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IN THE FAMILY WAY

One pandemic. Three everyday families. Here’s how they make life happen (and what they worry about).

Cardboard classroom partitions, bottomless loads of laundry, existential terror. You know, the usual.

The Agbai family lives in Boston and balances work with a combination of remote and hybrid school.
The Agbai family lives in Boston and balances work with a combination of remote and hybrid school.Terrence Adderley

Since starting a parenting newsletter, I keep hearing one question from readers: “Can you tell me how other families do it?” So, here you go: three everyday Boston-area families, warts and all, on how they run their households during a pandemic. They share routines, insights, and disasters. Remember: You’re not alone.

Heather Hopp-Bruce

Quiana and Uka Agbai

Where: Boston

Kids: A 6-year-old and a 10-year-old; one remote and one hybrid

Jobs: Activist, consultant, and blogger at Harlem Love Birds (Quiana); asset management (Uka)

“My daughter does hybrid, so she gets her social fill. She has done social distancing once after school, walking to get frozen yogurt. Sunday was my son’s first time since March seeing a buddy. He rode a bicycle at an empty park. The mom and I sat with our masks on, far apart. My kids take this seriously,” says Quiana.

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Quiana’s Day

6:30 a.m. Up.

7:20 a.m. Out the door. My daughter has to be at school by 8 a.m.

We do a five-minute meditation on the way, which sets her tone for the day, using Insight Timer.

8:30 a.m. Log my son into BPS.

Uka makes sure he’s up and dressed. We share our calendar with each other. For instance, this morning he knew I was completely unavailable — but he had knee surgery in September, and I knew there wasn’t much he could do, which made me scale back. It’s a dance. If he sees I’m busy, he’ll read the room. We’ve known each other since we were 18, and I just turned 40, so we have a good rhythm. It’s not like we’re trying to guess.

8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. People book appointments with me on Calendly: podcast interviews, writing content, volunteer initiatives. I’ve been doing consulting work, talking with organizations about anti-racism. And I make sure I do therapy, too!

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I have an office with glass French doors, and my son is set up behind me in the dining room. If he needs me, he’ll knock on my door, or I can hear if he’s having trouble. But he’s really adapted to logging in. The issue is boredom. He’ll get up and randomly walk away.

Noon. People always seem to want to talk at noon! My husband handles lunch. My son is very simple; he’s a nugget and fries kind of kid. We rely on an air-fryer. He’s good about helping himself to snacks at snack time and refilling his water.

It’s been challenging because I’m having burnout. I’m used to having breaks and time alone. I just don’t want to hear anyone’s sound. I want to be alone. Sometimes I hop on my faux Peloton and do a ride. I have a Schwinn; it’s compatible with the [Peloton] app.

2:30 p.m. Pick up my daughter and drop my husband at PT.

4:30 p.m. Let the kids decompress, have a snack, and do homework. When my husband is done with PT, he’s wiped out.

6 p.m. Eat. Usually I cook, but my husband can hobble around. The other night, he threw some fish on. Or he’ll order in — we have La Taqueria, which is so delicious. My daughter knows the little girl’s family who owns it.

7:30 p.m. Hurtle toward bedtime. My daughter has the earliest start date and is the most exposed when it comes to COVID. She follows all the protocols. She says to her brother, “Got to take our showers!” She keeps her brother in line. She puts on her cozy auntie robe. It’s precious. She has figured this out.

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8 p.m. They’re down. My son will roam and end up in his sister’s room, but usually by 9 p.m., we don’t hear noise. Then I need to sit down for a minute. The day catches up to me.

We don’t watch a lot of TV in general, but we love “Lovecraft Country.” We’ll sit down for an hour and watch a show. The kitchen gets reset. A lot of times I’m tidying up. It seems like there’s always laundry, which drives me crazy! Why is there so much, if we’re home? I’m always folding.

What’s toughest: “Being able to manage my outward display of terror that this is indefinite. I try my best to manage my outward reaction. I’m concerned about how, long-term, it will affect my children. I put on a brave face,” Quiana says.

The Manning family; Susan is a freelance writer, and Jen is a public high school teacher.
The Manning family; Susan is a freelance writer, and Jen is a public high school teacher.Handout

Susan and Jen Manning

Where: Worcester

Kids: A 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, both in remote school

Jobs: Freelance writer (Susan), teacher at Shrewsbury High School (Jen)

“We never shopped at Wal-Mart, and now we do curbside pickup. I want to be this noble person, but I’m disabled and there’s coronavirus, so we’re buying on Amazon. We’ve made a lot of changes that we wouldn’t normally,” says Susan.

Susan’s Day

6:15 a.m. Wake up the kids to “Reveille” on Alexa at volume 10. They don’t get up otherwise.

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8:15 a.m. Get breakfast and get them to their computers. I have a disability, CMT — Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder. I’m disabled and a freelancer. But I have the privilege of being home to supervise. These are two boys. They see a butterfly and can’t focus.

