Quarantine Dad: the unlockening

It seemed like a year, but it was only eight weeks. Eight weeks ago the lockdown in the Netherlands came down, and this week it was eased. My daughter went back to school… well, back-ish.

The lowdown

These past weeks have been interesting, to say the least. I have to say, you can get used to just about anything. For me and my wife, lockdown has meant working from home, while doing the extra job of taking care of a four-year-old, as I wrote about before.

After the initial hellscape of managing all this, we managed to get back to a routine. I worked mornings, and my wife afternoons. That made things a lot easier, but has resulted in some interesting changes to my routine and some insights.

Work-at-home dad

My days now start with me throwing back a coffee and some breakfast then going upstairs and… poof. I’m at work. The lack of traveling is a joy, time-wise. However, it also makes it harder to make a clean separation between work-me and private-me.

There’s more, though. I wrote before about how my company loves meetings, and after the initial slowdown, those that thrive on meetings made the jump to video conferencing.

You see, there are two forces at work here. First, hordes of managers apparently need to show they are making progress. They also need to feel that they are in control of what is happening. So, they make Teams show what they’ve been up to. They also organize meetings to tell everybody how we should all implement the company strategy. That drives the need for a lot of meetings. Second, a lot of people spend their days attending these meetings. That helps them appear to be knowledgeable and fill Excel sheets with how much they have contributed to ‘implementing the company strategy’. A self-perpetuating system, that costs a lot, seems productive, but is mostly bullshit.

Yeah, I may sound a bit disdainful, but eight weeks at home have made me aware I can do my job perfectly without all that crap. Luckily, video conferencing has the solution. You see, those big meetings — I’ve been in ones with 60+ people — require video to be off (bandwidth), and just about everybody to be muted (background noise). That makes it very easy to just do other stuff on my computer while I listen with half an ear. It’s great.

All in all, working from home helps me focus. I can also avoid both a noisy workfloor and being stuck in meetings that I don’t care about. I think I’ve grown to love it, actually.

Playground dad

When I go downstairs again, I’m back to being a dad. Things have been harder on that front. You see, a four-year-old needs to be entertained, especially my daughter. And school, daycare, all the museums, indoor playgrounds, and paid outdoor playgrounds were shut down.

As I’ve said before, I love my daughter, but like all things I love, I don’t want to do them all the live-long day. The thirteen hours a day that my daughter is awake can be very, very long. First we went to the close-by playgrounds. Then those were no longer fun and we had to go to the more out-of-the-way playgrounds.

Messaging your team at work at three in the afternoon, while you’re helping a small child up a jungle gym in a playground on the other side of town is… interesting. I talked to some other parents there — from a safe distance, of course — and they were mostly in the same boat.

Teacher dad

Of course, playtime is one thing, teaching your child things is also important. Both our school and daycare were very busy with keeping in touch and providing educational — and non-educational — videos and things. Very good, of course, but we’ve been trying to avoid putting our daughter in front of a screen all day long. Honestly, we appreciated the thought, but we ignored most of it.

Instead, we’ve been doing our best to practice numbers with my daughter, and teach her new words, and practice riding a bike. I have to say, I feel good about what we achieved. After eight weeks of lockdown my daughter is improving in her language, and she can now read the numbers one through five, where she couldn’t before.

We were scared it wasn’t enough, giving the homework she was getting on the iPad. Until we learned she was getting school exercises meant for children her age, but also older. We asked her teachers what she should be able to do after her first half year of school, and it turns out, she can do almost all of it and sometimes more. So, phew, we didn’t screw up. I try not to, but sometimes I still worry.

Back to school

And now we’re here. My daughter can go back to school. Well… two days a week. Starting later… and leaving earlier. But, okay, after eight weeks I’ll take what I can get.

And my daughter needed it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited about anything as I did this Tuesday. She was more excited than for her birthday, I think.

Happy times, I would say. We were also the lucky ones — nice house with a garden, two steady jobs not impacted by the crisis. However, this lockdown has made the gap between the children in rich and poor families even bigger. Schools apparently lost track of certain children completely. And I don’t want to think about child abuse. Also, there was that teacher working from home being abused by her partner, while teaching.

All in all, better that schools are open again. As long as it lasts at least…

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands