When Sheltering in Place, Home Needs to Double as Office, School and Gym
“What’s for dinner at your house, Marni?” came the text from my future son-in-law (that is, if the July wedding isn’t cancelled due to the coronavirus). “We’re having body wall and bladder on the kitchen table.”
He sends me a picture of my daughter, a second-year vet school student, dressed in scrubs preparing to operate on a synthetic dog bladder over Zoom with her classmates and instructor. The kitchen table has been commandeered to serve as a mock surgery suite, and is draped in a sterile blue tablecloth.
“Yum!” I reply, “Are you serving that with a nice chianti?”
Next he sends a picture of Lou, their schnoodle, who is under the “surgical” table looking appropriately nervous.
As most of America shelters in place, life -- including school and work -- goes on, in some fashion, and that takes creativity, flexibility and adaptability. Zoom-led mock surgery is just one of many clever ways schools are learning to teach students at home.
Never in our nation’s history have we asked so much of our homes. Before the coronavirus plague, home was the place we left and came back to. Now home is all the places we used to go. Our homes serve as our school, workplace, gym, church, restaurant, theater and beauty salon. (Surely stock in Clairol Nice ‘n Easy home hair color is way up.) It’s not a pretty transition.
“Would you please put your computer away, so I can set the dinner table?” I ask my husband, DC. Our kitchen eating area is now his office.
“Why?” DC doesn’t understand why eating dinner beside a laptop and a pile of papers gives me heartburn.
“Because it’s time for dinner,” I say, stating what I think is obvious. Because his expression is as empty as the mall, I add, “Next we’ll be one of those couples who has a treadmill in their master bedroom.”
He still does not understand, but at the mention of bedroom, he moves the laptop. To his credit, he also -- and now you will know the depth of his boredom -- cleaned out the pantry. All on his own. He organized the contents, so they resembled a regiment of British soldiers. I grabbed the ammonia jug to sniff so I could stay standing.
Seriously, if anyone gets through this pandemic with a messy closet or pantry, I will lose hope for all humanity.
But getting through is the key. To help us all, I polled family members, co-workers and friends, as far flung as New York and Rome, to find out what they were doing to make sheltering at home work for them. Here are some survival strategies and ways to make your home, well, everything:
Keep structure in your day. A common theme among those stuck home is the importance of maintaining routine. As attractive as it may initially seem to stay in your Hello Kitty pajamas all day, resist. Get up, get dressed and “go” to school or work at the time you normally would, even if that means going to the next room. Eat regular meals. Don’t just keep your hand in a party-size bag of Cheetos. Call it quits when the school or workday would normally end.
Create transition times. When the work or school day ends, make a clear transition into after-hour activities. Put work away. Close the office door if you have one. Pull a folding screen to separate work from winding down. Soften the lights. Maybe change your clothes. Segregating these times will signal a coming-home feeling, underscoring the normal rhythms of home.
Work it out. With gyms and exercise studios closed, workout at home when you normally would go to the gym. Katie and Jon, a young couple sheltering in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, said, “We move the coffee table and do an exercise routine pretty much every day with digital apps. It keeps us sane.” Besides moving furniture to clear floor space, set out towels and water, lay down exercise mats, and stream a workout from YouTube, an app, or your fitness club.
Make a workplace. If you don’t already have a home office, create a dedicated workstation. Consider using a closet system to build a desk area inside a second-bedroom closet, or convert a section of a built-in bookcase. An armoire can also become a mini office. Many have a pullout shelf that works perfectly for a computer, and a hole in the back for cords. Best part, when you’re done, push in the shelf, close the door, and put the workday behind you.
Bring the restaurant home. Because going out to dinner is off the menu, make eating in more interesting. Capture a restaurant vibe at home with Italian, Mexican or Asian theme nights. On Italian night, put a tablecloth and candle on the table, make lasagna or some other Italian dish, pour Sangiovese, and ask Alexa to play Italian music. On Asian night, make stir fry, put pillows on the floor around the coffee table to sit on and eat with chopsticks.
Tidy up. With everyone at home, doing all the activities they used to do away from home, stuff piles up. Nip the chaos by developing habits to keep where you live clutter-free. Clean up after yourself, then ask others to pick up and put away their belongings when their work, school day or playtime is done.
Get some air. Unless the weather is wretched, get outside a little every day. One young family in Rome sets an alarm for 2 pm every day, at which point everyone goes outside and rides bikes in the piazza.
Find the positive. Though times are stressful, look for the upside: more time for family, for being outdoors, and for cleaning the pantry. I, personally, have found comfort in knowing that if I ever need emergency bladder surgery at home, I’m in luck.
CAPTION: It’s what’s for dinner -- To continue learning while sheltering in place, vet students are performing mock surgery on synthetic animal organs at home over Zoom, which is making some pets nervous. Photo courtesy of JEP.