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10 things I’m doing with my kids to preserve my sanity — and theirs

Things to do with kids at home
This dad is on top of it all. For now. And he’s got backup plans too.
(Sandra Navarro / For The Times)

As a freelance writer and editor, I’ve spent years working from home. Having my wife and two sons (ages 11 and 9) around full time has been a major adjustment, but so far we’re dealing with the situation and staying sane. I also recognize that we’re in a very fortunate situation where both my wife and I have the type of jobs that allow us to be home with our kids as we continue to work and that we live somewhere that enables us to get outside without putting ourselves and others at risk of spreading the infection. One thing I did not anticipate? How much time I’d spend handling everyone’s tech support issues.

Below is what logistically and mentally has gotten us through the beginnings of what will probably be a very long stretch.

1
Walk it out

We start every day with a walk, then take more walks as often as anyone in the family needs one. This idea is basic Adjusting to Life During Coronavirus 101 stuff, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. Also, not to be alarmist, but I figure now’s the time to take advantage of being able to roam aimlessly outside (while observing social distancing, of course) in case Southern California decides to impose tighter shelter-in-place restrictions akin to what’s happening in Italy and France. We keep our walks within our neighborhood, but we zigzag across streets we don’t usually go down or choose roundabout ways to get home.

2
The flexible schedule

On the last day of classes, my kids came home with packets for three weeks of schoolwork and lesson plans their teachers miraculously put together in a matter of days. That gets us through early April, when spring break was supposed to start. The LAUSD schools they attend haven’t implemented virtual learning yet, so it’s on us as parents to make sure it all gets done. Eventually. I set up an hourly schedule as a guide to what academics they should be doing, when we’ll eat lunch, when they can work on art projects, when they can play video games, etc. Then I gave each kid a copy to refer to throughout the day. I also added a note that reads, “This schedule is flexible and we will make adjustments.” If they want to flip their grammar workbook time with their typing program, fine. If a math problem is frustrating and I’m trying to finish writing an article (like this one!), we’ll get to it later. If they want to spend more time reading, go for it.

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3
Gardening basics

The last stop a friend of mine made before nearly everything shuttered was to Fig Earth Supply in northeast Los Angeles, where she stocked up on enough seeds, small plants and soil so she’d have plenty of projects for her and her kindergarten-age daughter to tend to during the next foreseeable months. I couldn’t make that happen. Instead we’ve got yard maintenance issues that are long overdue, and enlisting the kids in weeding is another way to get them out of the house. If you didn’t stock up in advance, call your local nursery: They could use the business, and you might be surprised to find they are offering curbside pickup so you can order in advance and keep a distance.

4
Makeshift recess

As I said, our yard is pretty unruly and unfortunately we don’t have a basketball hoop, so for sports options it’s basics like playing catch, hucking Frisbees, and biking up and down the block. The bocce set I got as a gift last year has also come in handy. All of our kids’ grandparents are joggers, but my wife and I decidedly are not. That trait jumped a generation, and my older son’s natural athletic talent is distance running. Now he and my wife jog for almost a mile every day. I aspire to eventually join them.

5
Online connections

Google Hangouts, FaceTime and Zoom sessions with friends have been invaluable in keeping the kids connected to the world outside. These meetups might be six classmates delightedly squealing with each other about nothing much or a one-on-one connection while playing “Roblox” with a former classmate who moved to Spain, but they always seem to be in a better mood once they’ve been able to interact with someone from the outside world. Plus, as parents we feel less guilty about indulging this kind of screen time.

6
In the kitchen

With basically all our meals now being made in-house, we’ve enlisted our kids to help more with prepping and cooking their favorite foods so they’ll know how to make them for themselves. It’s something we’ve been meaning to do, but now we have the opportunity to actually make it happen. They’re into it, but I’d appreciate it if that attitude also extended to doing the dishes.

7
The internet gives back

With so many kids out of school, the internet has responded with new YouTube series, Instagram Live performances and coloring book downloads to help keep them entertained. I now have friends whose kids anticipate each episode of “Lunch Doodles With Mo Willems” like they’re hypebeasts on Fairfax Avenue waiting for a Supreme drop. We haven’t gone deep into that zone, but my younger son has spent lots of time taking in YouTube’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of instructional videos about caricaturing.

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8
Standup material

I know some people’s comfort entertainment is revisiting episodes of “The Office” or watching British murder mysteries featuring older women in eccentric hats, but my kids’ go-to hang has long been listening to Brian Regan’s standup comedy routines through their Amazon Echo Dot. To expand their palate, I recently introduced them to albums from Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney and Demetri Martin. Standup that isn’t filthy is hard to come by, so if you have any recommendations (I’m willing to go to the PG-13 level), let me know.

9
The backup plan

Things have been running pretty smoothly at home (you can’t imagine how much wood I just knocked after typing that), but I feel better knowing we’ve got a backlog of ideas for diversions that we haven’t needed to use yet. There’s the deep well of karaoke instrumentals on YouTube we can tap into, I can teach my kids how to play dominoes and keep score on a cribbage board, or maybe we’ll get into puzzles and “Animal Crossing” like everyone else in America. Our other working parent friends have been sharing ideas, and thankfully no one’s trying to outdo anyone else. This isn’t Instagram; this is real life.

10
Every night is movie night

After dinner we all watch a movie together before the kids go to sleep. So far the selections have mostly been good-natured heist movies like the “Ocean’s 11” series and goofy video store classics from the late 1980s, like “Spaceballs” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

And if I doze off for 15 minutes somewhere in the middle of the second act, I don’t mind, because I know there might be an anxiety-riddled night of lying awake in bed ahead for me.


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Eric Ducker