Working from Home with Kids

Working from Home with Kids

As we watched from the other side of the world, we sent our “thoughts and prayers” to China as COVID-19 swept their nation this past December and into the new year. I, like many, thought, “Oh, that’s sad,” then moved on with our daily lives as the news drifted in and out of our fast paced lives. The virus quickly travelled west as Europe started putting up red flags – Italy getting hit especially hard. Various international business and parenting Facebook groups that I follow cried out as they were quarantined in their homes with their family – children especially going stir-crazy. These virtual group members supported them and offered ideas for passing the time and expending pent-up energy. 

March greeted us and the deadly virus was no longer on the other side of the world. It was in our backyard. Before we knew it, the Coronavirus lingered by our front door as it haunted our every move. We began to argue about it’s severity, about precautions, and whether the media is fear mongering.

Then reality hit. Schools, businesses, the entire entertainment industry – including the American’s beloved national and collegiate sports teams – shut down. Now so many of us, if we’re blessed enough to still have a paying job, are working from home – myself included. 

Our kids are also at home because childcare and/or schools are closed (again, our family is no exception), which poses a conflict. How can I be productive working from home when my kids are home? You’re probably also asking, since my kids are not in school, how do I keep them engaged in academic activities so that they don’t fall behind once schools open again? 

Social media has allowed these families to come together and support each other in schooling their children at home. Teachers have piped up and offered assistance. Many of these families have never considered homeschooling and never had the opportunity to learn how to teach a child, much less actually do it. Adding the need to be productive with your own work, this has been a major challenge for most families in the U.S. 

I feel modestly prepared to take on this task with my preschooler. Our life has not had a “normal” routine since he was born more than 3 years ago. I have never really “left” my job; I’ve switched back and forth between working from home and working at the shop. I’ve had to work full-time for the past 18 months while still having our son around for a good portion of the day. I’m fortunate that Andrew and I both have education degrees, tons of experience with kids, and come from families full of teachers. My mom and mother-in-law have especially been helpful, having decades of experience teaching preschool – elementary school children. 

In the time I’ve wandered back and forth between working from home and working at the shop with a toddler in my care, I’ve learned some great lessons that have made this full-time working and schooling from home a reasonably smooth transition.

1. Create a routine and stick to it

Think about what a normal routine was like for your child when they were in school and/or childcare. Write out that hourly routine and consider how you might replicate that at home. Just like you have a normal routine for your work-day, they also have a school-day routine that keeps them grounded and productive.

Older children may have been sent schoolwork packages to keep them on track with each subject in their curriculum, but what about electives and extra-curriculars? How many times a day did they have recess? Did they have a set reading or study time? What time did they eat lunch? What time did they get to school/come home from school? 

Like the older children, keep babies’ and toddlers’ snacks, lunches, and quiet times on a similar time schedule. Just because they don’t get tested or graded, doesn’t mean you should usurp learning activities. Keeping their minds engaged and challenged both keeps them occupied, learning and growing. Occupying them in something meaningful may allow you some precious moments to focus on your work while they’re occupied. 

The big difference for the younger kids is that their attention span is much shorter and they are less independent in learning tasks. Where you may be able to block out an hour for a 10-year old to engage independently in an activity or two (45 minutes engaged activity, plus instruction and wrap-up), I suggest keeping younger kids’ focused learning activities to a 30 minute time-slot (15-20 minutes engaged activity, plus instruction and wrap-up). Fill in gaps between structured learning with free play – playing is learning!

Believe it or not, kids actually thrive on order and routine, especially when things get a little out of whack. They might resist at first, but stay the course and be consistent. Provide this daily security during such an uncertain time.

2. Prioritize school routines and weave work throughout 

I know that you are doing your best to get the same amount of work done at home as you do in the office. With kids around, that is unlikely to happen (sorry!). However, you can set a new work pace and accomplish realistic goals if you are wise in how you manage your time. 

First of all, if you have two parents working from home at the same time (bonus!), you are more likely to be successful in your work goals if you coordinate responsibilities. Take turns in teaching and learning times with the kids. Figure out which subjects you each thrive in and divide them up. When one parent is with the kids, the other parent gets uninterrupted work time. If you plan well, even the parent working with the kids can sneak in some work while the children are focused on a task.

