I’ve worked at the corporate headquarters of off-price retailer Burlington Stores, Inc. in Burlington County, New Jersey for just about five years. Every day, like many working moms, I would drop my two young sons off at their daycare right up the road from my office, head into work from 9am-5pm, then pick my sons up and commute the 20 minutes back to our suburban home. At the end of February 2020, my office was beginning to buzz about COVID-19, a new virus that had begun spreading in the area. It had started to hit New York pretty hard and was, more or less, inevitably on its way down towards us in the Greater Philadelphia Area. By early March, as more information became available and the media began covering what was now being referred to as a major public health emergency, people in the office were beginning to take this virus seriously. Buyers, who normally travel to New York three days per week, were being told to hold their merchant meetings via teleconference, hand sanitizer dispensers had been installed throughout the office, and computer screensavers were changed to display proper sneeze etiquette and hand-washing technique. We were told if we had symptoms of illness or had come into contact with someone sick to stay out of the office.
On March 11th, 2020, after picking up my kids from daycare as usual, I noticed that my youngest son, Joaquín, had spiked a fever and developed a cough. After all the talk about the symptoms of COVID-19, I immediately made an appointment with his pediatrician for the following day and told my manager I would be working from home until we figured out what he had. The following week, test results were in and Joaquín was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and tested positive for a much more common virus, so while having a sick baby is never fun, we were relieved of our fears that he had COVID-19. By this time, however, my office had shut down and all corporate associates had been ordered to work from home indefinitely. At the time, I would have never imagined that March 11th would be my final day in the office for nearly 70 days now and counting!
In the weeks following March 11th, my professional and personal life shifted dramatically, along with the lives of people the world over, due to the growing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. For a week or two, I was doing my regular job remotely, while caring for my two kids, who were now unable to attend daycare. As Burlington began to shut down store locations, like many retailers, they had to make tough decisions on how to keep business operations running throughout the pandemic. They began to furlough store associates, then distribution center associates, and they shifted job responsibilities of many corporate associates, like me, to new COVID-19 response-oriented roles. I was reassigned to answer phones as a call center operator, supporting furloughed associates. My new work schedule was 6 days per week, with shifts ranging from early morning to late into the evening. The stress of this change on top of caring for two kids with a partner who was still working outside of the home quickly turned this into one of the most stressful times in my life. I wasn’t sure how to keep two young kids busy all day long while I was working. I had never been a stay-at-home-mom and it was no accident that I hadn’t pursued a career in teaching – I was way out of my element.
After drowning in anxiety and panic for a few days (and allowing way too much television, YouTube, and Nintendo), I decided I had to take control and try to make the best of this unimaginable situation that none of us had asked for. I shifted my mindset from panic to positivity and started including small things in our days that would relieve stress, occupy the kids and maybe, just maybe, bring a little bit of joy to a scary and unprecedented time. I started making lists of things we could do together, even if we just did one or two things each day that would give us all some opportunities to move our bodies, use our minds, be creative, and have some fun!
We started out with things like building forts, tie-dye parties (I admit, this was my idea at first but once we started, my son was hooked and wanted to tie-dye everything he could get his hands on!), family bike rides (thank you Amazon for the coolest baby-seat attachment for my bike!), outdoor time on our backyard playset, family campfires (s’mores included), baking and decorating cakes, cupcakes, and brownies, educational scavenger hunts around the house, and of course a fair amount of Nintendo and Netflix here and there, too.
More activities, tips and tricks can be found here.
Incorporating these activities into our daily routine relieved so much anxiety and made days seem shorter and much more manageable. Don’t get me wrong, there were still tantrums from the kids and blow-ups from me but I also made sure to remember that this situation was scary and strange for everyone, so more patience and understanding than usual were in order, for one another and for ourselves.
After a few weeks working on the call center and no end of the pandemic in sight, corporate roles began getting cut down as well, including mine. I was officially furloughed at the end of April which, while scary, would actually relieve so much stress and allow me to try a whole bunch of new fun activities with the kids, like math problems for screen-time (though, I can’t say my son was a huge fan of this…), slip and slide fun in the yard, picnics in a nearby park (once we were allowed), DIY snow cones, outdoor experiments like discovering if ants like fruit snacks, popcorn or pretzels more (if you’re wondering, they prefer popcorn – see video below for proof!), and some fun arts and crafts (this craft set was another awesome purchase from Amazon).
Here we are, a few weeks later, and things seem to be moving in a positive direction when it comes to combating COVID-19 and getting back to some semblance of normalcy but who knows what the future holds! For now, we’re going to try to support one another with patience and understanding, make the best of each day together, and try to come up with more fun ways to keep our minds and bodies active.
Years from now, when our family looks back on how we managed through the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope we all remember it as a time where we grew together, enjoyed one another, and spent more quality time doing fun and interesting things than we ever had before! Yes, these continue to be scary times but, for now, we’ll lean on one another and continue to do the best we can for as long as we can. We will embrace the positive moments and move past the (inevitable) negative ones with love and understanding.