Parenting in COVID-19

As we’ve finished the fourth week of the “Stay At Home” order, with schools and businesses closed, I wanted to reflect on the experience in parenting under COVID-19. I’m putting this here not because what we’re doing particularly stands out from anyone else’s experience, but that I can capture some of the fresh memories before they start to fade.

Home and Routines

In the last four weeks, we have not all driven to any places. In adhering to the “Stay Home” order, Bethany and I have tried not to venture out more than once per week, and only to go to the store to get groceries, cosmetics, and household goods. After filling up the gas tank a month ago, we’ve not even a quarter-tank into it. The girls have been in the car with me to do food pickups (as the schools are offering snacks and some meals for kids), but aside from that have not left the house.

With spending so much time at home, we’re lucky to be in the midst of spring and that we’re able to spend more time outdoors. The girls are at an age where they can play in the backyards by themselves and take advantage of that. We do venture out to the front yard at least once a day, where they ride bikes and roller-blade in the cul-du-sec. When things calm down at work, Bethany and I take turns being out there with our laptops so that we can try to both supervise and still get some work done.

The first week while home full-time, we tried to establish a more rigorous schedule, but had the luxury of Bethany on spring break and able to be present to the kids each day. As Bethany returned to work the following week, we had to let go over the rigors of the schedule and allow it to flow into a routine. That’s changed again now that Clara has started school again.

Our typical day starts with breakfast, now followed by school/remote learning, then they spend the morning either playing inside, watching a show, or playing outside in the backyard. During lunchtime, we may be able to sneak out front and get some more play, followed by afternoon “quiet time”, which consists of spending 1-2 hours in our rooms with our tablets. At that point, one of us can take a break from work and be a little more active in their play before we start making dinner.

Education and Enrichment

Clara Remote Learning

As for school, we’ve familiarized ourselves and expectations with remote learning. With an elementary-aged child, I would argue that they’ve had the most severe disruption in their education, as they probably benefit the most from in-person instruction and interaction with their peers. Our school district has taken an approach that I most appreciate: we’re going to give you some guidance and structure for each day and week, allow for some check-in and interaction with the teacher and class, but for the most part you’re on your own. Grade-wise, the school work is considered optional, leaving it up to each family to do what they can.

I think there’s a tacet concession that we’re trying to avoid educational regression. We’re lucky that Clara was a little ahead in her subjects, but I really do feel for the kids who needed more intervention, especially as their parents probably may not have the luxury of time to provide that extra support. It does make me wonder whether there’s going to be a lasting impact, or if this too will just a blip in their educational career.

We’ve also become accustomed to virtual extra-curricular activities, such as dance class. Again, we’re at a difficult age because our kids are aware enough to realize the change, but are not old enough to appreciate or understand why we’re in this situation. The result is that getting them to start the activity can be like pulling teeth, but once they start they feel a sense of normalcy and even enjoy the experience.

Explaining the Virus

With our kids being 6 and 4, we’ve been very cognizant about how we explain the situation and the information being exposed to them. Rather than watching the news, we end up reading it through websites and hearing it on podcasts, so I think the girls are insulated from overhearing about it too much. I’m sure that they’ve probably heard the terms “corona-virus” and “COVID-19” without knowing what they mean. That said, they obviously are aware that things have drastically changed, with all of us being home.

Rather than talk about COVID-19, many of our conversations have been couched with the “germs” term: We’re staying home because there are some germs out there that can make people really sick, especially if they’re older or are dealing with something else. They’re asking us to stay home so we don’t spread more germs out there. To the extent, I think especially Clara knows at a high level, why her life has been so disrupted, that things are generally closed and that we’re staying home, but hopefully hasn’t heard about all of the hospitalization and death that has been surrounding this pandemic. That said, we’ve been really intentional about not raising their anxiety level.

