I’m Looking Forward to the Part Where My Inner Strength Kicks In
They say that this experience will make us better people — but right now, I’m a mess
Last night I was texting with a friend who is also a working parent about school closures and this strange new world in which we now find ourselves. She shared something lovely that another friend had sent her, and told me that for her, it had been a great source of strength the past few days:
Whatever is coming, I think there might be something cathartic in realizing that we can get through something hard. That there is still love and joy and sunshine in hard times. And that we have reservoirs of strength we’re not usually aware of.
It was beautiful. She was right. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And I cannot wait until we get to that part of this global pandemic because right now, I am a mess.
The kids are going to be home for weeks. Possibly months. Teaching, special-needs therapies, and all the things that qualified and trained adults do as their full-time jobs are now going to be my job, in my self-quarantined house, while I’m also trying to do the job I’m trained and paid to do. So far, everyone in my family is well, but I have yet to fully consider the possibility that we or any number of the people we love — near and far — might get sick. And then our calculation will adjust again, to accommodate another new reality.
I don’t tell people I’m a mess, obviously. I make gentle jokes on Twitter about staying in and suddenly finding oneself a full-time homeschooling parent. It’s ridiculous to complain any more than that because I speak from an absurdly privileged vantage point. In the scheme of full-time jobs that working parents have, mine — writing — is relatively easy and flexible. You sit in a chair and can do it at home. My partner’s job requires that he work long hours right now, so I’m going to need to pick up the bulk of the extra caretaking. That will be hard, but it will be nothing that millions of single working parents don’t already deal with daily.
And I probably won’t even want to complain, once we get to the part where I realize how strong I really am. But until then: I am so stressed out! I work in this stupid gig economy, which was supposed to provide me freedom and flexibility. You know what it doesn’t have? Paid sick leave, or parental leave, or coronavirus leave, or whatever we would be calling this thing that is now absolutely necessary both for public health and because our children do not currently have access to formal education.
Like most people, if I want to get paid, I need to work. Tending to the daily needs of two kids is going to make it harder to successfully complete the number of jobs that I normally do in a month. I don’t want to say no to jobs that come my way, but I may not be able to say yes to some of them because saying yes to work you ultimately can’t deliver leads to fewer opportunities to say yes in the future — that elusive and possibly mythical place where things go back to normal.
Meanwhile, my latent working-parent angst is flaring up. All the times when I’ve typed out a draft with one hand while a sick kid slept on my chest, or Slacked from a pediatrician’s waiting room, and privately worried I was falling behind my colleagues without kids — each and every one of those times felt like a small widening of the fissure separating my family obligations and professional aspirations, one that working parents jump over dozens of times a day. That crack has now blasted open into a steaming chasm, and I am worried that the other side is drifting so far away I can no longer make the leap.
On Twitter, people are talking about how Isaac Newton managed to invent both calculus and gravity theory while quarantined at home during the Black Death. Isaac Newton, who had no kids and no partner who commandeered the only real desk in the house.
Good for him! Good for Isaac Newton. That’s the type of thing I’ll be able to say with genuine goodwill in my heart, eventually.
They say that this experience is going to bring us all closer together. That it’s a chance to slow down, remember what matters, and find ways of keeping our family and community ties alive without materialist distractions. That once everything else is stripped away, we will arrive at the raw, warm core of what really matters, which is love and the care we show for one another. And I cannot wait. That sounds great.
Just a little ways to go. I bet we’re almost there.