By Anya Leon
April 08, 2020 12:30 PM
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Courtesy of Lauren Mikler

It’s been 27 days since my children’s school was closed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Twelve days later, it was announced they would not be returning to school this year. Distance learning suddenly became a very real thing almost overnight.

And so did learning to work from home with very needy little roommates.

As the Senior News Editor for PEOPLE Parents, I’ve always worked from home. I — naively — thought this time would be reminiscent of when my children were little — lots of snuggles, a lunch buddy every day and someone to side-eye me when I couldn’t get a sentence out in meetings.

But I was wrong.

My children are a little older now and while the snuggles, lunch buddies and (plenty of) side-eye all still happen, this uncertain time has brought an entirely new unknown into our home. Many of my colleagues and I are now teaching (or trying to teach) math and science lessons in between our own work schedules. We’re having Zoom meetings with our kids’ teachers before switching over to our own daily meetings while distracting the littles with a new art project. We’re wiping the tears of kids who just want to be in their own class — with a teacher who is cherished now more than ever! — while simultaneously wiping our own when the days spent trying to juggle everything get too overwhelming. We’re reaching out to one another for support and realizing we have a new appreciation for this whole work-life balance thing (and the mute button during meetings), made even harder by all the fears brought about by the unknown.

With loved ones either unable to work from home or furloughed from their jobs, we know that no matter how hard our new normal is, we are extremely fortunate to continue with our own work with minimal disruptions — save someone needing more juice, a toddler stuffing their toys down the toilet or even a teenager who needs reminding that school or no school, bedtime is still 9 p.m.

We hope that by sharing a few of our very real parenting moments from the last few weeks — and a few tips that have worked well for our kids — parents who are suddenly wearing far more hats than they ever expected can feel a little less alone.

We are trying our best to take a minute or two, and a few deep breaths, and remember we are all in this together. And since we’re in this together, listen — do you hear that? That’s the sound of silence. As we all know, silence is never a good thing unless it’s nap time.

So as you walk in on your 3-year-old refurbishing your white sofa with some smiley face stamps, think of it as a DIY project you never knew you wanted, call it a day and remember you are doing a great job.

Put the kids to bed (and back to bed 17 more times), pour yourself a good drink and binge watch a few of our favorites.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

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Greg Hanlon and son Eli
Courtesy of Greg Hanlon

Greg Hanlon
Crime News Editor
Dad to: Eli, 3

Tip 1: Animal of the Day

My son and I have been doing an “Animal of the Day,” where we watch kids’ educational videos and read online about an animal, and then do an art project involving it. (Here’s Eli holding a cheetah we made.) It’s guilt-free screen time, and the animal stuff is actually pretty interesting. Plus, if he can get absorbed in drawing, that’s a potential opportunity to sneak away from him.

Tip 2: Running Through Tackles

Social distancing brings me back to my childhood days of inventing sports-based indoor games to pass the time: Necessity is the mother of invention.

One of Eli’s favorites is “Running Through Tackles,” where I lie down on the couch — the game’s raison d’etre — and Eli has to run and break free from my attempt to engulf him. If he does, it’s a touchdown, and I yell, “Touchdown!” in an over-excited sportscaster’s voice. If I engulf him, he can’t leave until he says the secret passphrase, which is “Let my people go,” bellowed in a Paul Robeson-esque baritone.

Tip 3: Dance parties

Dancing burns off lots of little boy energy (and near-middle-aged man energy, alas). Eli’s tastes are eclectic: His two favorite songs are Don Omar’s “Danza Kaduro” and Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”

My girlfriend Lauren recently turned him on to the Hora, and he likes being hoisted on his small chair for about five seconds, until he gets scared. After that, we hoist his stuffed animals on the chair.

Greg Hanlon’s son Eli
Courtesy of Greg Hanlon

Liz McNeil
East Coast News Editor
Mom to: 16-year-old son

My 16-year-old son sleeps in till noon every day. Who knew he needed 12 hours of sleep? And I can get so much work done in those morning hours.

The flip side is, he makes his own breakfast which requires three frying pans. Bacon. Eggs. Hash Browns. Each requires a separate pan.

Liz McNeil’s son
Liz McNeil

Ariel Nagi
Senior Audience Engagement Editor
Mom to: Isaiah, 4, and Ariana, 7

I let my kids help me bake to keep them busy and stop them from fighting and arguing all day. It was all fun and games until my 4 year old dumped an entire bottle of garlic powder into the batter and I had to start all over again. But here they are, looking cute and happy before the incident!

Ariel Nagi’s kids Ariana and Isaiah
Courtesy of Ariel Nagi

Andrea Lavinthal
Style + Beauty Director
Mom to: Vaughn, 13 months, and Saxon, 3

During the first week of social distancing, my 3-year-old son and I participated in just about every virtual activity available. From morning Zoom meetings with his preschool class and lunchtime Instagram Live sing-a-longs to afternoon toddler yoga and evening story time on YouTube, we were there. So many fun things to do and, yet, we were both miserable (if you’ve ever sat through 12 toddlers and their parents singing the weather song on Zoom, you’d be miserable too).

