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When your kids become your 'co-workers,' an LI tale of working from home 

Angela Mertz, Christopher Mertz, James Mertz and Samantha

Angela Mertz, Christopher Mertz, James Mertz and Samantha Mertz of Bethpage are staying home together while practicing social distancing.  Credit: Angela Mertz

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“My co-worker is running around naked … doing tumbles.”

“My co-workers showed up in their pajamas today. They ate my food and left a mess on my desk.”

“My co-worker just took blue crayon and used it as eye shadow.”

These “co-workers” referred to in recent Facebook posts are a new breed of office mate that is taking over, so to speak, on Long Island and elsewhere. They’re the rambunctious children of workers who are studying from home now, and they’re unexpectedly sharing ever-shrinking space all day and night with parents forced to telecommute. And as therapy, the adults are sharing their funny stories about what they call their new “co-workers” on social media and forming online support groups.

Extended lunch breaks 

“My co-worker is taking an hour and a half to eat six chicken McNuggets,” Valerie Folie Hopp, 47, of Massapequa posted. Hopp says she’s used to working on her jewelry business from her house, but she finds she doesn’t have as much time to focus on her job since her daughter Chloe, 8, has been studying from home. 

“She’s hanging on my back as we speak,” she says. “My friends with multiple kids say they’re losing their minds.”

Video chat co-stars

Angela Mertz, 47, of Bethpage, does a group text with other telecommuting friends with children to help keep their spirits up during the lockdown. She works for the Melville ad agency, EGC Group. She says her three kids: Christopher, 17; James, 13, and Samantha, 11, have become video stars. “I have to do video chats all day so they’re constantly in a video chat with my clients,” Mertz explains. “They’ll come up and talk to me right in the middle of a conversation.” She adds, “It’s a challenge to say the least with all these crazy people walking around.”

Personal space?

Jaime Zalewski, 43, of East Northport, who posted on Facebook as Jaimesan Elizabeth, says her seven-year-old daughter, Emma, has become her “shadow” in the house — and, of course, Emma shouted a hearty “Hello!” into the phone during her mother’s interview with a reporter. Zalewski is a math teacher at Walt Whitman High School in South Huntington who is now posting her lessons online.

“She’s my shadow. Everywhere I go, she’s there,” Zalewski says of Emma. “If I’m in the kitchen she wedges herself in between me and the counter, and she’s always touching me — whether she’s sitting on me, leaning on me, or she has her foot in my face like the other day. If I go to the bathroom, she’s there.”

Increased distractions 

Lisa Amblo, 55, of East Meadow, sells branding products for a Uniondale book publishing company and she's working from home now and having a bit of pest problem with a spider. "My son [Nicolas, 17] does Parkour [a training discipline that uses movements developed from military obstacle course training] so he's doing it in the house now. It's tortuous — he has a lot of energy. He's basically been spider-walking down my stairs and doing spins and flips in my kitchen."

What’s a telecommuting parent to do?

Melville clinical psychologist Jonathan Kratter, says having their children around all day during their telecommuting can cause “additional stress” for the parent not used to working from home regularly, but he says it’s difficult for children too. It can be confusing to kids and cause them to act out.

“I’ve had emergency online sessions where kids were off their mark, parents were out of sorts … You have to recognize that for kids this experience feels like a snow day and a 10-hour car ride all rolled into one,” Kratter says. He says that schools providing work online for children to do can therefore be seen as “punishment” — "parents need to realize that, or they’ll receive resistance [to an orderly, productive day].” Kratter adds, “If you’re on the phone and the kids are yelling and you can’t talk, they feel rejected.”

Kratter suggests having a family meeting each morning to discuss how the day should go, and putting organization and structure at the top of the parents’ and children’s to-do lists.

“Parents should say, for example, ‘I have a call at 2, homework time starts at 11 … that type of thing,” Kratter says. He adds online play dates can also keep kids occupied in their downtime when the parents are still working. “If a child can make a prearranged time to meet up with a friend online at least he knows he’s not going to be isolated and shut out.”

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