Maintaining Sanity

The biggest challenge has definitely been trying to find a balance between our responsibilities as parents, the reality of both of us now working from home full time, coupled with the fact that our kids are also home all day. As a working parent, I have valued being able to segment my time, pouring into work while the kids are at school and daycare, then working to be more present to my kids when they’re home. However having the kids home has blurred these lines, requiring context-switching in a matter of minutes, challenging our ability to be effective at anything. Ultimately it has come down to stringing together good days, and accepting that rough days happen and that tomorrow is an opportunity to start fresh. Our biggest blessing is that the weather has been mostly nice and the girls have been able to be outside, you can definitely feel the tension when the weather is cold and we start to get cabin fever.

In the end, it’s still important to put all of this into context: we’re currently healthy, in a safe home, all together. We’ve learned to live through some of the chaos and understand that a home that has everyone present 24×7 is not going to look immaculate, we try to reset at the end of the day and start over again.

COVID-19, Sports and the NFL

Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, it’s been tragically fascinating to watch how this has impacted sports. Despite it being entertainment, sports remain a foundational pillar of our society, in large part that it gives distraction from the problems in our daily lives, as well as provides a commonality for us to rally around (or against, in the case of the Raiders). Obviously lots of serious things are missing from our social fabric right now, but the absence of sports leaves a unique void.

Likewise, it’s been fascinating to watch how the leagues try to figure out what comes next. Weeks after the abrupt shock that was the NBA and NHL vanishing overnight, it still seems that any sports are months away from returning, even in modified gameplay, sequestered teams, in remote locations, without fans.

Then you have the NFL.

The NFL has a large advantage of being in the midst of their offseason, as well as the ability to turning every league milestone into a major event. They’ve been able to portray “business as usual” more than any sports league. As refreshing it’s been to be reading content that isn’t about COVID-19, it’s not clear whether the NFL realizes that they can also sound tone-deaf about being a contact support involving hundreds of people in the field, in stadiums that typically house tens of thousands of fans – all at a time when people see this as a major risk for virus spread.

For Broncos season ticket holders, the first payment for next season was due on March 11, right when our world seemingly changed overnight. For those that are on payment plans, the remaining half of ticket balances are due in June. Those three months might seem like three years later, at a time when we’ll likely still know less than we do know when it comes to the fall, as well as many fans having experience severe economic disruption and challenge since they made their first payment.

Look, I get that season ticket ownership is a privilege, and in the case of the Broncos, there’s a long line of people who would gladly take your spot. That said, the Broncos and the NFL shouldn’t blame any ticket holder who has major reservations about going to in-person games in 2020. I’ve long thought that season ticket ownership is a years-long partnership between fans and the team, where fans are encouraged to financially contribute in both good times (like the Super Bowls), and bad (like the first back-to-back-to-back losing season in the Bowlen era). The tickets in my stewardship have been with the Broncos since the franchise started, and it’s unfair for the NFL to ask fans to potentially risk their lives in going to games, as well as blindly contribute a significant amount of their income for games that they likely won’t be able to attend.

There’s an easy solution to this problem, one that can ensure that both the fans and the team can continue their partnership: allow season ticket holders to defer their 2020 tickets (and second half payment) to the 2021 season. Ticket holders can elect to apply their previous first-half payment to the 2021 season, giving the team assurance that the fans want to maintain the season ticket partnership. In return, the ticket holders forgo their rights to games in the 2020 season, and their seats are added to the “individual game sales” pool that goes on-sale in July, when the league has a better sense of whether and when any in-person attendance would be allowed. Personally, given the amount of public health and financial uncertainty, I would take this deal in a heartbeat.

However, I remain skeptical that this will happen. Given how ruthless the NFL can be, they’ll continue to expect their season ticket holders to make payments on time, for games that likely won’t happen. They’ve already sent an email stating that they’ll refund any games that don’t happen – but of course after the fans have coughed up the money and the team can make interest off the funds.

Come on Broncos and NFL, these are extraordinary times, take this as an opportunity to do right by your long-time fans.

COVID-19 – Week 2 & 3

We’re venturing into our third week of social distancing/quarantining in our homes. Luckily we still have our health and no one has seriously hurt each other.