So if you’re feeling as exhausted and overwhelmed as I am, ignore the “500 things to do with kids” spreadsheet that’s going around Facebook right now. Instead, limit yourself to one or two things each day. And don’t feel bad if your kid just wants to lie on the floor and yell.

Charlotte Triggs’ daughters
Courtesy of Charlotte Triggs

Charlotte Triggs
Deputy Editor, PEOPLE Digital
Mom to: Tatjana, 5, and twins Ofelia and Indira, 2½

I have three preschool-age girls and once I was no longer able to have childcare, things started getting interesting around here. I’ve been splitting up breakfast, lunch, dinner and bath-time duties with my husband Freddy, who works in technology, and is very used to being remote, and we try to compare notes on our most important conference calls of the day, but often there’s just no choice but to do a meeting with kids making noise in the background. (They have a tendency to need to use the bathroom in the first five minutes of any conference call I’m on, but I guess that’s what the mute button is for!)

But just keeping them entertained is half the battle. Although they’ve been enjoying marathon princess dress-up sessions, they’re actually bored of watching the movies. (They said “no thanks” to watching Frozen 2 one day, and I knew I was done for.) So now that it’s been getting warmer, we’ve been making sure they spend as much time in the backyard as possible to get some fresh air and run around. (I’ve never felt so lucky to live in NJ, where that’s possible.) We’ve been doing outdoor picnics for lunch, which feels a little bit special. And in the evenings, my husband has been doing science experiments with them so I can do the Peloton or just have a glass of wine in peace. (Or both!)

Charlotte Triggs with daughters Tatjana, Ofelia and Indira

Joseph Accardo
Digital Operations Manager
Dad to: Michael, 3, and Jacob, 4

My wife, the high school teacher (now also a pre-k teacher to our 4-year-old and 3-year-old at home during this pandemic), and I try to mimic the kids’ schedule of activities from their daycare/pre-k program like circle time, centers, arts and crafts, snack/nap time. Trying to make the stories interactive is key. One of the best experiences thus far has been story time with the book Dem Bones. The kids enjoyed the pictures and story as well as incorporating some song and dance. This translated to an arts and crafts project using Q-tips to make an X-ray picture of their hands. Glitter glue was a hit while making these X-rays!

Of course, this is only possible when one of us can focus our attention on the kids to keep them busy. If my wife is teaching, and I’m in a meeting at the same time, we obviously can’t be too focused on the kids. That’s when iPad time starts. We limit that as much as possible, because you don’t want to start down that rabbit hole of the kids always on iPads, but when you need peace and quiet for work, that’s the failsafe. Coloring activity books are also a good option here. Oh, and letting them run amok outside in our backyard is a great way to let out that pent-up energy.

We also turned our seldom used formal living room into a wooden trainyard. This can keep them busy for an hour or so – until one of them Godzillas over everything and destroys the layout and then we make another one again.

Joseph Accardo’s train set-up
Joe Accardo

Janine Rubenstein
Senior Editor
Mom to: Reece, 5

Is my son 13? Nope, he’s 5. But Mommy eased up and got him hooked on the not quite age-appropriate Star Wars movies (yes, starting with the 1977 original) and that two hour (gulp) screen-time has become my me-time. May the force always be with him!

Setting up and labeling “centers” in our house has been a saving grace. Kid’s bored with Art Center? Well head on over to LEGO Center. Done with Reading Center? Oh look, Puzzle Center is open for business.

All of those people who said they wanted to babysit your little cutie, let them! FaceTime charades with an aunt is a great way to get time away for a conference call. Especially lean on the child-free friends and fam among you. Win-win!

Janine Rubenstein’s son Reece
Janine Rubenstein
Janine Rubenstein’s son Reece
Janine Rubenstein

Lauren Mikler
Executive Producer of Entertainment Video
Mom to: Miles, 15 months

It’s survival over here. I leave out lots of snacks, toys, books and distractions … and hope for the best. Free-range child! Haha My son is not too bad at keeping himself busy, but the apartment — and my kiddo, as you can see from the photo — is a mess by the end of the day.

Miles has an uncanny ability to babble, whine or well, scream specifically when it’s my turn to talk on the conference call. It may be TMI, but he’s also still breastfeeding so I try to find ways to keep him quiet … yeah, that’s why I don’t do video calls! Once things get really desperate, I turn on the best back up babysitter around: the Roomba.

Gillian Telling’s sons Charlie and Nicholas

Gillian Telling
Senior Editor
Mom to: Nicholas, 5, and Charlie, 9

Crafts. The thing that keeps their attention for at least, oh, 25-30 minutes max is crafts/art projects. I’ve been trying to remember fun things from my childhood — making snowflakes, paper dolls, and the true winner, papier-mâché over balloons, with glue made from flour and water. This was a good one because the fun lasted a few days, and was totally new to them. The day after we made them, they got to keep checking to see if they were dry. Then they eventually got to pop the inner balloons and paint them. Next step is filling them with candy and smashing them open. My husband even got into painting one of them, turning it into a Minion. The craft that keeps on giving, and super cheap.

