The pitter-patter of tiny feet running across the halls of corporate office buildings around the country used to signal the sometimes dreaded but mostly revered day of the year, “Take Your Child to Work Day.” It was a day to show your kid what you actually did for a living. You’d let them sit at your desk, play with your stapler, and use up a pad or two of Post-it Notes to create an artistic masterpiece.
It was adorable, it was a fun break from the monotony, and it was unique because it was only one day of the year. But now that the “COVID apocalypse” has taken away all of our schools and office buildings, every single day is TYCTWD. And it’s hell.
My personal situation is relatively uncommon in most parts of the world. Still, in Los Angeles, where I live, you could argue that it’s definitely not unheard of. You see, I’m an actor/writer/comedian. Hence my day-to-day work is less likely to involve life inside a cubicle and more likely to include trying to schedule my day around an acting audition that usually pops up unexpectedly across town and coincides with 3 other things my kid should be doing at that time. All while needing to finish script pages for a deadline and under the duress of trying to write new material for my stand-up show later that night. In other words, fun!
How the Zoom boom has altered routine
But times have changed. Now, I tape my auditions at home, I have my writing meetings through Zoom from home, and I also do stand-up shows through Zoom. Home is not only where the heart is these days, but it’s where literally everything else is and seemingly will be forever and ever until the vaccine officially saves us, Amen.
You might ask, “How is it not better now then?” If I used to figure out how to get all over town, shouldn’t things be so much easier for this fragile Hollywood Liberal? I’ll entertain your question even though I think most of you already know the answer. Most of you have also been experiencing the and seemingly never-ending Groundhog Day-Esque TYCTWD. One simple task like a morning meeting used to be fairly simple to accomplish. Get to work, grab some coffee, go into the conference room, zone out for 45 minutes, done.
But now it’s making some coffee if you have time. Since you’ve been fixing the internet all morning, made everyone breakfast, and still helped the kids with school work, you barely have time to have a decent shirt on, let alone pants. Getting through 30 minutes of work without being interrupted in any way would be recorded in the annals of history. Yes, the problems that arise for my profession are different, but the lockdown exhaustion is still very relatable, I think.
We’ve traded a significant amount of social freedoms for an unexpected consequence of lack of alone time. For instance, gone are the commute to the audition days, which were a time of high stress due to traffic and line memorization. But also now gone is the time in the car where I would be alone and figured out what I was going to do in the casting room. I had the option to yell and scream my lines in the car and drop some cuss words whenever I would get the lines wrong. I could also come up with some funny bits while listening to Metallica, alone.
After leaving the audition room, I would have to remember who I had begged to pick my kid up, get back in the car, and sit in traffic for an hour on my way to pick him up. In those moments when I had no choice but to sit and wait, I’d be able to listen to a podcast without interruption. So yes, gone is that part of the chaotic routine and my time to be A-L-O-N-E.
Now I have my kid at work with me always. Sure, when he’s not at Zoom school, I could just give him a TV, lock him in his room, and he would be 1000% fine with that scenario. That way, I could get everything done. But then his brain would melt and he would become a cave dwelling, sunlight avoiding monster who only eats food stashed under his bed and who hisses at you when you ask him to fold his laundry. Since that’s not the best option, I have no choice but to bring my child to work.
Tips for bringing kids to work
Here some of the problems my unique situation creates and a few activities for Bring Your Kid to Work Day to get me through the day.
Right off the bat, this one is tricky. We live in a small house. On any given day when I have to record an audition, I already have the obstacle of having to work around my son’s school Zoom schedule.
The first thing I have to decide is when I should shoot it. If I want to shoot the audition while my son is occupied with school, how loud does the material require me to be? Suppose I’m too loud when I’m auditioning for an action movie role with lots of screaming and yelling and obscenities. In that case, it not only messes his concentration, but if he unmutes himself, his teacher could hear me and immediately contact child services.
But on the other hand, if I wait until he’s done, he might be able to pay attention to the awful things I have to say from the script and that’s no good either. When he’s not in class, chances of him interrupting me with a mundane question like, “What are we having for dinner next Tuesday?” in the middle of what would have been my best take are high.
