What Preschool is Like During a Pandemic

By August 31, 2020 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish
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This summer Landon completed his first year of preschool—and man it was interesting.

Not the first part, of course. Up until February 2020, things were fairly typical. He never cried about going to preschool; in fact, his teachers often had to remind him to say goodbye to me. He loved everything about preschool—his awesome teachers (below), the learning, his friends, the playground. Sure, he had his struggles—using an unfamiliar potty, for one, and napping in a room full of kids and other distractions—but for the most part, he thrived. My curly-haired toddler with squeezable cheeks was turning into an actual kid. And though I was thrilled with his growth, I found myself surprisingly sad about seeing my little guy, the one I swaddled and toting around in an Ergo, growing up so fast.

Then March happened.

The spread of COVID-19 forced the closure of our entire state, preschools included. Parents suddenly turned into teachers, and working moms like me turned into crazy people.

I spent the next three months preparing lesson plans and other activities to keep my very active 3-year-old busy from the moment he woke up—5:30 a.m.—until he went to bed at 7 p.m. I spent a lot of money on Amazon and Target, stocking up on crayons, glue sticks, construction paper and something called “dot markers.” I was grossly underprepared. I didn’t have proper kid-friendly scissors or enough stickers to keep him occupied. I needed more of everything—more books, more washable paints, more Play-Doh, more Lego, more puzzles, more snacks, more underwear. It was overwhelming.

What didn’t help was his inability to focus on anything longer than five minutes. I had to plan the day in 10-minute increments. Ride the tricycle, hop on a scooter, write letters to his friends, help me wash dishes, work on the alphabet, play with Manga Tiles—and it would only be 8 a.m.

And somehow, between cutting up PB&J sandwiches, building spaceships with Lego and bribing him to sit on the potty, I had to work. A regular, 40-hour-a-week job. A job that required Zoom meetings and phone interviews and dedicated blocks of writing and editing time.

OMG.

The only way I could get everything done was to wake up an hour earlier than I normally did—that means 4 a.m.—and working at night after the kid went to bed until my eyes crossed at around 11 p.m.

I did this for months. Even on the weekends. I was at my breaking point.

Thankfully, coronavirus cases in Hawaiʻi, at the time, started to stabilize, enough that preschools reopened for summer. And even that was interesting: Kids had to wear masks, parents had to pack home lunches, teachers had to sterilize everything all the time. The focus was specifically on keeping kids—and teachers—safe. But somehow, our preschool did it—and then some. Landon loved going to school, despite having to wear a mask and try to stay six feet apart from his friends. I honestly don’t even think he noticed the stricter rules. And the teachers managed to make the whole experience fun and enriching. He loved picking out his snacks for his home lunch, he brought home the most amazing artwork, and he often requested to wear his mask at home. I was blown away!

It proved what I’ve always heard about kids: They are resilient—and they’re way more accepting of change than adults are. It’s something we can all learn from.

But here we are, late August, and preschool was supposed to start this week. The first day of school has been postponed because new coronavirus cases are surging in Hawaiʻi with triple-digit cases being reported every day. The state issued its second shutdown since March, with non-essential businesses forced to close again and schools ordered to teach remotely.

And here I am (again), coming up with lesson plans and searching the Internet for free worksheets, dance lessons and activities I can do with a kid who won’t sit still, like, ever.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: If this kid can do it—and with a smile on his face—then I should be able to do it, too.

Too bad he can’t edit stories. Maybe that’ll be the lesson plan for Thursday.

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Feeling Helpless? Try This.

By April 7, 2020 Musings, The Daily Dish
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This COVID-19 thing sucks.

Many of us are confined to our homes—some with kids—and getting sucked into social media, which, let’s face it, doesn’t always make us feel better. We’ve taken pay cuts or lost jobs. We’re cleaning and cooking more than ever. We realize the math our kids are learning isn’t the math we know (and maybe failed at in high school).

It feels like we’re just waiting around for something bad to happen.

