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Working from home: Distractions abound but ‘co-workers’ are cute

TOKYO >> Today is my fourth straight day working from home and, consequently, the fourth day of my living nightmare.

Yes, with the coronavirus quietly spreading across the nation, I am grateful that The Japan Times has given me the option to work remotely and avoid rush-hour trains.

But with three sons who are cooped up indoors during nationwide school closures, it’s been anything but smooth sailing.

This has been the routine so far: In the morning I have a 30-minute video conference with colleagues via my laptop in the living room.

Since my sons — 10, 8 and 6 — are forbidden from watching YouTube or TV or playing video games in the morning, they are supposed to sit by me and study.

When I start the video conference on this day, however, the 8-year-old and 6-year-old peek over my shoulder, giggling at the sight of all my colleagues on screen, and invariably start to ham it up and make funny faces.

“Who’s that on the screen, Mommy? Are you speaking in English? What are they saying?” the 8-year-old asks.

At first, my colleagues laugh, wave and call them cute. But 10 minutes later, the children get bored and start fighting. I get distracted but fight the urge to shout for them to stop in front of my coworkers.

At one point, one of my colleagues says, “Could you turn off your microphone so that we can hear the other speakers’ voices more clearly?”

Embarrassed, I shut off the mic and scold my children: “OK, cut it out. … Now!”

The 6-year-old, whose day care is open but insists on staying home while his brothers are off school, probably thinks he won’t be scolded if he’s quiet and starts swinging a plastic sword, banging it on the walls.

With a sigh, I surrender. I allow him to watch YouTube in the next room since he won’t enter elementary school until April and doesn’t have homework.

This is a scene that’s undoubtedly playing out in homes across the nation as parents are forced to work from home while their children are off from school. For me, it’s complete chaos and far from the civil work environment I’m used to at the office.

You can’t blame the kids, though. Children in my municipality have been told not to go outside during what would be their normal school hours, roughly 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They aren’t supposed to play at the park, visit friends or even go to the library, which is only open to those who are returning books or borrowing reserved books.

The only trip my kids took outside was to a convenience store, a 3-minute walk from home, to buy some snacks and get a bit of fresh air. Many parents are starting to worry that their children aren’t getting enough exercise — my sons’ swimming lessons have been canceled for the next two weeks.

With a growing number of people nationwide suffering from the virus, I am grateful that my kids are in good health.

And there are some positives: Working from home saves me from commuting into the office, giving me more time to spend with my children.

They are certainly happy that Mommy is staying at home. When they learned that I would be at home for most of the month, they shouted “Hooray!” in unison.

When the eldest studies next to me in the morning, he tells me all about the latest weapons and updates offered on Fortnite, an online game that has become extremely popular in our home.

One day, the youngest cuddled up to me and whispered, “Can you hug me, Mommy?” Of course, I did, even though I was on deadline.

How are other parents working from home coping? I am desperate to know. Is this an ideal working environment? As of Day 4, I would have to say “no.”

And I still have a month to go.

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