Secondly, plan your childrens’ schedule first, then sort out where you can fit your work priorities in that framework and what work tasks are best to do when. If you try to work your kids’ schedule around your work priorities, you are going to feel frustrated and agitated by your kids’ need for attention and end up spinning your wheels. On the other hand, if they are content and engaged in their work, you can manage your own time accordingly. For example, if my son is working on an art project, I know that I need to keep my attention on him, lest paint get all over my whole house, but I can probably be checking and responding to email during that time. I save my focused projects for when he’s engaged in play (i.e. play dough works miracles!) or napping. 

Finally, if there’s absolutely no way around needing some focused work time (i.e. you have a scheduled phone or video conference), don’t feel bad about a little extra TV time in the middle of the day. Find something that everyone agrees on and that, if possible, would be intellectually challenging for the kids. Afterwards, have a conversation with them about a moral or ethical conflict between characters or the good or poor choices a character made. I’ve been known to do this after my 3-year-old has watched the movie Cars for the thousandth time (Wow, Lightning McQueen was truly a selfish jerk until he met the folks in Radiator Springs!). 

3. Involve the whole family in the process.

I already mentioned having mom and dad trade teaching time if possible. If you have children of multiple ages, you can also involve the older children in helping to teach the younger children. Not only does it give you some extra space, but it’s actually really beneficial to the kids. The older kids get to reinforce and feel confident in what they already know. The younger kids learn to trust their older siblings and establish a positive bond in their relationship with them.

Make this uncharted adventure a group process – for older kids, have them share what their daily schedule is like and work together as a family to develop your “new for now” routine.  For younger kids, get to know what their favorite part of their school day is and prioritize that in your schedule. 

Take time to find out what your children want to learn about. Find times where you can all work and learn together about a subject that interests one of the kids and continue to take turns. You can also look at what they’ve been learning at school and make it a group project for the whole family. Get creative and make it enjoyable for everyone.

4. Use the resources you have around you. 

If you don’t have a set curriculum, work sent home by your child’s teacher, or your child is bored and/or getting done with their work too quickly, you might need to come up with some additional material. Or, if they are being overly challenged and getting stuck, they may need some assistance. With younger preschool or kindergarten age children, you may not have much teaching content to go off of. Parents, I’m here to encourage you that you are not in this alone

I know that many teachers are concerned about kids around the country who are not going to be able to keep up with learning and want to help. Reach out to friends and family to see if they know anyone who is certified in your child’s learning level who might be able to tutor them virtually. Reach out to your child’s school to find out what resources they have available to families. Even my son’s preschool is providing resources and help to keep their kids learning, growing, and connected with their friends from school. 

For younger children, like mine, you may feel like you are starting from scratch. Consider where they are developmentally, the kinds of work that was sent home from school in the past months (i.e. Were they going through letters in a certain order? Colors? Shapes? Reading a certain type of stories?) and replicate some of those activities – practice makes perfect and they won’t get bored doing the same activities a few times. If they have a favorite, let them keep doing it and find ways you can change it up every so often. Even taking more time each day to read to them, play with your child’s toys together, or involving them in activities at home (my son LOVES baking and cooking – we talk about amounts, texture, temperature, etc and it usually becomes a science lesson of sorts). 

Finally, there are tons of amazing resources out there. One that I love for children from infancy through grade school is Dad Lab (Google it! – there’s a book, a YouTube Channel, Instagram, Facebook group, etc) which has tons of great ideas. Take a subject that interests your child (Arthur is really into space right now) so we use that interest and incorporate letter sounds of the planets, simple math, colors, etc to supplement his learning. We go online and watch videos about planets and look for images to talk about. 

Embrace the now

As the old adage goes, use this time to make lemons into lemonade. It’s incredibly difficult to turn on the news or Google “COVID-19” and not wrap your mind around that fact that this is not a Stephen King novel that we’re living – it’s real life. Our kids don’t need to hold onto that fear any more than we do. You may even have a friend or a family member who is ill with this virus or has succumbed to its horror. Andrew encourages me repeatedly to take one day at a time. Today, embrace the time you get to be home with your children. 

Remember the first day you put them into child care or their first day of school and the ambivalent pull of emotions that made you burst with pride and mourn the parting all at the same time (you, too, dads!). Hold onto these moments that you get to be together. When your child is resisting the school lesson or you are pulling your hair out because you can’t concentrate on your work proposal, just stop. Stop and take a breath and remember that you are all in this together. Take a break from what you are doing and find something fun to do as a family. 

These circumstances won’t be with us forever. Just like how the country found a new normal after 9/11, we will find a new normal once schools and workplaces are open again and life will – and must – go on for the survivors.

