EMILY AND MATTHEW FAY
Mountain View, California
Student services manager; senior staff engineer
Running a daycare and an office out of the living room
Before the pandemic, Emily and Matthew Fay lived in a 900-square-foot apartment in Mountain View. After giving birth to their second child in September, Emily, 33, was back to buzzing around Stanford University’s Palo Alto campus as a student services manager in the psychology department. Meanwhile, Matt, 34, was in his sixth year at the data management firm Pure Storage, living just minutes from its headquarters. “We were a young, busy family,” Emily says. There were swim classes and playdates. Weekly visits to the farmer’s market. A standing Dungeons & Dragons soiree with friends.
Then the emails came the second week of March telling employees to take their laptops home. Overnight, the tiny space where they once role-played was converted into a coworking space and daycare center. Matt installed a “ginormous” monitor in the living room, while Emily set up shop at the dining table. Emily hired her sister—a suddenly out-of-work hairstylist—to take care of the kids during the days. “All five of us were in one room without AC,” Emily says.
The couple was uncomfortable enough to pull the trigger on buying their first home, a three-bedroom townhouse. It’s notable that even amid a pandemic they bought close to work. “I’m less productive not in the office,” says Matt, who now has the option to return to work but doesn’t bother, because no one he wants to see is going in. “Ideas don’t come as quickly. Collaboration is shot.”
Emily has something to say about that: “There’s a lot of talk about how do you create community on Zoom? You don’t. Can we just be OK with that? It’s already grinding on me that I don’t have that community. Then there’s the pressure that I’m failing to provide it too.”
Fortunately, around the same time that Emily’s sister went back to work, both kids were able to return to daycare. But there were a few weeks in between when childcare fell to the parents, which coincided with the first weeks of the new school year. “The only reason I was able to deal was I knew my boss trusted me to get the job done, and when it got really bad I could be honest with her,” Emily says. “I can’t do all these things in a couple hours of conscious time. She said, if it burns, it burns. If I didn’t have her, I probably would have quit.”
It’s easier for Matt to take parental leave, because he can offload to other engineers. Emily, on the other hand, is the only one with the know-how and systems access to do her job. Yet Matt makes the money. If someone has a bad performance review, it has to be Emily—especially now that they have a mortgage.
“Matt’s company is structured in a way it can stretch,” Emily says. “Mine is much more brittle. There is no redundancy built in. Our systems are held together by institutional knowledge, duct tape, and hope.”