My other tip is these “learn to draw” YouTube videos. Also lots of TV and trying not to feel too bad about it …

Gillian Telling’s sons Charlie and Nicholas
Gillian Telling

Mia McNiece
Senior Writer
Mom to: Goldie, 5, Declan, 7, and Dahlia, 10

Play hide and go seek with your kids and when they start counting immediately go hide under the covers of your bed. It will give you at least a three to five minute break.

Alex Apatoff
PEOPLE.com Lifestyle Director
Mom to: Josh, 3

We all have to stop apologizing for our kids (or pets, or significant others) wandering through our video calls or shrieking in the background. These are not normal times! And frankly, it adds a little excitement to a meeting. As long as you’re clearly trying your hardest to keep things on track, I think everyone understands that you don’t actually want to be balancing teaching, parenting and working full-time, and things aren’t going to be ideal for a while. (Not to mention, your kid could become an icon like Marion Kelly.)

I don’t recommend this to everyone, but I personally have been showering, getting dressed and putting on some makeup (like Saturday errands level) before going to work and seeing … nobody. As someone who ordinarily loves bright lipstick and cute shoes, I realized I missed being that version of me on weekdays. I found a little blush and brow pencil helps make me feel more like myself, which in turn helps me be more productive and less mopey.

I am 7+ months pregnant, so I’m trying to wrap up work before maternity leave while helping my toddler adjust to all the big changes he’s going through before the big change arrives in May. Since I can’t pour wine, I’m going for two-a-day ice creams and it really is improving my mood.

Alex Apatoff and son Josh
Courtesy of Alex Apatoff

Kate Hogan
Digital Specials Director
Mom to: Lucy, 2, and Henry, 4

As someone who is a planner and a scheduler, I learned on about day two of this that I’m going to have to let that go. Every day is going to be different, not every day is going to be a good day, and I need to take things hour by hour (sometimes minute by minute!) vs. week by week or even day by day. We’re trying to follow a loose schedule that resembles our 2- and 4-year-old’s daycare days, with flexibility around screentime, outside time on nicer days and snacks — so.many.snacks. Being able to talk to friends who are in similar situations about the ups and downs has been helpful, too.

Kate Hogan’s daughter Lucy and son Henry
Kate Hogan

Wendy Naugle
Deputy Editor
Mom to: Addison, 13, and Grady, 15

Zoom drinks and a brilliant text thread with my girlfriends. Covers ALL the things right now.

Wendy Naugle’s daughter Addison
Wendy Naugle

K.C. Baker
Staff Writer
Mom to: Lindsay, 15, and Cameron, 17

Now that both my kids are home all day, I’ve never prepared so many meals in my life! Or gotten up to let my two cats in and out day! In between covering breaking stories and reporting on grisly murders for the crime team, I have to get up at least 10 times a day to let the cats out so they can climb trees, claw at the giant scratching post in our backyard (our wooden jungle gym) and bask in the sunshine. Why don’t I just ignore them? They meow really loudly to let me know they are itching to escape (aren’t we all?) When they’ve had enough, they pluck at the family room window screen or paw the glass on the patio slider to let me know they’re ready to come back in. Again. But they’re awfully, cute, so like my kids, they get away with murder …

Aili Nahas’ kids Addison, Avery and Johnny
Aili Nahas

Aili Nahas
West Coast News Editor
Mom to: Johnny, 3, Avery, 5, and Addison, 8

Ah, when I think back to my perfectly color-coded, planned-down-to-the-minute daily schedule I made on my kids’ first day of home school. So optimistic, so naïve!

Now that we’re on week four, I front-load the lessons, Zooms and worksheets in the morning (when my kids’ focus is sharpest!) so their afternoons can be less structured. Keeping our normal morning routine — get dressed, brush hair and no, you can’t have 38 snacks before 9 a.m. — has been helpful, but at the same time, breaking up the norm with some fun has been more important than ever!

Some of our most giddy, squeal-inducing activities:

  • Banana splits for breakfast
  • Finger paint your siblings (clothing optional, drop cloth required)
  • Sleepover in little brother’s crib
  • Chocolate taste testing (they all scored 10/10 because, chocolate)
  • Manicure and pedicure for Mom
  • Old-school bingo — spinning the wheel is half the fun!

Oh … and TikToks. Lots of TikToks.

Stephanie Emma Pfeffer’s daughter Beatrix and son Harrison
Stephanie Emma Pfeffer

Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
Health Writer/Editor
Mom to: Harrison, 4, and Beatrix, 7

I basically let them do anything — as long as they’re quiet. Results may vary.