I’m not going to lie: I’m not sleeping well. I’m eating bags of Sun Chips. I find myself teetering on the edge of an anxiety-depression combo that will make it hard for me to get out of bed every morning—or shower regularly.

I’m stressing about our finances—the paychecks are now smaller but the bills aren’t—and when I’ll be able to see my family again. My husband and I are juggling full-time jobs and a rambunctious 3-year-old who can’t do anything for longer than 10 minutes. And I have to be extra careful because that same son is considered high risk for complications with this coronavirus.

Now you know why I can’t sleep!

I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know how to fix this.

But there are things everyone can do, no matter your financial (or mental) state. And trust me, doing something feels way better than thinking there’s nothing you can do.

Donate. There are so many organizations that are doing great work in our community—and that need help. While I can’t physically prepare meals or deliver groceries to people in need, I can certainly donate a few bucks to organizations doing the work. Mālama Meals, for example, is taking prepared meals and meal kits to at-risk kūpuna, the disabled and homeless. Every dollar counts.

Give blood. The need for blood hasn’t gone down since the pandemic, but donations are. If you’re able to give blood, do it. (It’s considered “essential,” in case you’re wondering.) The Blood Bank of Hawaiʻi has put in place new protocols for donors to follow social distancing guidelines, so it’s safe—and needed.

Support local restaurants. Not everyone can afford to eat out, and I get it. But if you can, consider maybe once a week—which is what we do—ordering takeout from a local restaurant. These eateries desperately need our support right now. Check out Food-A-Go-Go, an online platform that connects people with Hawaiʻi restaurants that are offering takeout services or delivery.

Shop local online. Many of your favorite local retailers—Fighting Eel, Jana Lam, Sig Zane Designs—may have temporarily closed their brick-and-mortar sites, but they’re selling their goods online. (And many of them are making and donating face masks to the people in our community who need them most. Bonus!) So if you have birthdays or anniversaries coming up, consider buying from a local business.

Buy from local farms and producers. There’s a number of ways you can support local farms. Farm Link Hawaiʻi (which we use) offers a staggering variety of local products, from veggies to eggs to ground beef, and will deliver to most neighborhoods on Oʻahu. Farm to Car is a new initiative by the Hawaiʻi Farm Bureau Federation to get fresh, local produce to people by offering online ordering and curbside pickup. Oʻahu Fresh is still running its popular CSA program, where you can order a box of veggies and fruits sourced by local farms for delivery or pick-up. Mari’s Gardens is offering curbside pick-ups of produce from its Mililani farm.

Share what you have. We order food and produce deliveries—then split it with our neighbors and families. Our parents and one of our neighbors are in the high-risk category, so we order extra food for them. It seems like a small thing, but it does mean a lot. (I know because our other neighbor sends us food all the time, and we are really grateful, especially when I forgot to make dinner. Which happens.)

Spread love and hope. In whatever way you can. We participated in #ChalkYourWalkHI last weekend, where we drew messages of hope with chalk on the sidewalks in our neighborhood. We mail letters to our friends and families. We set up Zoom and FaceTime chats to stay connected. We wave at our neighbors. I bake for our mail carrier. Whatever you can do to make someone smile or help someone out, trust me, it’s worth it. You’ll feel a little better.

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How We’re Dealing with the #QuarantineLife

By March 26, 2020 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish
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Today is Day 2 of a statewide shutdown because of the spread of COVID-19.

But really, it’s been longer than that. (And it certainly feels longer.) My workplace closed last week and my son’s preschool has been out (first for spring break, now in response to the coronavirus) for almost two weeks.

And now we have, likely, another four weeks of this, as the stay-at-home mandate in Hawaiʻi is expected to be lifted on April 30.

FOUR. MORE. WEEKS.

I’ve worked at home for years, so that’s not something new. But I’ve never worked home while everyone else was at home, too. That’s new—and pretty terrible.

