Our series, Family Tales, is an honest peek into the daily lives of families across the country who are on this crazy ride we call parenthood! From divulging childcare costs to breaking down family finances to managing a virtual school year with multiple kids, we tap into the Red Tricycle army of parents to find out how they’re making it work. This series is a judgment-free zone.
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I Have to Say, I’m Not Minding the Remote-Learning Setup for My Family
Name and occupation: Maria Chambers, Editor for Red Tricycle Chicago and Co-Owner of Washington Street Markets
My partner’s occupation: Co-parenting with my ex-husband who is a business consultant
City: Naperville, IL (a western suburb of Chicago)
Grades my kids are in: Sons are in 11th and 9th, a daughter in 8th and a son who graduated college in 2019
School set-up in 2020: Our school resumed on Sep. 1 with a remote learning setup for a minimum of 12 weeks, at which point it will be reevaluated. Once it is deemed safe for in-person learning to resume, they will be on a hybrid schedule. Kids are broken into two groups by alphabet. Kids with names that start with A-L will go on Tues. and Thurs., and every other Mon. Kids with names starting with M-Z will go Wed. and Fri., and every other Mon. When kids do return, they will need to wear masks and strict guidelines are in place for the number of kids who can be in any given location at a time.
photo: credit Alicia’s Photography
This first day of school in 2020 definitely felt a bit anti-climactic, without the frenzy of transitioning from summer to school mode, taking pictures the kids don’t want taken and the silence of an empty house once they would normally go on their way, hauling overstuffed backpacks hunched over like mules.
Funny enough, the stress over first-day outfit choices was still in the mix. Well, at least for my daughter. The boys, not so much. Thankfully the eyeglasses she ordered last-minute, that she doesn’t actually need for seeing, arrived a day early so she was able to dial into her first Zoom call spectacled and stylish. I like to tease about her desperate wish to wear glasses and frustration that her vision is perfect, but I do agree the blue light glasses weren’t a bad purchase with how much screen time she’ll have this year. See the ones she ordered here, if you’re interested for your kids (or you!).
Morning: My Kids Are Pretty Self-Sufficient, and I’m Not Mad About It
Let me just preface this by saying, I know how lucky I am to have older kids in these weird days of schooling during COVID. I have mad respect for moms and dads who have elementary-aged kids and younger or kids of any age who have special learning needs or haven’t acclimated to this new setup. Those of us on cruise control look at what you’re doing and give major applause. For real.
My boys have to be logged on to their first-period Zoom call at 7:45 a.m. and my daughter logs on at 8 a.m. When my alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., I wake all three so they can ease into their day. This may seem like ample time to get ready, but my 9th-grade son has one speed and it’s turtle. He’s developed a specific morning ritual which he needs to go through in a certain order that involves YouTubing while showering, cuddle time with our menagerie of pets and slow-as-molasses breakfast-eating. He feels this sets him up for a successful, stress-free day and I don’t even try to question or mess with it.
As soon as I wake on Mondays, I hit up our local bakery, D’Etta’s, for an Almond Braid or their massive Cinnamon Rolls that can feed a whole family. The Almond Braid lasts for days and it’s a hit with everyone. My daughter likes to keep Costco acai bowls (from the freezer section) onhand and I purchase their breakfast burritos from the refrigerated section for an alternative if the kids are feeling savory over sweet. Also, if you haven’t tried Costco’s Cinnamon Bread from their bakery section, you don’t even know what you’re missing. So good!
This summer, each of my kids got to pick a YETI and find their own bling on RedBubble. I don’t know why, but this made them extremely happy, they are obsessed. Another thing I don’t question. These get filled, by them, every morning and they stay cold and iced all day, into the evening. I’m convinced they’re made of a mix of magic and voodoo.
While my kids get ready, I do a quick check of my work email and then head for a walk that always involves an order-ahead coffee from Sparrow (Oat Milk Vanilla Latte, in case you’re ever looking to get me something special) and usually a pitstop to sit quietly with nature along Naperville’s riverwalk.
Morning School and Work: Personal Space Is a Happy Thing
Each of my kids has their own room with a workspace and I work from the dining room table. Up until this past January, my 11th-grade and 9th-grade boys were still sharing a room. I did a quick rough finish of my basement and moved my 24-year-old’s room down there (because who doesn’t love a classic cliche) and moved my 9th grader into his old space. This was a pre-COVID decision that ended up being a home run for what happened just a few months later.
A few years ago, our school district went to a 1:1 technology model and issued all kids 2nd grade and above Chrome books (K-1 received iPads). This decision made rolling out remote learning much easier and ensured equitability. All three of my kids have district-issued laptops and receive IT support, as well.
The kids are on Zoom calls with their teacher the first half of every class for synchronous learning and are asynchronous the second half. This gives them time to work independently on any assignments or participate in breakout groups with classmates.
Mid-Morning Routine: Lots of Snacking Happening
With me working from the dining room table, I see lots of mid-morning trips to the refrigerator happening. Every Monday I make a trip to Costco to stock up on fruit, so strawberries, blueberries, bananas, apples and nectarines are readily available at all times as a healthy option. Sometimes they pick that option and sometimes they are looking for something salty. On my Costco trip, I get a box of mixed, snack-sized chips and they each can grab one of those at some point in the day. I also keep pretzels, nuts and healthy-ish granola bars stocked.
