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Lessons From My COVID Year (and a half)

“These are unprecedented times” – a phrase I think we’re all sick of hearing. As the unprecedented times become more precedented times, I’ve had time to reflect on some of the silver linings of this COVID cloud.  As we weather the storm together – apart, I’ve had the opportunity to shelter in place and work from home with my sister and her daughters, ages 3 and 1. In March 2020, my co-workers were highly intelligent, skilled and trained professionals. In March 2021, my co-workers were still highly intelligent, learning social and interpersonal skills, but not 100% toilet trained. My new co-workers, who are still mastering the art of the English language, the porcelain throne, and dressing for anything other than deranged princess games, are teaching me skills that hopefully will outlast these “unprecedented times.”

Naps Are Good, but Don’t Sleep On The Job

As a childless auntie observing this new toddler world while working from home, I have learned a lot from observing my nieces. When the tummies are full, the diapers are changed, and all other needs have been met, if your toddler is still fussy, you might try a nap. Naptime is crucial for the toddler (and the weary caretaker), as it usually resets the attitude button, and gives much needed respite to the caretaker. Put your toddler down for a nap too early, and it’s a battle. Put your toddler down for a nap too late, and you risk cranky attitudes and a late bedtime. If my sister has taught me anything about toddlers, naptime is magic and timing the nap is as precise a science as looking into a crystal ball.

So, what – I’m telling everyone to take a daily nap? Hmmmm… maybe! But precisely, professionals who work from home need to rest and establish good boundaries with work, especially in this work from home era. Like my sister timing naptime with the precision of a cardiac surgeon, professionals need to consistently check in with themselves, and take the time to rest and refresh when we need it. The work and home lines have blurred, and it’s harder than ever to turn off our computers, phones, etc. since the work is at home, staring us in the face. A good way to avoid burnout is taking breaks when we need it, whether it’s a midday nap (when appropriate), or a quick walk around the block.

All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy

Before working from home, I had a highly regimented schedule, which included 10am snack, 12pm lunch, 3pm coffee snack, and dinner around 5pm. Rarely did that schedule include any “play” time, although I’d sneak away from Big Pink to shop on occasion. Now, it’s not uncommon for me to hear my toddler co-workers chant (at any time of day) “fashion show, fashion show, fashion show at lunch!” It is then expected that all occupants of the house drop what they’re doing to either observe or participate in said fashion show. My new co-workers also demand to be chased or for a rousing game of hide and seek at the drop of a hat. Play time is any time. Since engaging in brief bursts of play throughout my workday, I’ve learned that my favorite roles include “lava monster”, wicked stepmother from almost any Disney movie (also, should we talk about how stepparents are demonized?!?), and Miss Hannigan.

Taking breaks for play – especially in a highly demanding and sometimes emotionally draining field – refreshes my ability to deal with difficult matters. They allow my brain a break and the ability to disconnect personally from the problem at hand. When I come back, I am sometimes able to see the problem from a different angle or perspective. Play time can also be used to get things done – the wicked stepmother and Miss Hannigan are very effective in getting toys picked up or last bites of dinner eaten. For me, and a lot of lawyers, entering time can be a drudge, but if it’s done with a crazy hat ala fashion show at lunch, or while giving directions to your “orphans” who are also cleaning their toys, it can be more bearable.

If At First You Don’t Succeed …

Toddlers are relentless. When they want something, they want it NOW. I have never had a boss more demanding than my new co-workers. I am amazed daily at the simplicity of the tasks that they are charged with learning, like letters, dressing, and yes, toilet training, that they do not master, yet they try, try again. They embrace the learning and the challenges, with encouragement from parents, teachers, and other caretakers. As a lawyer, I have learned that we do not wake up one morning, Elle Woods style, with all the abilities, knowledge, skill, and training that we need to be excellent lawyers – *sigh* that’s why they call it the practice of law. I suspect it is this way in every field – we are born with innate talents, but the talents must be carefully honed and our skill crafted to make us great in our chosen profession. Surrounding myself with family, friends, and excellent mentorship has helped me, as a baby lawyer, try, try again, even when I wanted to throw a tantrum and quit.

My new co-workers will never replace my old co-workers, but I have learned some very valuable lessons from my sweet, funny, frustrating, and adorable nieces, who have helped shepherd me through these “unprecedented times.”

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