It’s incredibly difficult to juggle a full-time job and my son’s (and husband’s) daily needs. There’s no way I can work when the kid is awake. He wants to read books, then he wants yogurt, then he wants me to play puzzles with him, then he wants to go outside—and that’s in the first half-hour after breakfast!

It doesn’t help that he’s an only child. He doesn’t have another kid to play with—and we can’t exactly have play dates over. (And it’s not like kids can stay 6 feet apart anyway!) So he’s stuck with us—and we aren’t very good at embodying PJ Masks characters. (He’s told us this himself.)

It’s hard enough trying to come up with things to do with him, let alone educational activities. (Seriously, I don’t know how parents with older kids are managing. Thank God Landon is in preschool. I can teach him the ABCs. I’d be screwed if it were algebra.)

So what are we doing?

Besides screaming on the inside?

This is how we’re managing—this week, anyway. It could all change by Monday.

Staying on a schedule. I don’t deviate much from a schedule, anyway, so this wasn’t very hard. I have long realizer the importance of sticking to some kind of schedule as a stay-at-home freelance writer. You need to get up at the same time—early—get dressed and work. (AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH!) And with our kid, that’s even more critical. We get up the same time we always did during the week and follow a pretty regimented schedule: breakfast, walk the dogs, work on the alphabet and writing, play, lunch, nap, snack, some kind of physical activity—dance parties has worked—bath, dinner, quiet play time, books, bed. He doesn’t get to sleep in, he always eats at the same time and always at a table. This creates a semblance of normalcy for him—and it ensures I’ll be wearing pants.

Get outside at all costs. I actually emailed the mayor to ask about this: Is driving somewhere to exercise considered “essential” travel? The answer? YES. So when it’s raining in my neighborhood—which has been every day so far—we get in the car and drive somewhere sunny and dry. We stroll new neighborhoods with our dogs or go on a run when the kid is napping. You just can’t stay indoors all day, every day.

Exercise. Whatever that may look like. We surf, run, walk, get on the elliptical that’s been doubling as a clothes rack in our living room. But we also watch yoga and other workout videos on YouTube. (Lots of gyms and studios are offering classes online, even for kids.) Do this for your sanity, not to mention to burn all the carbs you’ve been eating now that you’re stuck at home.

Keep the house clean. This may sound unnecessary—I mean, who’s going to come over?—but trust me, if you let your house go, you will lose it. I make a point to clean up every night. Toys are put away. Dishes are washed. Clothes are folded. It’s easy to say, “Why clean up? It’s just gonna get messed up tomorrow.” True. But messes can multiply. You think there are a lot of toys on the floor now? Give it two weeks. So clean up as you go, so you’re not overwhelmed later.

Turn off the TV (or iPad). This is one of the hardest things for me to do, to be honest. When I used to work from home (alone), I kept the TV on a lot. I rarely watched it; it was just white noise for me. But I realize my husband—and son—are transfixed by the TV. So if we’re not watching something specific—a yoga class, the morning news, “Day of Our Lives”—then shut it off.

Stay connected to people. Our team does virtual meetings for work every morning to start the day, keep us on track, give the 24-year-old on our team a reason to wake up before 9 a.m. But some of us meet for lunch online, and we have regular pau hanas with other friends on Zoom and Google Hangouts. Even my son has “play dates” with his friends on FaceTime. It’s not the same as face-to-face contact, of course, but it’s something to make us feel less isolated.

Write letters. I’m bringing this back! I’ve had a pen pal since the second grade, and I still write and mail letters. (I keep the post office in business!) This week I got Landon to start writing letters—really just drawing pictures of rocket ships and caterpillars—to his preschool friends. This letter exchange is fun—and we can teach valuable skills: writing, drawing, what addresses are, how to put letters into envelopes, what stamps are and how mail gets from here to there. Plus, we’re letting people know we’re thinking about them. That’s the best part.

