
I’ve taken countless calls with an inconsolable toddler on my shoulder (thank you, mute button), brought my laptop into the bathroom to write stories while my son splashes around in the bathtub and gotten used to working at odd hours, early in the morning and late at night, to try and get things done.
Danielle Webb, interactive news developer
Thankfully, most of my work communication has occurred via instant messaging or e-mail, which I sneak in while my toddler is eating or during our almost-daily viewing of Cars. When I’m really desperate, a sink full of water and some plastic cups never fails to keep the kiddo entertained.
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