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Column: A diary of work and school from home, mostly
Shannon Casas high res

Life has changed drastically in a very short time. 

So fast and so invisible is this threat, that it feels like perhaps I’m imagining it all. The odd feeling that it must be almost time to wake up from an unsettling dream keeps nagging. Connecting with other faces on screens who are all experiencing the same is an odd way of grounding oneself.

I count myself very lucky to have the ability to work from home, to still be working — though our business is suffering along with many others in our community.

And I do not take lightly the innocent joy my kids share. One is playing in a tree now, dressed in a superhero mask and cape. Another is wearing his mohawk helmet and searching for his putty. They bring a sense of normalcy. 

I pray you find some normalcy and some hope today. Week one of social distance is complete. We don’t know how many more weeks we will have to go.

Day 1

I typically spend my Mondays catching up on housework. The kids go off to school and I have the house to myself, which is one of the advantages of working Tuesday through Saturday.

This Monday, I woke up and made buttermilk biscuits. And while the kids ate, I had the first of many video conference calls. Sunshine glared from windows behind my desk, turning my face into a dark shadow. I internally critiqued my lighting situation while we discussed who was set up to work from home and what else needed to be done. I noted a few things to follow up on, and then I started school from home with our oldest. 

First up, a reading activity. 

He sat in his comfy superhero chair on the floor of the dining room, laptop in lap.

Logging in and finding the materials was no problem.

Getting him to actually do the activity rather than skip to the end was a problem.

At some point he screamed, “You’re not my teacher,” got up from his superhero chair and stormed off. 

After repeatedly repeating “these are the instructions your teacher gave me,” he eventually gave in and got it done.

And it went very smoothly after that. He did great.

By the afternoon, there was another video conference call for work. And a video call for guitar lessons. And an online order to pick up from the grocery store. All in the same hour.

It is still possible to overbook yourself while doing everything from home.

My husband came home from work early, which helped. 

But he’s not returning to work any time soon, if at all.

Day 2

School from home today started with lessons on addition. Not that I can’t handle addition, but my husband with the mostly unused degree in secondary math education took over school from home. 

I was glad to not be teacher for the day. And I had plenty of work to do.

I messaged editors and reporters while a little one behind me watched videos about pandas from a link of educational activities someone had shared.

The flow of information was constant between communicating with staff and publishing new content. And I kept redirecting my kids to my husband. 

“Can you play outside? I don’t know, ask B.” 

“You need help going potty? Ask B.” 

“Your brother is doing something you don’t like. Tell B.”

Finally, I took a break long enough to drive to the office to work on a few things I couldn’t do from home. The empty newsroom betrayed the flurry of work getting done elsewhere.

The kids were in bed when I got back home. It was my sisters’ birthday. We had a FaceTime birthday party. They’re twins, and this is only the second time in their lives they haven’t been together on their birthday.

My baby nephew wore a shark animoji on his head, and they busted into the “Baby Shark” song, switching the camera to mom and dad, also with shark animojis.

It was good to laugh, even if we couldn’t be together.

Day 3

More of the same. Work, work and more work. I think the oldest kid did some reading today. 

I went in to the office again, working to hit a print deadline for a special section I couldn’t possibly update to reflect the week’s news. 

Our staff began heaping praise on anyone announcing they were getting up for a walk.

Keeping our plans updated, our website updated, our social media updated, our live updates story updated — it was all taking a toll. But the need for credible information feels more important than ever.

Day 4

While my kids played outside, I checked in with reporters in our first video conference call. Once I figured out the sound on my computer was off and that’s why I couldn’t hear anyone, we were good to go. Plans were made. A giant list of angles to tackle was compiled.

The news kept coming. The work kept coming. The onslaught was constant.

That afternoon I got up from my computer, planning to go take a walk in the woods.

My husband, working on our taxes, asked if I had the Social Security numbers for the kids. I almost burst into tears at the thought of my brain having to compute another single thing. I was working the late shift also. I went to the woods. I walked fast. I walked faster. I kept my distance from others.

I finally stopped, sat down on a small hill overlooking a winding stream. I tried to slow my brain for a few minutes.

Then I went to the office to put final edits on that special section. After a day of work publishing online, I switched to preparing content for the print edition. I got home late. But there was no need to wake early.

Day 5

I woke late. 

On the last video conference call of the week, I learned I could use the technology to place a photo behind my face just like a weatherman and his green screen map. I sipped coffee, appearing to be in front of a sun setting on the Atlantic, green hills and stones of the west coast of Ireland bathed in a magical purplish dusk.

Later, I worked outside on my front porch. The bees, birds and flowers didn’t seem to be panicking, or noticing at all.

An invisible threat is oddly surreal. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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