– From the Mechanic’s Wife

The Mechanic’s Daughter

The Mechanic’s Daughter

She answered the phone with a smile. Sitting in our old paint-faded Corolla with my little boy in the back seat, the increasing vibration was really stressing me. The calm voice at the other end reassured me that Andrew had plans to sort it out. It’s not often I get stressed about the vehicles I drive because, after all, I am a mechanic’s wife, but cars need what cars need. Mechanic’s cars are no more immune to needing eventual repairs and maintenance and repairs than a hairdresser needs a haircut.

Over the past couple months Andrew and I have had a stretch of maintenance and repairs due on our vehicles. It may be a tad easier for us sometimes because of our business, but it’s still an investment in time and money to keep our vehicles in a safe and reliable condition. We still have to be intentional about caring for our cars.

That calming voice on the other end of the phone knows how it is. Victoria’s grandfather and father are both mechanics and she grew up around their auto repair shop in Olathe, Kansas – between Lawrence and Kansas City. We first met her when she brought her Grand Am to us with some frustrating symptoms. It was an involved process but we must have done something right because a few months later she trusted us enough to come back when she experienced a tire issue. During that visit she waited in the office for a little while, engaged with our three-year-old and shared some of her passions with me. At the end of the visit we mentioned that if she knew anyone, we were hiring. I also happen to mention that if she was interested herself <wink, wink>, we’d be happy to talk with her about it. 

She was a fit! Now if you need a reminder that your vehicle isn’t going to crumble underneath you (it really won’t!) and that we’re going to help you make the right decisions for you and your family, Victoria will be here to walk you through that process. She’s earned her Associates in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Valencia College and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business from UCF. She aspires to using her education, skills, and giftings to serve and help others.

I think that one reason she fits in so well is that, similar to Andrew – the oldest of five kids and homeschooled – Victoria was also homeschooled with three older siblings. They were both very intentionally taught the value of problem solving and hard work from a young age. We can see that work ethic in how she’s jumped into her role, is absorbing everything we’re teaching her, and decidedly stepping outside of her comfort zone in areas where she’s gaining new experience. 

The daughter of a nurse and a mechanic, a close knit family that spreads across multiple generations, a children’s theater actress at her church, a love of dancing, and her weekend job of modelling wedding dresses (Yes, that’s right. She’s a model. Of wedding dresses. Any young men out there? 😉 ), she can find a way to connect to just about anyone. She has a knack for helping people feel at ease when they walk through the front door or reach out by phone, text, and email. She’s well-rounded, bright, warm, and friendly, and we’re feeling very fortunate!

If you’ve become a friend of the Marinelli’s, you may be wondering what’s happening to me, the Mechanic’s Wife. Well, I’ve never really felt completely at home in the client service’s position and always hoped that we’d find just the right person to take on that side of things. I’m most passionate about and feel most equipped for marketing, communication, community engagement, and staff care. 

Beyond that, Andrew and I have a sweet and very intelligent little boy who needs more time with his mom and dad. He needs a mom who can stay home with him when he’s sick and give him a daily routine that’s more suited to a young boy. Victoria being on board is allowing that to happen. She’s just the beginning of some very exciting changes for us, which I’ll be sharing with you soon! 

-The Mechanic’s Wife

No Obstacle Unsurmountable

No Obstacle Unsurmountable

For the Marinellis, this is the most “normal” Christmas season we’ve had in a long time (even with our son getting sick on Christmas Day). If you take a look back on this blog, you will see that it’s been a long while since anything new has been published. Let me be honest, it’s been a long while since our business or our family has had any kind of normalcy since beginning this business five years ago, particularly in the past 18-36 months relatively speaking. The point of this isn’t to go into detail of family or business ups and downs, and there have been an overwhelming amount. The point of this is to share with you that, despite our many challenges, we’re not giving up. 

The past 18 months have been particularly hard with a combination of business challenges, and home/personal trials. It’s been taxing to say the least. Business challenges affect our personal lives and our personal lives affect our business. That’s what happens when you run a small family business. And have a toddler. And are married to your only co-worker. And have customers that you genuinely care about. It’s hard to keep that balance.

I (Bethany) told Andrew the other day that he’s like an icebreaker ship. He’s got a strong hull, a determined mindset, and plows through any obstacle that gets in his way with calculated precision. He paves the way for the rest of us to navigate the frozen waters. He’s been the foundation of our weathering stormy trials that have threatened us. Our son and I have been dependent on him both at home and at the shop to help us through. As you can imagine we’re both drained, but I can’t imagine the depth of Andrew’s weariness and yet he still plows on.