Eat healthy. It’s so easy to eat an entire box of Froot Loops. (I know. I did this.) But try your best to eat right. That may mean ordering takeout—and getting some veggie dishes—or subscribing to a local CSA that brings fresh produce to your doorstep. It’s hard—especially if you’ve got a bunch of mouths to feed at home. But there are ways. A friend suggested doing meal shares with friends, so you’re getting a variety of home-cooked dishes. Another friend uses this time at home to learn to cook vegetarian dishes. Whatever it is, try to eat as healthy as you can.

Keep it light, stay patient, be kind and laugh when you can. This is an incredibly stressful time for a lot of us. People are getting sick, losing jobs, taking pay cuts, worried about the future, running out of rice and toilet paper. So keep your head above water. Volunteer if you can. Bring food and supplies to neighbors. Check in with friends and family. Send video messages. Hug your kids. Watch “The Daily Show.” Whatever you can do to lighten the mood, make someone smile, help each other, do it. Because this is the time when we need that the most.

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How the Coronavirus Has Changed Us For the Better

By March 15, 2020 #BabyFox, Musings, The Daily Dish
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It’s 7:30 p.m. on Sunday—and things are changing so rapidly by the time I’m done, I’m sure much of what I’ve written will be outdated.

But the core will be the same: The new coronavirus, COVID-19, a fast-spreading respiratory disease that started in China, is now in more than 100 locations worldwide. As of today, more than 6,400 people have died around the world. There are seven confirmed cases in Hawaiʻi.

In the two months since the first confirmed case in the U.S., the virus has changed the way we live: No more “toughing it out” at work when you’re sick, no more shrugging off the hand sanitizer at the grocery store. We are consumed by how much toilet paper and canned goods we’ve amassed, how we can work efficiently from home, how we’re going to keep our kids safe, how to keep our sanity while we hunker down indoors.

And never before has “social distancing” become such a part of our everyday vernacular.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve gone through a myriad of emotions these past few weeks. At first I thought, “Oh, who cares about this virus? The flu is killing more people!” Then that attitude changed to, “I don’t care if I get it. I’m healthy. I’ve beat pneumonia twice in two years. Bring it!”

Now, I realize that it doesn’t matter if I can handle COVID-19. My older immune-compromised parents may not, my son with asthma may not, my neighbors and coworkers and friends may not. I don’t want to be part of the problem.

So I’m at home, reading and tweeting way too much about the virus, checking in on my neighbors and friends who might need extra hand wipes or Spam.

I’d like to say that most people—with the exception of those hoarding emergency supplies and the really evil ones who are selling bottles of hand sanitizers for $30—are reacting in ways that show compassion for others. I know people who are organizing meals for the elderly and poor. I know people who are running to the store to get supplies for their friends. My hope is this virus brings out the best in us.

So how am I doing now, with the pandemic in full swing, with schools closing, restaurants only serving takeout, Apple stores shutting their doors?

Fortunately, I’ve been preparing for this moment since 1998, the day I moved out of my parents’ house and took their emergency prep habits with me. My parents remember wars and dock strikes; we always had closets and shelves stocked with toilet paper, canned veggies, pasta, rice, soap, toothpaste, Ziploc bags. I used to joke that I could go shopping at their house. (And it was free!)

Turns out, we learn a lot from our parents, whether we like to admit it or not.

I’m well stocked with essentials—toilet paper, cans of beans, pasta, rice, instant ramen, frozen pizza, medicine—so I didn’t have to brave the stores in the last week to get those.

But I did wander to Safeway this morning for a few perishable items—veggies, fruits, cereal, yogurt—and was shocked to see what was gone. Or, rather, what was left.

Here’s what was gone: instant ramen, rice, toilet paper, canned corn (yes, only corn), Campbell’s soups, pasta, Spam, beans.

Here’s what was left: EVERYTHING ELSE. Tuna, canned chili (so good!), eggs (you can freeze them scrambled!), a myriad of canned and frozen veggies, frozen meals, frozen pizzas, bread (can be frozen, too!), quinoa (even better than rice!), shelf-stable milks, baking essentials (flour, sugar, yeast, etc.), cereal. I was able to pick up a bunch of emergency items this morning to add to my collection—just in case we’re thrust into a two-week mandatory quarantine, which, let’s face it, could happen.

I’m not traveling. I’m not going out to eat. I’m debating how important it is to be in our office every day. (Though that’s not really my call.) I’m trying to figure out how to entertain a toddler INDOORS for two weeks. (I’m stressing out just thinking about that.) But I know it’s for the best.

This is how I’m surviving: We have enough food, we have water and electricity, we have WiFi. We have books and Netflix and enough blankets to make forts in our living room. We have music and crayons and safe streets to walk our dogs. We have each other.

It’s going to be OK. This, too, shall pass. And hopefully we’ll all be better for it.

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I’m Raising a Threenager

By February 9, 2020 #BabyFox
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I had heard about the Terrible Twos. I read up on it. I talked to other moms. I Googled. I thought I was prepared.

And, for the most part, I was. I expected mood swings, appetite changes, tantrums and other weird behaviors that would make any parent think her sweet child was possessed by the devil (or a Bravo housewife).

And that word, “No.” I mean, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to use that word more. But kids should be preprogrammed without it.

But no one told me about the Threes.

To be honest, my son wasn’t too bad in his twos. He didn’t have any sleep regressions, he didn’t suddenly turn into a picky eater, he didn’t lie down in the middle of the grocery store screaming because I wouldn’t let him eat an entire box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Really, the only challenge we had came in the form of potty training. (We don’t talk about it.)

I remember then thinking, “Well, the Twos weren’t that bad.”

Then the Threes came.

I read nothing about the Threes—and now I know why. When you have a 3-year-old, there’s no time to sit down and pen a blog. (Have you not noticed my sporadic blogging lately? It’s not because I’m working out.) They don’t nap as much—if at all. They need you for everything—and then want you to leave them alone. And they don’t stop moving. Or talking. Or complaining. Or asking, “Why?”

Life was easier when they didn’t move or talk, when you didn’t need to map out the mall or the airport for clean and convenient bathrooms, when you didn’t have to carry a ridiculous amount of things you’ve never had to carry before: a portable potty, extra underwear, a First Aid kit, an iPad (with a charger because forgetting it would be the death of you), a collection of toys and other things that you can distract your kid with, and more snacks than a family of four could consume—just in case.

Yes, there are no bottles, no pumping (OMG), no stacks of diapers. But don’t think once they’re finished with those things, their needs disappear. Oh, no. Now they can articulate how much they would have preferred a Paw Patrol Capri Sun pouch even though you asked them if they wanted one before you left the house and they said no. And yet, despite the sudden speech tsunami, they still can’t let you know that they have to pee—or that they already did in their underwear 20 minutes ago.

Welcome to the Threes.

And my son is a full-blown Threenager.

He wants to do what he wants, when he wants. His go-to phrases are, “I do it by myself,” “But why?” and “Oh my GOSH,” complete with a perfectly executed eye roll. (I wonder who he learned that from.) He’s always negotiating with me. (“No, SIX more minutes, Mommy.”) And he always has a plan: When I explain to him how the day is going to go, he responds with his own version of the schedule—and it often excludes a few key items like “going to the potty” and “taking a nap.”

But as harder as it is in certain ways, it’s also easier in others. He brushes his own teeth, he doesn’t need me to feed him anymore, he puts on his own pants and slippers—the wrong way, but I’ll take it.

It’s shocking to look back at photos of him, even from a year ago, and see how much he’s grown. A year ago, he was still wearing diapers and struggling to walk down the stairs. Now, he’s zooming around on his tricycle, writing his own name on Valentine’s Day cards for his classmates, and singing the entire soundtrack of “Frozen”—with hand motions. It’s crazy!

So as difficult as Threenagers can be, there are a lot of upsides to it—including the fact that he’s that much closer to getting a job and paying me rent.

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