We have a small ranch, and even if we had a bigger house, I couldn’t have them in two separate rooms. One would be naked on the screen. They’re both at the dining room table. I made big cardboard partitions. The schools in Worcester have been great about providing supplies, Chromebooks, et cetera. I set everything up on what I call a caddy — a thing that spins around, like an inbox.

My family was like, “Really, an inbox?” I am telling you, it’s one less thing to dig around for every day.

The older one has headphones. The other one can’t, because I can’t trust him. I have to stay by his side to make sure he stays focused.

They take three 10-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch. The breaks go fast. My son takes the dogs out at lunch and gets our mail. The schools deliver their lunches.

2:15 p.m. They have 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of a math app — ST Math? I think it’s annoying, but the kids have figured it out. If they behave, they get 20 minutes to a half-hour on the iPad.

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5:30 p.m. Dinner. Most nights we try a crockpot recipe. My wife, Jen, gets home at 3. Last night she ran out to Dairy Queen. It was a [expletive] show after school.

6:30 p.m. Bedtime. My older one needs that much sleep to function.

7 p.m. Wine! I drink wine. I’m partially kidding. I work until 11 or 11:30, freelance writing and editing. I’m exhausted. Part of it is my CMT fatigue. Some days I just cry at the end of the day, and the kids give me a hug. I don’t hide it; I feel they need to see the effects. It’s OK to be overwhelmed and upset.

COVID lesson: “We don’t give our kids enough credit for being resilient, compassionate, understanding. And also for accepting the honest truth,” Susan says.

Joe and Laura Wood run a plumbing company in Mattapan.
Joe and Laura Wood run a plumbing company in Mattapan.Handout

Joe and Laura Wood

Where: Milton

Kids: Three children, ages 3 to 10 with remote-learning pods, plus an adopted puppy and Joe’s mom, who lives with them

Job: Owners of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating in Mattapan

“Laura and I are a pretty modern couple. There’s no: ‘The husband does all this and wife does all that.’ … But one recent thing is the uncertainty around schooling and our different approach. She’s black and white; I’m gray. I think this will all work itself out; she’s like, ‘No, We need to take a proactive approach.’ She does so much of everything that what I could do would be counterproductive. I don’t need to interview my own tutor if she’s already doing it. I’m giving her the reins. There were too many hands in the soup,” says Joe.

Laura’s Day

6:30 a.m. Our 3-year-old wakes us up. She’s ready to party. As soon as I hear her, I check e-mail.

Lunches are made the day before. If I don’t make lunch the day before, the whole day starts out on the wrong foot. But I wake up thinking about the 25 things that need to happen before work. Feed everyone, get dog out, make sure dog’s fed, get my husband ready because he’s not able to do much. He broke his leg two weeks ago.

All of our kids are fully remote. My youngest didn’t go to preschool due to COVID. She’s home all day with our nanny. Our other daughter has a group of three she is working with. I chose a pod because neither of us could not go to work. We run this company on our own. Opting out wasn’t feasible. We have 65 employees, and we owe it to them to be here, too. I blasted all the parents I knew: Is anyone going remote?

Everyone eats breakfast and brushes teeth. I feed the dog. I pack up my fourth-grader and my husband, too. Since he broke his driving leg, I’m his chauffeur until Christmas. We take the dog with us to work. I’m straight out until 4 p.m.

3:30 p.m. Our nanny gets our daughter from her pod.

4 p.m. Our son’s pod ends. There’s homework, drum or piano lessons, swimming or horseback lessons, or if it’s Monday — the day with no lessons — we’re taking the dog for a walk and doing laundry. Monday is my laundry day.

5:15 p.m. Cook dinner. We do tacos, hamburgers, and salmon. Usually my husband rolls in as I’m starting to cook.

6 p.m. My two older kids ride their bikes and play in the neighborhood, which is awesome. My younger one goes next door to [his grandmother]. They eat peanuts and watch a show, which is hilarious. The timing was terrible; she moved in two weeks before the lockdown and got locked in with us. But it’s been awesome for all of us. My kids have a relationship with her that never would have blossomed.

I work out for 20 minutes right then. I do weights, elliptical, or yoga, I just started that; what a world of difference it’s made. I haven’t lost weight . . . but I have so much more patience for the kids and ability to be engaged for the remainder of the night.

7 p.m. Put the little one to bed and check e-mail. I pop on, see if I missed anything — but people know also to call me, don’t e-mail me.

Then I’m making lunches, getting backpacks ready, and we play a game: Shut the Box. My husband found it randomly. It’s a simple math game.

8 p.m. Kids go to bed. I let out the dog for the last time, switch and fix the laundry, pick up the house, and check on my mother-in-law.

8: 30 p.m. We sit down and watch a show. We just finished “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Very depressing. Then I read. I’m finishing Glennon Doyle’s new book. I had been looking at my phone a lot. Reading gives me a better mind-set and keeps me more grounded.

10 p.m. I’m a sleeper.

How they balance: “We run a small business. I heard rumors some of our guys would be poached. I internally process those things and try to keep them from coming up on Laura’s radar screen. I’m already stressed. Why should both of us be? I take problems in the night and try to solve them and not allow them to become something that wrecks both our days,” Joe says.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.