Almost all the people I know who are childless have been alternating between fear of boredom and righteous declarations about their reading lists, movie lists, binge-watching plans, at-home gym routines, and video-game/crafting/culinary accomplishments. All the celebrity moms I follow are talking about how wonderful it is to have this time to reconnect with their families and focus on what’s important. (Thanks, Jennifer Lopez.) None of this resembles what’s going on in my house on Day 4 of Social Distancing During the Time of Coronavirus. What am I doing wrong? Oh, wait, I know: I’m a working mom — one who doesn’t make a J.Lo-level salary, that is.
I don’t begrudge others their period of reflection and entertainment. This is a difficult, scary time, and I’m happy they’re finding a way to make it work for them. But I’m writing this at 10 p.m., and there are still items left on my to-do list. I don’t remember if I’ve ever been so busy.
“If I see one more ‘just sit on the couch and watch Netflix’ meme I am going to scream!” one of my mom friends just texted me.
With a kid home from school, and a husband who is also working remotely, I feel like I’m working three (maybe four?) jobs at once. (Thought I certainly don’t mean to imply stay-at-home parents have it any easier — their one job is harder than all the rest.)
I wake up before everyone else, just to have a minute for my brain to begin functioning, so I can read headlines and get story pitches ready for job #1 (writer). In the middle of that groggy, peaceful moment, the kid wakes up. He’s cute as he nuzzles me and reads over my shoulder. Then he starts coughing in my ear (don’t worry, it’s allergies), putting his feet on my legs, asking questions about what I’m reading. I have to wake the husband up — he said he’d be on parent duty first — contemplate whether there’s time to take a shower. There isn’t, so I throw on some clothing and walk the dog. This is my last time to be alone with my thoughts all day. I rush back to my computer to start working, yelling over my shoulder for everyone to leave me alone so I can write. I pop out half an hour later to hand the kid my phone, which has an audiobook I miraculously remembered to download for him.
Audiobook notwithstanding, all day, as I see the great moms of Instagram post their homeschooling schedules, I know I’ve already failed at job #2, teacher. I think I was supposed to come up with a series of activities, color code them on poster board, and arrange a better schedule with the husband. I was supposed to give everyone concrete expectations of our day together. I was supposed to make this special.
No time for regrets, though, because I’m already behind at job #1.
The audiobook works its magic for about two hours before it starts: The constant interruptions that derail me. The kid reads books and does puzzles in five-minute increments. My brain interrupts me with pandemic worries in-between then. I give up and take an hour and a half “break” from job #1 to focus on job #2. The kid and I walk in the park with the dog and talk about some vaguely scientific concepts. I teach him how to make his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which goes quite well. I’m feeling proud of myself before I notice that I’m late to return to job #1. The husband puts the kid in front of the TV. Baking competition shows will be his tutor for the afternoon.
“It doesn’t work,” another mom friend told me of the home school schedule she made for her kids. “But I stare at it in desperation all day while trying to send emails.”
I pull together enough shattered concentration to finish my workday, an hour after I’d wanted to. Meanwhile, the husband and kid have left for the park again. He learned how to ride a bike yesterday, and I’m missing it. “I’ll write more tonight after bedtime,” I tell my editor, and rush out to see the last few minutes of this feat while checking in on my sister and my asthmatic nephew.
It’s time for job #3, a.k.a. Mom, the Second Shift. We squeeze in half an hour of Cosmic Kids Yoga together, because I promised we would. I’ve got to make three different meals (dog, picky kid, us). None of them will be the gourmet new recipes all these childless/rich folks have time to try out. I have to clean a day’s worth of dishes, fold yesterday’s laundry. Put the kid to bed (late). Gather our tax info for the accountant.
We need to call our parents in other states and make sure they’re still okay. Are they staying inside? Are they worried about their finances?
This is the other thing about this supposedly slower, peaceful, old-fashioned quarantine time. We are nonstop worried. On top of the worry moms always have for our kids, we now have it for our parents. They aren’t frail but suddenly seem so as the news constantly reminds who falls into the COVID-19 high-risk categories. If they lived close by, would we call on them to help with childcare? Or would we feel bad about exposing them to our germy kid who won’t stop putting his hands in his mouth?
I’m almost done writing this. Time to decide whether go to bed, or look up YouTube videos about science and history I should show the kid tomorrow. Should I make a grocery list for whoever decides to risk a journey to our still-crowded grocery store? We have so many canned beans and toilet paper but nothing good to eat for dinner. On top of everything else, I realize, I suck at disaster preparedness.
Shit, I didn’t call the friend who I’m pretty sure has coronavirus (though no one will test her) to see how she’s feeling today. I didn’t sign up for the school account that will make distance learning possible, so the kid’s brain won’t rot entirely. I didn’t get more Clorox wipes.
One of my childless friends just knit a whole sweater over the weekend. Chrissy Teigen baked a new cake. I managed to shower once, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and ordered Thai takeout (was it the last time?). I haven’t binged a new show or started a new book in weeks. I’m not listening to podcasts that aren’t about coronavirus.
I’m healthy, I’m employed, and I’m very, very lucky. I’m actually not even complaining. Like everything else about motherhood, I know I can push myself a little harder until I get used to this new way of life. I’ll tell you what I will probably never be for at least another 11 years, quarantined or not: bored.
The kids on the other hand, might be complaining about boredom. Try some of these tips to keep ’em busy too.
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