Róisín Ingle: Working from home (no kids!) will be a relief. At first

For many of us with school-age children, the next few weeks will represent a sort of respite period

The children are in another house on a sleepover. I wake early, when they are still probably dreaming, recovering from a long day’s night of shopping, skateboarding, Tik Toking, Robloxing and Netflixing.

I go downstairs and fill a giant, almost obscenely pink, plastic bottle I bought in Penneys with two litres of water. I make coffee. Black and strong. I check my emails. Make a to-do list. I take a long sip of water and look out at my herb garden gone wild, at the grey-blue Dublin sky, at the tall pine tree in my neighbour’s garden.

I am, as I have been for the past six months,WFH – working from home. But this morning feels different. That’s because this morning represents a little taster of WFHNK! – working from home, no kids! The exclamation mark is there to denote the novelty of such a situation. This morning is a harbinger of the days to come.

By this week or next, our children, our nieces, our nephews and all the little people in our lives will be back at school or pre-school. We don’t know exactly what that means yet but we have an idea.

The carefully crafted, impressively detailed and lengthy email from my daughter’s school tried to paint the picture. It talked about pods and bubbles, about protocols and rules. The children are going back under conditions that, had we been told about them in the olden days, last January say, we’d have thought it was part of the plot of a dystopian sci-fi movie.

And after dropping them off at the designated point many of us will go back to our home offices ... The silence will be deafening

They will not mix with children outside of their pod. Or mix with teachers other than their own. Their desks will have to be sprayed clean after eating lunch and their pencil cases and school bags will be dry-sprayed with disinfectant every night. They will not be permitted to share any belongings especially “high-touch” items such as pens or water bottles. If we need to leave anything for them at the school, forgotten lunch or stationery say, it must be left on the front step of the school in a sealed bag.

We will drop the children off at a designated point and only at that point. We will not walk to the door of the school with them. Parents may not congregate and must stand 2m apart. Parents are not allowed to hang about after drop-off or pick-ups making small talk with other parents about lost hoodies or the weather or what we did last summer or the merits of Kinsale over Lahinch.

(Anything that gets me out of small talk situations is to be welcomed. But this regular pre-Covid weekday morning and afternoon ritual will be missed by many, I think.)

And after dropping them off at the designated point many of us will go back to our home offices to WFHNK! for a few hours. The silence will be deafening. The stillness, strange but inviting.

Nobody looking for their basketball. Nobody fighting over the remote control. Nobody asking what’s for lunch when breakfast has just been served. Nobody to make lunch for except ourselves. Nobody to shout at when on Zoom calls – “keep it down out there, I am WORKING!”

Each to their own. I much prefer the soundtrack in my current office

If you’ve smaller kids than mine, and you deserve a medal if you’ve WFH-ed with smaller kids, nobody to feel guilty about because you plonked them in front of Disney Plus for an hour while you met your deadlines or your boss on a screen. Nobody saying “I’m starving” 71 times a day. A very different kind of WFH environment in other words.

Dishwasher soundtrack

That’s the glass half full part of me talking. The other part of me knows what else is looming. Children waking up with sniffles and fevers, parents knowing we can’t send them in today. Worrying about Covid tests and the anxious wait till the results come back. Quarantining while we wait.

I read recently, thinking it was a joke as I do many things these days, about a new app which replicates typical office sounds like the photocopier, printers and chatty co-workers. Some people have found it “comforting” to listen to such sounds while they WFH.

Each to their own. I much prefer the soundtrack in my current office. The washing machine and the dishwasher. Knocks from delivery people at the door. The radio on full blast because you don’t have to use headphones. Daily Joe Duffy. And, now, Claire Byrne.

I know the office is a sanctuary for some – WFH as a younger person in a house or flatshare continues to be challenging, for just one example – and I hope those people get back there as soon as possible if that’s what is best for them.

For many of the rest of us with school-age children, the first few weeks of WFHNK! will represent a sort of respite period. A few hours a day to focus fully on what we need to do to earn a living and/or run a home.

I am happy for my daughters too. They need other people to interact with, ones they are not related to. People who don’t ask “have you brushed your hair?” 71 times a day. It will be refreshing for all of us at the start.

It will be something new, something approaching normality. Until inevitably, the full reality of the new school normal is revealed. And that will be a whole other story.