Tricia Dilley’s carefully designed morning routine used to begin with the “quiet car” — one of two designated cars of the 6 a.m. train where she would do her makeup, listen to a podcast or maybe read during her hourlong commute from West Orange, N.J., to her office in Manhattan.
Talking and cellphones are verboten in the quiet car — a respite Ms. Dilley, 40, an executive assistant at a data company, anticipated daily, as a mother of three young boys: Wesley, 8, Grayson, 7, and Darien, 4.
These days, Ms. Dilley’s mornings are more of a boisterous contrast to the quiet car, a tag-team effort of getting the boys out of bed and dressed for the day, while her husband, Anthony Dilley, 43, a vice principal at a charter school, starts on breakfast.
But breakfast quickly gets derailed: recently, with an elaborate Steve Urkel “Did I do that?” impression by Darien. Ms. Dilley and her husband have been introducing their children to “Family Matters,” a 1990s sitcom they watched as they grew up.
My boys “don’t know what quiet time is unless they are sleeping,” she said.
Like millions of parents, Ms. Dilley’s former semblance of work-life balance and separation — with the assistance of her husband and a part-time nanny — has become “a conveyor belt of chaos, as one obstacle was cleared, another one was steadily approaching.”
She now tackles work tasks from about 9 a.m. to noon, while her husband, who is home for the summer, keeps the boys occupied. From noon to 1:30 p.m., Ms. Dilley takes a break to rejoin her husband and sons and prepares lunch (a rotation of peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, ham and cheese, or tuna sandwiches, paired with whatever fruit or vegetable is on hand) before returning to work duties while the children nap in the afternoon.
“Wearing the multiple hats was tough because now it’s, ‘Mommy’s home!’ so that means the chef is here, the dishwasher is here, the cleaner is here,” said Ms. Dilley, who said she gets most of her work done while her sons are sleeping, in order to maintain her 40-hour workweeks.
“Because our kids are so young, they don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being around and not having access to us,” she said about fielding a constant stream of questions.
In the early weeks of the lockdown, what Ms. Dilley originally imagined would be a euphoric experience of rolling out of bed, heading to work in her home office and spending more time with her family quickly faded as reality began to set in.
“I had a work call at 10 the same time my eldest, Wesley, had a Zoom with his teacher and classmates,” she said of one morning this spring. “His computer was about to die as it wasn’t charged overnight. Gray had to get into YouTube to view a video assigned to him by his teacher, but my husband forgot to unblock YouTube from the network. All the while Darien, our 4-year-old, just wanted some attention from either me or his older brothers.”
“I had to turn off my camera and mute my conference call, walk around the house with my laptop while trying to find a charger,” she said. “I felt this self-imposed pressure of still trying to be ‘present’ at work, so I didn’t want to interrupt my call.”
She has since found sanity in structure — sometimes.
“We were gung-ho, like, ‘we can do this, we have a schedule, the kids are going to be amazing,’ and that quickly went out of the window,” Ms. Dilley said. “Basically now we get up and we have to figure out what the day is going to look like.”
The post-nap afternoons are all about getting fresh air. “We ride bikes around the neighborhood, or go for little walks,” she said. “We would do something to get them out of the house because it was not realistic to have everybody in the house all day.”
The lifestyle change has allowed her to bond with her colleagues.
“We now know what each other’s kids look like because we are on videoconference and then my 4-year-old comes stumbling over and he is like, ‘Hi!,’ then I look at my colleague and her kid is on her lap,” she said. “And, it kind of helps you look at your colleagues as more — I don’t want to say, like more human, but more human.”
And at the end of a day, she relaxes by the pool (which her husband recently installed to help keep the children busy during the day) or on the couch watching reruns of “Arrested Development” or “The Office” with her husband.
“Drinks,” she said, “are always in hand.”