Pandemic Parenting…Yet to end

Today my son is going to a part-time preschool for the first time since the pandemic started. I thought I would feel relief, a break from parenting while working but I don’t. I won’t relax until he is vaccinated, or really until all our friends’ and families’ children can be vaccinated as well. Life cannot begin to resemble normalacy, until there are vaccines available for all ages. The rates of hospitalization and death in children are low, and the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are unknown, though information on lower lung function and increased risk for diabetes has already been documented, not to mention the issues connected to “Long COVID”.

When the pandemic began, March 2020

Bulent went back to in-person classes in September, and I have been home while I work on my own with Kayra three days a week. Before, we had traded hours, so had separate work and parenting time, but no more, or at least not on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday. However, I left my previous role in October and I started an incredible new job in November (more will be revealed) and so thought I would be able to do it for a short period of time. But that short period of time has stretched on, plans changed, the start of our daycare was delayed, and delayed and delayed again, now until fall.

We made it work, Kayra and I, for months. But now it is no longer working for Kayra, so things need to change. We have spent an incredible amount of time and effort over the last two years to provide him the activity and stimulation he needed, to safeguard his mental health without preschool and “regular” playdates, but he needs more than we can provide at this point, which means our decision was made for us.

We have kept our social circle small and have masked in any larger events, including any outings to parks or playdates. We still only participate in outdoor activities. Kayra will be vaccinated soon or later, and at that point, we will re-evaluate. But until then he will continue to mask in any setting where there is the inability to social distance, which basically means with other kids.

The preschool is mostly outdoor, but had never been on our radar because it is only part-time and far from our home. Also, we were not comfortable with the exposure risk when Austin was at a high rate of community spread. However, local numbers are lower now, and through the hour round trip will cut into my work day, I am thrilled for Kayra. He is incredibly social, loves making new friends, and this will be exactly the fun and engagement he wants and needs.

Our two-year quarentine has been difficult, but has only been possible because we were gifted with one of the kindest, most positive, bravest, and thoughtful children that has ever existed. We are so lucky. So many have have lost so much, their liveliehoods, their health-mental and physical, their lives. We made sarifices, to protect our child, and protect others. Today we are seeing the other side of the storm, if cautiously.

First Day Back to School

Did the pandemic break me? Or was I already broken?

Pandemic Parenting Part II

Originally posted on Medium 11/25/2020

It has been nine months since the start of the pandemic. I no longer have to make my own bread, toilet paper can be found in the stores, and we now have a variety of patterned masks I no longer have to bribe my child to wear.

Daycares have re-opened, but we have chosen not to send our three-year-old back to school. Our concerns are many, but foremost are the unknown long term health effects of COVID-19 on his small, growing body. My husband and I still shift-parent, but we have gotten better at it, and more used to the load. I still start work at 7am, and work until naptime, when I take a few precious minutes to snuggle my kid to sleep. My husband starts his workday at 1:30pm, and as soon as I have convinced my kid that he needs to sleep to grow big and strong, I get back to work as well. When he wakes up, it’s my turn to parent and my husband continues to work into the evening to make up for the time he missed in the morning. He also works most weekends.

Child looking at ipad while adult computer is open
My son “working” as I presented at a virtual conference.

This used to be hard. Every morning used to feel insurmountable and I was in a panic about the list of things to do before I had even stumbled to the coffee maker. Each morning I was already at a deficit, trying to get done the work needed to help pivot our non-profit toward a new direction mid-pandemic. I also struggled to be the parent I was socialized to be, raising my son with little to no screen time, engaging him in creative arts and crafts, preparing homemade and low-sodium organic food, often in attractive shapes and presentations, and so on.

I used to miss the morning snuggles because I raced straight to my desk after I had spent my time making oatmeal muffins or eggs. Now, while I clear my inbox sitting on the couch, he softens into me, and pats my hand, and giggles at the TV while he watches Moana for the 87th time and eats his breakfast of cereal, or toast with hummus, or a good old PB&J.

My husband may work afternoons and weekends, but he spends all morning with our kid every weekday, a far cry from when he used to leave at 6:30 am and come home at 6:30 pm, exhausted from his day. After working a long week, he still had to spend his weekends grading, because he lost 3 hours a day to his commute.

Dinner is …served. Sometimes it is a home-cooked meal, sometimes it is spaghettios. The sourdough starter is still alive, but is used as often to make chocolate cake or waffles as it is to make bread.

Living my pre-pandemic life and its attendant expectations was going to break me, maybe irreparably. Or maybe I was already broken and didn’t know it. The pandemic forced me to find a new balance, and let go of self-imposed mandates. Most of my friends with children don’t work outside of the home, but that means my comparison for “typical” mothering comes from those whose full-time role is to do so. So when I was trying to work as if I didn’t parent and parent as if I didn’t work, I was doing a great dis-service to myself and my child. By making my work invisible on both sides, I was denying myself my dual identify of being a working parent, and denying my child the realistic example of a balanced life.

Now I make choices on how I am going to fail today. What things am I going to let go of to make room for others? Spaghettios translates into an extra hour of hiking in the woods with my kiddo. A simple dinner instead of the more complicated recipes means that my three-year-old and I can work together to make it. And lo and behold, he is more likely to eat it! The clean laundry waits and watches us from the basket while we do arts and crafts after dinner. Sometimes it waits in the basket for folding until we are almost out of clean clothes, but it doesn’t seem to mind, as long as I don’t. Instead of the anger my son used to feel when I left him to go to work, to attend meetings instead of playing with him, he has worked towards acceptance and understanding. He understands that I work to help other children and their teachers, to make sure everyone can have education and a life filled with good food and a warm home. He also understands now that my work helps pay for the organic juice popsicles that are the highlight of his day during the sweaty summer months in Texas — one of the bougie pre-pandemic parenting things I can’t let go of.

