Open Thread: How the Fuck Do You Work From Home?

I can curse in headlines now, right? The rules are out the window, there are no best practices, the protocol is to wing it as if a pigeon on wheels. I’ve spent the majority of today oscillating between my kids room and my bedroom where I have set up a home office on my side of the bed with a glass bottle of water on my night table and, like, six rings on my fingers—either proof that I care about my flourishes for a distinctly unilateral reason or that I am so used to decorating myself for public consumption that I can’t break character.

Laura (my daughter, twin B) has been acting out, which isn’t surprising because we’ve been home for five days—taking distancing and the quarantine pretty seriously in as cooperative a manner as is possible. I’m learning that she is an extrovert—that her energy is derived from interaction with others and through the lens of her current social circle (her mom, her sister, her dad, when he’s not locked in his room on conference calls and so forth). This energy is building, and building and building some more, but it can’t be dispensed, so she is acting out. As such, she has endured two time-outs in the past 24 hours—the first timeouts that I have disseminated as a young parent. In some ways retreating to a timeout makes me feel like I am surrendering, waving the white flag, giving up. I don’t know what to do to make her listen, so I do the easy, obvious thing

That never worked

On any of us.

I knew that having children was going to test my resilience—that ideally it would have been wonderful to commit to breathing through discomfort, but that in practice, it would be far more challenging. I did not know, however, that my children would, at a tender 2 years old, be so acutely aware of the fact that they were testing my resilience. And further that armed with the knowledge, they would proceed forward guns-a-blazing.

I am newly convinced that manipulation is a genetic mutation.

This morning, I asked Laura what she wanted for breakfast. She said “cereal,” so I gave it to her and you know what she did in response? She kicked her damn bowl off the table. I asked her to help me clean up and she hit me. So instead of taking a deep breath and wetting a dish towel and wiping the milk and cereal from the floor, I picked her up out of her high chair and put her in her room. And you know what I got when I took her out? A bounty of kisses. What is that? Emotional warfare?

After this, I was sure that timeouts work, but then, before lunch (I prepared lentils and baked sweet potato wedges), the same damn thing happened. So we washed, rinsed, repeated—I learned absolutely nothing—and during her two-minute timeout it occurred to me: She’s fucking two years old, and going stir crazy, and I’m looking at her, but not seeing her, or whatever. So I pretended the whole thing never happened, put on a white silk dress and initiated a dance party among thy fellow carriers of the same x chromosomes. I’ll take a tip if you have one, I’m pretty unclear on how today will go, but per that dance party–

I have discovered TikTok. I mean, not discovered it; it’s been downloaded on my phone for months. But following the lunch fiasco, I changed out of leggings and a t-shirt (fun socks notwithstanding) to put on a pretty dramatic white sequined dress and recorded my first TikTok video. It was good fun. A silver lining that actually also ushered in the sunshine following a very wet Tuesday morning.

The rest of the day was mostly spent grinding more chickpeas, forking squash into spaghetti and lathering the aforementioned in hot sauce between Google hangouts, slack conversations, my hair getting pulled out, mostly by Madeline (she was giving me “a braid”) and a curiously high volume of Google sheets and docs that are seemingly like the condition not even a novel pandemic can outperform. Per the food preparation, by the way, how do you, while trying to work from home and take care of your kids also make three meals and clean the pots/pans/dishes without watching the entire day pass you by feeling like you’ve run a marathon only to find you basically have not moved?

And to this point—if we are truly headed towards a ‘shelter in place’ (which means that we will not be permitted to leave our homes under any circumstance that is not essential), how do you move? Do you move? I have never been able to break character midday from work to attend a cycling class but I’m starting to think it will be crucial. On the upside, it’s as effortless as a browser tab switch from spreadsheet to YouTube. On the downside, it’s as effortless as a browser tab switch from spreadsheet to YouTube.

In regular life, leaving the office typically connotes the end of the day, and even if you’re freelance, there is some semblance of structure that separates working from home, from living from home but when there is no leaving, how do you demarcate? A bath? A glass of wine? A scheduled FaceTime dinner plan with a friend or distant family member? Reading a book? All of the above? What about when starting your day? Do you just charge in, or are you keeping to a morning routine that facilitates the preservation of normal as you know it?

I know the situation is escalating—that the circumstances are dire, that the projected number of American deaths, both direct and indirect results of the virus is staggering and painful, that we are lifting the lid on a broken healthcare system and governmental philosophy that runs counter to the principles of support and safety for all. And every time I sit down to write something, I freeze for a minute and ask myself what I could possibly have to say that’s worth being heard. When things make it past publish, that’s because I’ve put the doubt on mute, assuming that if I so badly desire not ignorance, but some sort of distraction, then perhaps you do, too? I know you know this, but these times are unprecedented, and it feels like an obligation of this platform to commit both the service of keeping you company, but also of absorbing and applying your feedback. So please, keep talking to us. Tell us how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, what you need.

Graphic by Lorenza Centi.

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Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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