I live in a two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment that many realtors would generously describe as “oversize.” But after nearly two weeks of pandemic lockdown—during which my 950-square-foot home has become a workplace for me and my wife and a school for our 4- and 7-year-old—it’s starting to feel distinctly undersize. My wife and I have tried to turn our bedroom into a makeshift office and have designated the dining room as the kids’ workspace, but our zoning regulations are poorly enforced and constantly flouted. Our son (an aspiring construction worker) repeatedly zooms into the bedroom on his ride-on excavator shouting that he’s bored and/or hungry; our daughter (an aspiring gymnast and coder) will cartwheel in and beg to pretty please borrow one of the laptops that we’re working on. While I’m grateful that we’re all healthy and that my wife and I are still employed, I dream of the day when I can again squeeze into a packed, sweaty subway car and make the 45-minute commute to the office.
The coronavirus has made the jobs of millions of working parents in the U.S. even harder. But it has also shaken the lives of children across the country—and the consequences of that might not become apparent for years. Our local schools quickly set up remote learning programs and offer daily conference calls with teachers, but none of this can replace the crucial in-person socialization that takes place in the classroom and the schoolyard. Right now, my daughter and son are each other’s only playmates, and it’s heartbreaking to tell them they can’t invite their friends over or meet them in the playground. During a visit to the beach last weekend, we sat some 30 feet from another family with a girl about the same age as my daughter. In normal times these two first-graders would have built sandcastles together and become friends. But in our new age of social distancing, all they could do was look at each other forlornly from afar.