This year, we’re hoping to make some significant changes in our business that will not only allow our family to find a better balance, but our ability to care for our clients, too. Our clients are the heart of our business. If we’re not finding a good balance for our family and business, then we’re not serving you as well as we should. 

If you are already a client, please keep giving us feedback on what would make your experience better. Please keep sending your friends and family to us. Your loyalty to us and those recommendations are what keep our business going in a sustainable direction. We want to stay here for you!

If you have yet to try us out, you are more than welcome to give us a call, even just to talk about your goals for your vehicle and what you are looking for in a repair shop. Our goal is never to sway you from a shop you already trust, but to become that shop if you don’t yet have one. 

Whoever you are, we would like to help you find that balance of being satisfied with the safety and reliability of your vehicle while not stepping outside a reasonable budget. 

If this holiday season has met you with trials and disappointment, please give us a call. We care about you beyond fixing your car. We would like to support you in whatever way we can. 

The Littlest Mechanic

The Littlest Mechanic

“Awe, look at that little mechanic in the making!” is a comment that Andrew and I regularly hear from people when our son is in tow. In an effort to be polite, our response is often something like, “Well, we’ll see.” We realize people are just making “daddy’s little boy” conversation, however, it’s actually a challenging issue for us.

The whole reason behind opening our own shop is rooted in the fact that it’s a really difficult industry to work in and a challenging industry to adhere to quality standards. Andrew saw an opportunity to be his own boss, to create a better automotive repair environment for anyone we might employ and anyone we might have the opportunity to serve.

This roots back to why Andrew even got into the industry in the first place. He had never done much more on a vehicle than change oil and put on a spare tire, so it wasn’t that he started dabbling in auto repair as a hobby, then decided to pursue it as a career. It was more that he really likes helping people in practical ways and he saw an opportunity to learn something that would be a practical service to others.

So, after years in the industry where he experienced many challenges and then went to work for himself, the honeymoon period of the excitement of solving a problem on a car and fixing it has worn off. Sure, there is satisfaction in a job well done, especially when there is a grateful customer involved, but it’s a dirty and often unforgiving job that doesn’t pay well. While he may not put on a big smile and say, “Oh yay! I have a challenging problem to deal with today!,”I can tell you that he certainly finds fulfillment in knowing that he’s been able t provide a practical service for people who need it.

The Littlest MechanicIf someone were to ask if we are going to encourage our son into the field, Andrew would quickly tell you “no.” We won’t prevent him from becoming a mechanic if he decides he’s being called into the field, but we aren’t going to point him in that direction. That’s what it really comes down to, is that we want our son to feel free to explore whatever he feels called to. If it’s auto mechanics, Andrew will give him a realistic picture and opportunity to see what that would be like. If it’s teaching or engineering, or dolphin training, or studio art, we’ll help him find whatever opportunity we can to explore that field and to be successful in whatever he does.

Andrew and I, like most parents, just want our child to be healthy, happy, and loved no matter what he decides to do with his life. For now our “little mechanic” is doing what every one-year-old should be doing – exploring how things work in the world around him and where he fits into that world. Should that draw him into auto mechanics, only time will tell.

-From The Mechanic’s Wife

Big Business Development

Big Business Development

On May 31st, all of the tenants in our building received notice, to no fault of our own, that we must move out by July 2nd. We had no warning that this was coming and we are doing everything we can to maintain our quality standards of communication, service, and workmanship while we make plans to relocate.

It is our goal to continue serving you through this transition with as little interruption as possible. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact us about maintenance and repairs you might need during this time.

We have a wonderful community of fellow business people who have been a tremendous support in providing advice and connecting us to all the right people; as well as friends, family, and customers who are offering their prayer and encouragement through this difficult situation. We are working with a wonderful commercial realtor to find a new space asap.

We will continue to update you as progress is made. You are welcome to call (407-671-6274) or email (info@marinelliautoservice.com) with any questions or helpful ideas you might have as we make this transition.

Thank you for your continued support and we will update you as this situation develops.

Andrew, Bethany, and Jonathan

Seeking Greater Impact, Not Greater Success

Seeking Greater Impact, Not Greater Success

Most of us have been there. You are at a staff meeting or a party and the boss stands up and says something to the effect of, “We’re a family,” referring to you and the however many other employees (some whom you hardly know), in a way to say you are cared for as an employee. Your mixed emotions about the job itself send a disconcerting chill up your spine. You don’t see these people as family. Sure you’ve made some good friends at this job. You celebrate your successes together and even sometimes talk about the downsides of the company, but you definitely aren’t each other’s family. It may even be that it was originally started as a family business and the CEO is the grandson of the company’s founder. However, that doesn’t make the CEO your brother.