Sometimes he has to help me. It’s not always easy to find a reader (someone to stand off-camera and read the lines for the other characters in the scene) since no one wants to be anywhere near humans right now. I have one option, and if that person is busy, then my son is the next best candidate. Talk about throwing him into the fire. He needs to hit record, read his lines and make sure I stay in the frame—more like Put Your Kid to Work Day!
In my current situation, I rarely ever have time to write for more than 45 minutes at a time during working hours. My kid barely has 2 hours and 45 minutes of Zoom school each day. While he’s on, I have limited time for my long list of things to get done. Writing, laundry, cleaning the house, dishes, laundry, and any other daily chore that pops up, like dishes and laundry. When he’s off, I have to deal with making meals, exercises and keeping him away from a screen for another extended period.
But on those days where I have a deadline and I have no choice but to let everything else drop and write as much as I can, sometimes I’ll turn it into a Bring Your Kid to Work Day and make him a part of the action. I create a “mad-libs” type of game. Let’s say I’m writing a scene between two characters and I need an idea for a conflict. I’ll say something like, “Hey buddy, give me a place and a person’s name.”
And he’ll say something like “Mount Kilimanjaro and Voldemort.” And because I subscribe to the “Yes, and…” rule of improv comedy, I never dismiss his ideas, but I’ll incorporate them as best I can without copyright infringement. So, I’ll end up turning in pages of a scene that now has 2 characters having an affair on top of a dangerous, snowy mountain and one of them loses their nose. Done.
Stand-up is by far the hardest thing to do on TYCTWD. Whether it’s an open mic night, a comedy audition for a slot on the virtual main stage, or an actual Zoom comedy show, my kid is right next to me within an earshot of anything I might say. I don’t have a private spot in the house designated for performing comedy, which means my son is suddenly in the comedy club with me, a problem on so many levels.
The biggest problem is that the bulk of my material revolves around my kid and how being a stay-at-home dad sucks.
My routine starts at 36:56 in the clip above.
That’s not something that I want him to hear. It’s a fantastic fountain of humor for me, but some of it is embarrassing for him and all of it is exaggerated for comedic effect, which would make it mortifying for him when you break it down.
When I perform a joke about how my son narcs me out to my wife when I try to pick up other hot moms at the park, he doesn’t necessarily see the humor. He starts to pay more attention to patterns in my behavior. And then I really have some explaining to do!
One good thing that has come from this situation is how I’ve written my new stand-up material. I’m now in a box. I have parameters. No jokes that will embarrass my kid or make him feel bad. No jokes with profanity. No jokes about Santa Claus.
I write with my kid and make him part of the process. I’ll try jokes out on him and, guess what? He’s a pretty great audience. And if he doesn’t get something, I’ll explain to him why I wrote it and where it comes from and, guess what again? Sometimes, he finds the real crux of the joke and comes up with the better punchline! He and I are now laughing with each other instead of thinking that I’m laughing at him.
And I’ll say this, writing stand-up comedy with my son in this kind of bubble is actually great. I have come up with more viable material now, in a timelier manner than ever before. I have become more focused and a stronger comedian because of it. Thanks, COVID!
It’s almost over
Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day will go back to being an annual activity and you won’t need me telling you how to get through it. You’ll give your kid stuff to do and ask them to go nuts, then you’ll grab some lunch in the break room and all will be back to normal. Hopefully.
But, in the meantime, try and think outside the box. Instead of getting aggravated that you can’t get work done because of your kid, embrace this time and maybe try and include them in the process somehow. Someday when they’re older, they’ll be telling stories to their kids about how weird this year has been. Do you want your child to talk about how you always yelled at them as you were trying to concentrate? Or would you wish your child talked about how they always got to help you collate papers, which led them to acquire an extremely excellent work ethic now possess to this day?
No one loves the state of the world at the moment. The only solace we have is that vaccines are here and people are taking them plus, we’ve even had one measly little insurrection in the US. So things are looking up. My advice to all of you fine parents at the end of your rope—take a breather. Our long collective Take your Kid to Work Nightmare is almost over.
Remember that how you handle this stress now will definitely rub off on your kids and affect them later in good or bad ways. Try and keep a level head and see the silver lining in these bizarre times. Embrace it, for it shall soon be gone. The next TYCTWD will look much different. Hopefully.
Someday, that stressful time your 4 year old had a full-blown tantrum while you were on a Zoom with the executives at your company will be a good story. Or at least a funny one.