This is really strange in many ways. We’ve moved away a little bit from the more organized schedule, replaced by our own natural rhythm of each day. We’ve learned to accept that the kids will be little tornados throughout the day, requiring a resetting of the house each evening – but after accepting that fact, it’s been easier to accept the chaos. It’s also helped that the weather has been nice and the girls have been able to spend more time outside. We play in the back yard quite a bit, as well as ride bikes around our cul-de-sac. We’ve been lucky that the weather has been mostly nice and that we’re able to be outside, although when we get a cold day, those days feel especially long.

Bethany is now has started working from home this week, but with Clara technically on spring break, we’ve relaxed some of the structured learning. She’s scheduled to resume school online next week, and we’ll be facilitating that. Bethany and I are working to trade off the time we focus on work with being present to the family, and it’s seemed to work well so far. I have to confess that the screentime restrictions have gone out the window, but you do what you can go get by.

We’ve done a good job of obeying the official “stay home” order, only venturing out for a dog walk or bike ride, as well as a weekly trip to the store to stock back up. We’ve been lucky enough to find all the items we’re looking for at the store, and the panic-buying has seemed to have calmed down a bit (although there was no toilet paper when I went to Sams Club today).

I’m not quite sure what to make at just how much our kids are picking up of the situation. We’ve avoided using terms like “COVID-19” and “Coronavirus” when the kids are around, and instead of leaned heavily on the term “germs”, pressing the importance of washing hands and maintaining distance. We’ve been lucky that the kids haven’t balked at their favorite places being closed, and have mostly been able to entertain themselves with things around the house. They’ve had some interactions with daycare and dance classes online, and that has surprisingly brought some level of normalcy as well.

Overall weeks 2 & 3 have been filled with the reluctant acceptance of the situation, gratitude for what we have, and nervousness about what may come. Here’s to staying inside and flattening the curve.

COVID-19 Crisis

It’s really become surreal just how much things change over the course of a week. Terms like “Social Distancing” and “Flattening the Curve” weren’t even on our radar, and now it’s all everyone is nervously thinking about. One week ago, lives seemed normal, our trials were relatively marginal, and we had no idea that our days would become so disrupted.

I just wanted to share insights from my little corner from the world. I don’t think that my perspective is really unique, nor do I have any wisdom to offer others, but as we look back on 2020 years from now, I can offer a snapshot of what we’re doing, how we’re feeling, and just how much we don’t know.

Right now there’s more we don’t know about COVID-19 than what we do know. We know that while it’s especially mild for most, those who are elder, infirm, and immutably compromised are especially vulnerable. Driven by efficiency, our medical system is not equipped to deal with a significant influx of ailments, and COVID-19 represents a threat to the capacity of our health systems. In order to stem the tide, we’re working to “flatten the curve” of viral infection. Large events of any kind have been canceled. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and non-essential stores have been closed in order to prevent people from gathering. People have been asked to stay at home and avoid contact with others. “Social Distancing” is really just a term for staying at least 6 feet away from anyone that’s not in your family.

Luckily we’re still able to be outside and get some fresh air through activities like walking, running, and biking. However, people who love sports and gyms are having to find another form of exercise. All the while we’re washing our hands so thoroughly and often that my knuckles are drying up and cracking.

For our own family, the school has been canceled for at least three weeks (although right now it’s being treated as an extended spring break). It’s not clear whether or when we’ll be physically back at school if the school year will be extended out, rescheduled, or canceled altogether. This impacts both Bethany and Clara, but we’re lucky that Bethany gets to be home while the girls are home. At my workplace, people have been sent home, although I have not been personally impacted since I normally work from home. Mari’s in-home daycare isn’t officially closed, but most families have opted to keep their kids home as a precaution. We’re planning on it lasting at least 2-3 weeks.

As you can imagine, this level of isolation is catastrophic for a service-based economy, It’s not clear just how long this will last. Right now it seems to be at least three weeks, but it’s unclear whether schools or other businesses will open, while large gatherings remain banned. At this point, any sense of normalcy seems to be a long ways away.

Throughout all of this, we have many blessings to count. We’re lucky to all be presently healthy, and that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to seriously impact healthy children and youth. I’m lucky that I’m able to work throughout this time and that Bethany and I both have relative income stability. I’m lucky that Bethany’s schedule gets to mirror the girls’ school schedule, and that she’s able to care and entertain them during the day. I’m thankful that we still get to be outside when the weather permits, and that we can still find ways to exercise.