Lunch: Being Prepared Is Key
The kids all have slightly different lunchtimes, so a group lunch isn’t really an option. In order to keep my workday from being interrupted too much, I keep the refrigerator/freezer stocked with easy-prep options they can do on their own like sandwich-making materials and one-step meals. For my 11th grader, I keep mozzarella balls, basil and cherry tomatoes and he whips together a Caprese Salad or his favorite is micro Frontera Chicken Fajita Bowls from the freezer section of Costco (I swear Costco isn’t paying me). My daughter and 9th grade son love chicken mini tacos, also from Costco’s freezer section, and eat those pretty much every day.
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There are several options for meal delivery that include prepared lunches for kids in Chicago, if you find yourself struggling to get creative, keep things stocked or just want to outsource that chore give one of those a try!
My kids are lucky they live in a neighborhood where their school friends are close by. We have a large open grassy area across the street from our house, so my daughter will schedule lunchtime meetups with friends for picnics. This is a nice way for her to break up the day and an excellent way to keep in-person socialization a part of her day, which is extremely important to her.
Afternoon: So Close to the Finish Line
Our afternoons are pretty easy-breezy. Once lunch happens, each of my kids only has two classes remaining. For my 11th grader, this means gym class, which has become my absolute favorite time of day. He begrudgingly ends up in the front yard doing some insane looking task that he needs one of us to film. And, we all get a good laugh (and so do neighbors and cars randomly driving by the house).
Right now, my only kid who’s doing an organized sport is my 9th grader. His high school has Cross Country, so he either rides his bike or I drive him to his 3:30-5:30 p.m. practice. He arrives with a mask on, gets his temperature checked upon arrival and they break the kids down into small groups.
My daughter typically does every sport she possibly can, but her middle school has postponed these activities and we opted out of travel soccer this year with the uncertainty. It seemed like a lot of money to pay, not knowing what the format would look like.
My 11th grader would usually do Cross Country, but he’s personally restricting his activity and staying home as much as possible.
Evening: Extremely Low-Key and Unstructured
We don’t really have a set routine for the evening hours. I let the kids kinda do their thing and unwind. I’ve noticed with the kids still getting used to the school schedule, this a lot of times means a nap for the 8th and 11th grader, while the 9th grader is at Cross Country.
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I’ve been getting weekly HelloFresh deliveries for the last two years and kept this up through quarantine. This helps remove a to-do from my list and limits the amount of shopping I need to do throughout the week. I’m a huge fan of their service. I don’t eat meat and their veggie meals have introduced me to some new recipes I would’ve never thought to try. I have had a bit of trouble with their service during COVID, with them getting a lot of my meals wrong, including sending meat meals, and meals or ingredients completely missing from my box. I called to inquire because I often recommend them to our readers. Their customer service explained they weren’t prepared for the uptick in subscriptions that COVID brought and on top of that, they’ve had trouble hiring additional support since some people are afraid to return. I’m going to stick it out with them because I understand this is a hard time for a lot of companies and they’re doing their best. I appreciate that they are responsive, accept responsibility for the mistakes and work hard to explain and rectify any issues.
photo: credit Alicia’s Photography
How My Routine Is Different Being Divorced
Pre-COVID, my ex-husband would travel weekly, so our schedule with the kids fluctuated a lot during the weekdays. He hasn’t traveled since mid-March, so we’ve been able to stick to a Monday-Monday routine. Every Monday, the kids switch houses. They prefer to stay in one house as long as possible vs. moving things back and forth frequently. We also live down the street from each other and often pop into each other’s houses for a visit. The kids come in and out of both houses regularly, so I at least get to see their faces most days.
Long before COVID, we created a family text chain that includes my ex-husband, his partner, our four kids and me. Anytime we communicate, it goes through the family chat. That way, nothing ever falls through the cracks with communication. We’re all up to speed with anything that’s going on, regardless of which house they’re at or who’s involved directly. When my oldest was away at college, this was also a great way for him to stay connected to the family and not feel like he was missing out on anything.
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The Always-Present Silver Lining
My three youngest kids are very close in age: 16, 14 and 13. My 16-year-old had just turned three when my 13-year-old was born, so I had three that were 3 and under. This meant I spent many years in the trenches, in total chaos, but they were extremely close and inseparable. They also spent many years in elementary school together. Which is maybe something I didn’t know to appreciate until it was gone—the comfort that comes from having them all in the same place. Knowing they saw each other throughout the day and they had that silent support and bond close by. There’s a confidence that comes from that.
Having the kids home and adjusting to the new schedules and interruptions hasn’t been easy. But, I really thoroughly enjoy seeing the impromptu interactions throughout the day that absolutely would not be happening if they were in-person learning. They are needing to lean on each other again in ways they haven’t had to do in years. Recording gym sessions for each other to submit to teachers, asking clarifying questions about new procedures and just poking their heads into each other’s “classrooms” because they want human interaction. Above all, I am grateful for this extra time with them and this opportunity they have to bond.
— Maria Chambers