Updates from the Upside Down

2020 March 23

Here is what’s going on right now in my Cabin at Camp Coronavirus.

Allow me to paint the picture of my current responsibilities:

  • Working. Usually my day job brings me a sense of joy, purpose, pride and accomplishment. But corporate America currently feels like this.  I work in healthcare, and I feel compelled to step up at work now more than ever.  We’re all are trying to put down the railroad tracks as the train comes rolling behind us.
  • Homeschooling my second grader.  She typically spends her days at a Spanish immersion elementary school.  I do not speak Spanish, nor do I speak Common Core math. Fielding her questions in two languages while keeping her on academic quarantine during school hours so she can concentrate on her work is a challenge. So far, my teaching method of explaining the directions the exact same way only louder each time doesn’t seem to be helpful for her education or for our relationship. The “educational” games (games!) on her school-issued iPad seem too easy, while the stacks of worksheets seem too complex.   
  • Parenting a two-year-old. Our resident two-year-old, to complicate matters, has zero interest in watching TV.  (Delivery room mix-up. DNA test pending.)  I’d let her sit and watch The Godfather trilogy if it would give me a little break.  She’s happiest when she is eating or emptying the contents of drawers.  
  • And I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah.  The middle childHas anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in my bathroom playing with my makeup. And why won’t the toilet flush? Because it’s clogged with half a roll of toilet paper torn off one sheet at a time. I mean, read the headlines, kid.

Here is snapshot of a single moment in time: I’m answering work emails, resolver problemas matemáticos con mi niña, muting the conference call so I can discipline, console, referee, educate, and feed one of a thousand meals a day to three frat boys who don’t understand why I’m rationing the bread.  

After too many long days of that losing game of wack-a-mole, I reached my breaking point. I could feel the tears rising to the surface.  And you know what finally broke the floodgates?  Bing. I accidentally downloaded a nasty virus wherein every time I Google something, the bunk search engine Bing opens instead, along with five  pop-up ads.   The Bing virus was my breaking point that made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS associated with Coronavirus.  I started bawling.  Cue the full-on ugly cry.

Bottom line: This new reality is disorienting and draining for me as a working, homeschool mother, quarantined…with a two-year-old.   And oh, the open-endedness of it all! How long will this last? And the middle child. Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in her bathroom putting Vaseline in her hair and smearing it all over the counter.

In my blissful previous life (three weeks ago) I could have written a book about work-life balance.  My secret? Setting clear boundaries between the two. I try my best to be all in when I’m at the office and all in when I’m at home.  In the word of social distancing, there is no separation and no boundaries between home and work. It all inevitably bleeds together. My work responsibilities seep into the nooks and crannies previously reserved for home life and hands-on parenting.  And my parenting responsibilities have increased now that I am the head teacher (profesora) and the primary childcare provider.  I feel exhausted and overwhelmed and like I’m failing at ALL OF IT.   

In the good old days, I felt zero guilt going to work.  I was at the office while my kids were at school, at preschool, at soccer and ballet.  Or I was working from home — a child-free, clean, quiet home (ahhh, paradise). But now we are all home. All together, all day.   I’m constantly having to make choices about who needs me most.  I hate missing out on quality time with my little people when I’m working. But when I’m dealing with the screaming and complaining and arguing and snack demanding, I fantasize about my former life in my quiet office where I could concentrate and wear real clothes.

And I have a confession.  I envy other mothers who seem to be living their best lives right now.  I see their color-coded homeschool schedules, themed scavenger hunts, culinary creations and art projects.  Some of my best friends are really loving the teaching and the togetherness.  And so would I. I think.  If that was the only thing I had on my plate and if the youngest student in my class was 8 (not 2).  And oh yeah.  The middle child.  Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh, there she is.  Using a green permanent marker to scribble on her white bedroom carpet.

This quarantine, social distance scenario amplifies the tension and guilt that working mothers feel even on the best, pandemic-free days. 

I had a good solid cry followed by a long walk (still legal) to process my feelings and catch my breath.  What I tried last week didn’t work. It was unsustainable and who knows how long this whole thing will last. Weeks? Months? I’m gonna make some changes. Here’s the plan:

I will be my own version of a homeschool teacher.  Even at my best, I am no substitute for my daughters’ amazing teachers. I’m taking the pressure off and we will all just do our best to get it done. I can manage and maybe even enjoy it if I do it my own way.  This will involve scrapping the common core and encouraging my students to focus on reading, reading, reading, letter writing, and learning new dance moves.  Mrs. Fizzle will be the substitute Spanish teacher via El Autobus Magico on Netflix.  My school will not operate during traditional school hours. And the lunch lady is hot.

I will get my job done and make a meaningful contribution to my team at work. I love my job. (Shout out to my man in the IT department who helped me remove the Bing virus).  Sure, sending an email will take me longer with three children sitting in my lap, but such is life for a working mom.  The workday may have stops and starts and the work week may be longer but that will be OK for now. I know this won’t last forever. Right? Right.  I’m also rethinking our decision to social distance from our beloved nanny. Doing so made me social distance from my sanity and I just don’t know if it’s worth it.

I will use this time to soak in the amazingness of each of my children, at exactly the ages they are right now.   Last week had me peering through the windows half envying families with older children. I felt like my kids were too young for me to relish this particular, albeit peculiar, moment in time.  Many families are finding peace in the tranquility and stillness that this forced timeout offers.  They are playing rounds of Scrabble, baking bread, and learning to play the piano. That peaceful picture of life during this pandemic feels quite different than the day-to-day in my quarantined cabin.  We can’t do crosswords, thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles, or have a family game night without someone eating the pieces. Only three out of the five of us can actually read, so I don’t have endless hours to crank through my personal to-be-read pile of books.  But there is joy to be found in the sequestered slow-down and an opportunity to soak up extra time with my children, ages 7, 4 and 2. I could write a mile-long list of silver linings.

I will treasure these long days and lazy weekends.  Today, the girls and I made pancakes, did chalk art in the driveway, danced and decorated for Easter.  Yes, there were meltdowns, minor burns, and a raisin in the ear incident, but it was a good day. A really good day.  I took a stroll with my one-of-a-kind-seven-year-old and we played Sleeping Queens while the little ones napped. Even the two-year-old had moments of true greatness.  I am convinced she will be a value-add to our family in the long run. And the middle child.  There she is. She’s across the table from me, peacefully building a magna-tile mansion for her family of figurines.  I love the imaginary worlds she creates.

This week out there in the world will not be a good one. We will witness the increasingly devastating impact this scary virus has on our nation’s health, our healthcare system, and our economy. 

I will continue to be grateful that my struggles are nothing compared to what others are facing right now.

But I am committed to making this week inside my cabin at Camp Corona better than the last. 

I will lower my expectations.

I will let some of it go.

I will prioritize the things that matter most.

I will stop comparing my experience to everyone else’s highlight reels.

I will take time to create special moments with each of my children.

I will offer myself and my fellow campers grace and patience as we figure this out together.

One Response
  1. May 29, 2020

    Loved this! While my 3 are all reading on their own and present new challenges during this time, I loved reading your “day in the life” with its exasperation, humor and grace! ❤️?

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