We’re buckling up and seeing where this roller coaster takes us.

The Astros, Sign Stealing, and Baseball Innovation

In watching the Houston Astros Sign-Stealing scandal unfold, its punishments getting doled out, and the open resentment from other players in the league, the same question kept popping into my mind:

Wouldn’t it be possible to equip pitchers with a microphone that enables one-way communication to an earpiece in the catcher’s helmet? If the pitcher quietly speaks into the mic with the glove over his mouth, wouldn’t that stop sign-stealing?

I posed the question on Twitter and Facebook (and thank you to those who responded) and received many illuminating responses.

A quick primer to those not familiar with sign-stealing: when a batter’s at the plate, the catcher will relay a series of signals from his hands (typically between his legs) over to the pitcher, seemingly proposing pitches. The pitcher provides non-verbal responses in the forms of head shakes or nods, then throws the agreed-upon pitch. Sign stealing is when the opposite team tries to intercept and decode the signals, then relay them non-verbally back to the batter. Typically this has been done when there’s a runner on 2nd, but players and teams continue to be innovative in employing sign-stealing, with the Astros having team personnel monitor the signs real-time, relay it to the dugout, with players banging a trash can to get the message back to the batter. The scandal now has a Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more.

Technically, sign-stealing is considered cheating, but the culture of baseball tolerates it as long as you don’t cross an invisible line. Under the mantra, “If you don’t cheat, you don’t try.”, players continually innovate to find new and more effective ways to steal signs, which is what landed the Astros in hot water.

This brought me to the above question, wondering why can’t baseball incentivize teams to apply the same level of innovation to thwart cheating. With apologies to the people for not better representing their thoughtful comments, the gist of reasons were:

  1. Catchers are the ones that have all the knowledge and are instructing the pitcher on what to throw.
  2. It would be too much to ask of pitchers, especially relievers, to call pitches.
  3. Teams would try to intercept the transmissions.
  4. It’s not too much to ask teams not to cheat

For the sake of argument, let’s discard #4 and accept that teams will continue to push boundaries. As for point #3, football has been using play-calling radios for decades – and Patriots jokes aside – has not generally had a problem.

That leaves us point #1 and #2, which to a baseball skeptic like me translates, “It’s always been this way and it’s asking too much for pitchers to change”.

This is the crux of why I struggle with baseball. The double-edged sword of being steeped with tradition also has the ill effect of being resistant to new ideas and methods.

I’m not saying that the sport needs to force every team into doing this, but if they changed the rules to allow for this, you might see some teams taking advantage of the technology, even if it’s just for playing certain teams suspected of cheating. We’ve seen this play out in other sports. When a team finds success, the copycat league will try to adopt and further the methods. Instead, many baseball purists seem to accept that the players will work this all out, with their own form of vigilante justice – taking a few pitches to the ribs. At least through enabling and promotion innovation, you at least give teams an alternative than resorting to physical retaliation.

This also boils down to the fact that Commissioner Rob Manfred opted not to punish the players, in part to achieve their cooperation in the investigation, but also to avoid drawn-out appeals from the Players Union. There wasn’t a great solution to this, but as players have been reporting into training camps it’s been obvious that many harbor vast resentment towards current and former Astros. Perhaps Manfred should consider placing a permanent asterisk on the Astros 2017 championship. Outright stripping the title opens a can of worms (Who would get the title instead, no one? Do the players have to give back their championship rings?), but placing an asterisk allows people to view the 2017 World Series in their own light and allow history to ultimately pass judgement.

The way baseball views sign-stealing is not unlike hockey views fighting: they pay lip service to being against it, but through their inaction they don’t do anything to actually thwart it, relying on some invisible line. People then clutch their pearls after it gets crossed.

Ultimately this is indicative of the decisions that are relegating the National Pastime into a distant third in popularity. The NFL and NBA have their own sets of problems, but they don’t seem to be afraid to promote new ideas and innovation to help the game evolve. I get that baseball is a timeless, individual-statistics-driven game that favors the record books, but this seeming apprehension to evolution is going to be the sports undoing.