Spaghettios for dinner! Hiking in Austin

This new understanding of my work, and why I work — both the purpose and the economics — has allowed me to to start the harder and more complicated conversations of privilege, which we have in abundance, of inequity, of racism, and the structure of oppression.

When the pandemic started, each day was a race to finish, to make sure all the balls being juggled continued on their trajectory, and the struggle to not drop and shatter some or all of them. Now I choose to just not pick up some of those balls. I evaluate each one before it joins the others in the air: Is it an immediate need? Is it required for social, emotional or physical wellbeing? If not, sometimes it doesn’t get thrown in the air. It is tucked away for another day, or sometimes outright buried, never to see the light of day again, because it is just not important enough to divert my focus.

My kid is never going to remember that I stopped making an entree with two sides and a salad for dinner each night — he is going to remember that we saved that energy to play word games during family dinner when we feast on pancakes and eggs. He is going to remember the mornings he played with his father. When he looks back and reminisces about those sweltering afternoons of the pandemic summer, he is going to remember how he sat in his seat on the front of my bike, armed with a bougie popsicle, and while I pedaled us through shaded bike trails he flapped his arms and pretended to be Maui, demigod of the wind and sea, how I kissed his sweaty neck from behind, and how I was able to make room for joy because I let things go.

Shift Parenting during COVID-19

Originally posted on Medium 4/13/2020

Pandemic Parenting Part I

The other day I walked by a neighbor’s house with my small son, and he called out to me from the yard. He has a daughter only a few days older, and a newborn. He asked, “Isn’t is great to be working from home?” I stuttered out an agreement, then stopped and turned back. “No, it is really, really hard.”

His surprise was visible. When I asked him a few questions, it was clear. His life was great working from home. He spent some time in the morning with his wife and kids, went into his office and shut the door, came out for lunch, spent a few more minutes with his sweet children, went back into his office and shut the door, and came out at 5pm, ready to help with dinner and be an active co-parent. His question clarified he had no idea that my work interferes with my parenting or vice versa, since his partner has been at home since the birth of their first child. Sure the Shelter in Place order was chafing, but his work-life continued much the same despite it.

At my home, we shift work and shift parent, and it is a struggle to do both well. My husband is a professor and I worked for an amazing non-profit.

. When it was clear daycares were not going to restart after spring break we set up a schedule so we could have designated work times that best fit our toddler’s needs, our personal skills, and biological clocks.

“Helping” me work

I sit down at my desk at around 7 am and get straight to work. Gone are the morning snuggles and making breakfast and jokes with my 2-year-old. My husband takes care of him, and does yard work, folds laundry and cleans up the flotsam and jetsom that follows an active toddler, throughout the morning. At 1:30 I take my lunch break to put our kiddo down for a nap, and my husband starts his workday. Now that we are limiting outings to prevent exposure to COVID-19, it is a struggle to get him to sleep.

After rubbing his back until he dozes off, with his sweaty hair plastered to his face from the epic nap battle, his open mouth and limp weight against me, it should feel sweet and tender but just make me anxious because I need to get back to work. After I ease him to the bed and sneak out, I’ll work until he wakes up.

After frenetically cleaning up from lunch, which somehow includes both food and arts and crafts, and diving into work while eating the leftovers from my toddler’s plate for lunch, I finish the last hour or two of my workday.

After nap, things slow down, but my day is far from over. We play, read books, and if I can’t convince him that it is a privilege for big boys to help me cook, he watches Daniel Tiger while I cook and hope the social and emotional learning aspects of the show sink in. The meal is made from scratch, since there is really no other option. I didn’t realize how much our household depended on takeout and prepared foods, until they were no longer available. I have even been making my own bread, since it is so hard to get a curbside or delivery spot at the grocery store.

At 7pm, my husband takes a break from his work to come down for dinner, and often has to go back to his office to finish recording his class lectures and provide support for the students who have found their whole world rearranged. After he leaves us, kiddo and I play some more and read books until bedtime, around nine since he is ready to drop his nap, but we are not, because we desperately need those hours of productivity during the day.

So now it is 9:30 or 10 pm, my husband and I convene and have a conversation for the first time that day, watch the latest news on COVID-19, take care of personal emails and some basic chores. Things like cleaning up the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, and price shopping water heaters, since ours started leaking through our kitchen ceiling last night, generally fun, exciting and romantic things. Then we decide if we will do the right thing and go to bed early or just take a goddamn minute to relax and end up going to bed way too late, to repeat the whole cycle the next day.

So, no, neighbor, no, working from home with no childcare is not fun. It is not extra time to spend with my child. It is a battle to carve two eight hour workdays out of one, to simultaneously meet my goals at work while taking care of my child’s needs, physical, emotional and educational. It is survival. Every moment is a struggle to not drop and shatter the ball. It is watching your kid play “work” and have your heart drop into your stomach when they play-act and say “I have a meeting, I can’t play with you now.” It is having to drop out of a meeting, — or worse, not being able to — when your child wakes from his nap screaming from a nightmare stemming from the anxiety caused by the cancellation of his whole world of routine and order, and you hear the plaintive sob, “I want my mommy.”

Working from home while parenting feels like that little hitch in your throat when you see your child about to take a fall because they were running too fast, there is nothing you can do to stop it, and you know it will hurt, that it will be bad, and you just hope that in the end, it won’t require a trip to the hospital.