That’s how Andrew and I have often felt in previous employment. We were just trying to “get by,” pretty much since we’ve been married, not necessarily looking for a second family. He grew tired of the work-place politics that comes with working for someone else. He also saw a gap in the auto repair industry that he wanted to fill (at least for the few that would visit his shop) and decided he’d be his own boss for a change. I caught onto his vision and now we are well on our way to establishing ourselves in our community as a trusted auto repair shop. We are an actual family. We’re a family serving families. We’re small, and we plan to stay that way.

We Really Are Family

We are trying to shape our business in a way that allows us a healthy family life. We’re not afraid to adjust our hours to allow for family time or to not schedule work on a Friday so Andrew can be with me while I undergo surgery. We’re a family business and if our business isn’t good for our family, we need to change our business, not our family. We need to provide for not only the practical monetary needs of our family, but the emotional and spiritual needs as well. If Daddy is never around because he’s working, then we’ve failed to truly provide for our son. It’s certainly not easy – in fact it’s been a major struggle for us – but it’s important so we keep looking for ways to make it work.

The same goes for our employees. The great thing about our staff, past and present, is that we were all friends before we were co-workers. That doesn’t mean this will always be the case, but it certainly means that if we end up hiring someone we don’t know, we will make every effort to be their friend as well as their employer – we’re all on the same level just trying to provide.

Our office manager, Jonathan, and his wife, Sarah, have been a part of our life long before Jonathan was hired. In fact, Sarah and I were roommates when Andrew and I got married and he moved in with us for the last couple months of our lease. When she met Jonathan, we made a point to have them over for dinner so we could get to know him better. Working together has made us all closer than ever. We help each other out with everything from childcare to bringing each other meals when someone is recovering from childbirth or illness to even cleaning each others homes. So, when we say we’re like family, it’s because we really do treat one-another like we’d treat a member of our family.

If It’s a Good Business, Why Stay Small?

I’ve had a lot of major health issues over the past year. One thing that frustrates me more than anything is calling a doctor’s office and having to fight to talk to the person who can address my needs. I call, choose the number on the phone menu that I think will address my need, getting a person who isn’t the right person, then being put on hold. Three people later, I’m talking once again to the first person I spoke with who asks if I can hold while I’m transferred. I don’t know these people. I don’t know the right person to talk to. When I finally do get the correct person, they can’t really address my need anyway. It’s so frustrating!

That’s why I prefer small independent practices. I know who I’m going to talk to when I call, I know what to expect when I schedule my appointment, and I know who is going to be treating me. Keeping this body in good health is a challenge, I don’t want to be fighting to talk with the people helping me do it.

We want all of our customers to feel like they are valued, not just because it’s good business sense, but because we really do care about people. When you call, we want the person on the other end to be familiar to you. When we ask how you are, we really want to know. We want to become familiar with you, your family, and your car. When we don’t see you for a while, we’ll wonder how you are doing. Staying small means that personal touch of being able to go above and beyond for our customers, of having a personal relationship with you and managing good quality control over our business practices and mechanical work. It means that our customers keep coming back because we’ve given them reason to trust us.

We’re OK With Letting Go

It’s hard to find just the right person to fit in with any business, especially one like ours that has a very specific vision and is made up of a small team working closely together. However, we want to see our employees succeed in the ways that they are uniquely gifted.

We recently had a good friend and great mechanic leave his part-time job with us to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. It was a loss for us, but we are excited to see him make an impact on his family and the world through this career change. Eventually we’ll have the resources to hire a full-time mechanic that equals his skills and ability. It will allow us to grow our business and become even better than we are now. There will come a time when we will either need to expand our business and entrust this mechanic with more responsibility or see them move on to better things. We’re not looking to expand to a multiple location business because, as I mentioned, we want to stay small. We would gladly cheer that person on to open their own business that reflects the quality of service and relationships they experienced while working for us. The world doesn’t need Marinelli Auto Services on every corner, but it does need more shops that make the effort to break the stereotype of auto repair as a dishonest industry.

Our goal is not about us getting big, it’s about shaping trust within the industry. It’s not about making a name for ourselves, it’s about revealing that there’s something greater for each and every person who seeks a solution in even the most trying circumstances.

-From the Mechanic’s Wife

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