Of all the things that have happened in the last year, the one thing I can say is I kept everyone alive.
I've been working from home with a toddler — and later an infant, too — for more than one year now. My husband, Charlie, can't work from home.
I found out I was pregnant just a few short weeks before the quarantine began, and actually it worked out great for me because I had excruciating morning sickness. I could work from my recliner with my head supported and a bathroom nearby for when I lost my breakfasts.
My son, Clark, and I muddled through syrup-soaked morning pancakes while I worked at the kitchen table, more than one jaunt chasing him down the street (literally) and more poopsplosions than you could possibly imagine (Did I mention he was potty training?).
Most of the stories on the Plastics News website last summer were posted from my patio table, toes in the kiddie-pool as my son splashed around. I got used to the gritty feeling of sand or cracker crumbs crunching underneath my keys as I worked, both hazards of the sand table and doling out snacks. Efforts to make snacks accessible for Clark to grab quickly turned into fruit-snack-apalooza.
It felt like the running gag for subsequent children became true for Clark. His lunches weren't perfectly curated meals with star-cut veggies. No, they were handfuls of Cheerios and a broken up banana. Trips to the playground were only an option when empty. His hair either unbrushed or pulled up into a stylish "boy-bun," (me sporting a mom-bun). Messes were, and still are, left until after bedtime.
Clark got very good at helping me bring in the groceries from Instacart, and occasional lunches dropped off by your friendly neighborhood DoorDasher. I tried to make the most out of the mundane into "activities" in the place of daycare or preschool. Often TV and snacks were the only way I could get my work done.
But nobody got sick, which is the important bit.
Then our little girl, Salem, came last fall, and after a lengthy hospital stay, she came home to join the chaos. She was born with an unexpected and very rare congenital heart defect that required a hospital transfer and a three-week NICU stay. We were lucky to have avoided open-heart surgery as an infant, but she will likely need it before she starts kindergarten.
Despite the scary implications of a potential COVID-19 contraction for her, it was a silver lining to be home with her while going back to work from home. It made for easier mornings logging in: There were no pump parts to wash, no carting to daycare and no desperation in being away from my newborn.
But there are struggles. Oh gosh there are struggles, and again, you guessed it, poopsplosions. Some days we all have to take a bath by 10:30 a.m. The last few months I've done everything one-handed and using voice commands (if you're on a Mac, just double tap the function key) as I nurse, hold, rock and play with my baby. I'm constantly fighting numbness from overuse of my dominant hand.
Ideally, I would keep my computer in one spot and get up when I need to tend to the kids, leaving my work for later. But it's always random who needs what and when. My Mac comes along wherever I need to go in my house: The nursing recliner, the Lego table (where I spend A TON of time), the baby's room, occasionally the kitchen where I can prepare our daily emails while getting dinner started; and once, the bathroom while I oversaw a midday bath (which are never a planned situation).
I suggest a rolling desk, which I purchased shortly after Salem was born. It's little, versatile and can be used while perched on the couch, near our Hot Wheels tracks or among our mini Jurassic Park populated by plastic dinosaurs — spared no expense.
The Plastics News staff is always graciously reminding me to take a break, step away from the computer, take the kids for a walk, and it sometimes works. Sometimes there are even glimmers of overlapping naps (I wish these happened more often) and I can even get a walk on the treadmill or even eat a meal by myself. Or even write stories!
In the future, I expect that we will still have flexibility and be able to work from home sometimes. But when I do go back to the office, I'll miss my kids on those days, even with all my complaints and the hardest days still fresh in my mind.
But, it will be nice to not have to feed, clothe and clean up after my coworkers.
Erin Sloan is web producer at Plastics News. Follow her on Twitter @erinfitzsloan.