It’s 2:07 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I don’t feel particularly filled with anxiety over anything…but I also feel the low hum of slight panic all the time. I think that’s the story of motherhood during this pandemic, at least it is for almost everyone I know. As a person in recovery, I am well versed in living one day, sometimes one moment, at a time, but it’s still challenging. I feel like each day brings a new bucket full of decisions, and I simply don’t have any answers to the questions I’m faced with.
We are keeping our kids home from school this year. It’s incredibly difficult. And I have no idea if it is the right decision. We wanted to make the choice for the semester and then re-evaluate once we saw what was happening with the virus in our area, but two days into the new school year, our school district informed us we would have to make the decision for the entire year. I had no idea how I was supposed to choose remote or in-person school without good data or any sort of plan from our schools on how they would keep kids safe. So we kept them home.
This week all of their friends went back to school. Until then, our schools had remained remote for all students or hybrid, with half the kids attending at a time. But now most are all back. It’s hard. There was no “right” decision, but it’s difficult to not second guess yourself, especially when you have no idea what is going to happen. As a public school advocate, I worry about the entire system. I worry about inequity. I worry about socialization and social emotional health. I worry about depression and anxiety. I worry about boredom. I worry that we are going to all this trouble and we will end up with COVID anyway.
I am now serving the role of many American mothers, as a full-time parent, teacher and employee, all at the same time. It’s not an achievable goal, but we all are being forced to try. My anger at those in our leadership and community who have put us in this position with their poor decisions is palpable. The rage oozes from my pores. So along with teaching, cooking, parenting, sleeping (well, not tonight), and working, I am also doing everything in my power to unseat those who have put us in this position. I’m texting, I’m calling, I’m writing postcards. I’m dropping campaign literature at front doorsteps. I have donated to candidates. I have voted (early!). I ask everyone from our babysitter to the lady at the Target drive-up if they have a voting plan. I am trying to channel my fury.
But I also feel the weight of my children in a way I never have before. My son is in 4th grade, and his learning requires a lot from me. He needs directions, he needs a schedule, he needs consistency. My daughter is a high school freshman, and I have found myself watching YouTube videos of geometry tutors to try and help her get through assignments. For the past few years, the schools have been telling us that we need to “let the teenagers fail! Let them fall, don’t check in with their teachers, they have to learn how to advocate for themselves! Don’t be a helicopter parent!” Except two weeks in to the school year I realized that no one knew what they were doing and all of a sudden the expectations on parents were very different. We now have to check in on their assignments, make sure the online platform is working, double check that they are saving their work to several locations in case one crashes, send notes to teachers to try and get absences excused (because you know she was in the class they just didn’t count her because there are two kids with her name and the teacher is staring at 30 boxes on a screen and they missed her). You get automated calls daily warning you that she will be reported as truant. You want to scream.
But you can’t. Because you have a work meeting in 20 minutes with the director at your office via Zoom, and you have to somehow pretend it’s all fine. Everything is fine. Carry on. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain, trying to keep it all together.
And then the guilt washes over me. I am so privileged. I have a job I can do from home. I have the ability to hire a babysitter to help a few hours per week. We have a warm, functional home and grocery delivery. My kids are healthy and, for the most part, happy. They are closer to each other than ever. They still (mostly) love being around me and want me to help them. Our mornings are slow, with the rush of my commute and the kids school schedules non-existent. I get up early to run and then hop on my computer before the kids get up. They get to eat breakfast instead of shoving a granola bar in their faces as they run for the bus. They are getting more sleep. Peer pressure woes are practically gone.
I have close friends and family that are going through deep trauma right now. Job loss. Marriage loss. An apartment fire. Death. And yet, I sit complaining? The guilt and shame could eat me alive.
I know my struggle is real. Just because others are struggling too, doesn’t negate my pain. But it does mean I have a responsibility to get up and keep going. I have to find a way to keep moving forward, to take care of my kids AND myself, or I will not be able to be of service to anyone else. And that’s what this time is all about. Sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten the beginning…when we all stayed home for each other. The greatest act of love I’ve ever witnessed on a massive, global scale. What a gift. My plan is to focus more on that gift and less on what this has taken from me and my people. Every answered email, every frazzled Zoom meeting, every late night working to make up for missed hours during the day, every hour spent relearning 9th grade geometry, every minute spent encouraging my kid through a difficult assignment, every time my husband and I fall into bed exhausted and unable to communicate….it’s all part of a greater act of love.
We do this because we can. We do this because we must. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
*Photos in this post by Sahsha Kochanowicz. Please remember your local photographers during this crazy time. Many have lost an entire year’s income. If you are able to afford family photos this year, please hire local!