On March 13, while driving home from our last normal day and staving off panic, I told Ruby, “This is all going to be fine; we just need a good, solid schedule.”
The next day, while my kids slept in, I made myself a nice strong cup of coffee and set about making this schedule. I didn’t have the kind of hubris that some parents did – the ones who had color-coded blocks of 30-minute increments devoted to teaching their kids about mythology and Russian literature while also ensuring enough physical activity and creative expression and somehow still managing an 8:30 bedtime.
No, my schedule included such completely realistic goals as “make sure Georgia is up and dressed by 9,” “no wine before 6 p.m.” and “no screen time until schoolwork is done.”
And yet by the middle of April, even these goals were largely aspirational as Georgia stumbled out of bed around 11:30, ate breakfast in her underwear, watched YouTube videos until I was done with work and able to make her start “school” around 4, and then stayed up until well past midnight. Every day, I poured a glass of medicinal “homework wine” around the same time I started attempting to teach my stubborn and easily distractible child about fractions despite having exactly zero training as a math teacher and zero inclination to be one.
Ruby handled it like a champ – she, like all right-thinking humans, didn’t exactly love the awkwardness and drama inherent to middle school, so she was thrilled to go online. She’s also a self-starter who loves to plan, so she wrote her own schedule and stuck to it.
It was Georgia and I who couldn’t make it work. I love my kids, and I love my job, but I couldn’t handle both simultaneously without some serious stress. Before quarantine, I had clear boundaries – I dropped my kids at school, and then I went to work. Aside from the occasional call from the nurse (which always freaked me out), my kids didn’t intrude too much on my work hours. Then, once I left work, I was back on Mom Duty, and I helped with homework and did bathtime and bedtime and filling of water bottles/packing of snacks for the next day. If I had to work after 5 p.m., I still knew my kids came first at that time.
But over the past few months, I’ve been working and parenting around the clock. I check emails while toasting an English muffin for Georgia. I use frantic hand signals to indicate to my kids that I’m on a Zoom meeting. I apologize to my colleagues when my kid screams something incoherent about Animal Crossing in the middle of a conference call.
Sadly, I don’t think is going away anytime soon, though. I want nothing more than to send my kids to school like normal. I want nothing more than to go back to work like normal. But normal is not going to be found for a really long time, I fear.
There is no easy answer. While Ruby is enthusiastic about doing her last year of middle school online and I don’t really worry too much about her, Georgia sincerely misses her friends and teachers. She’s wildly social and craves human interaction and physical play with kids her own age. She’s a gifted reader but needs more specialized math instruction than I can give her (“That’s the answer because that’s just how math WORKS, Georgia!”). She struggles with fine motor skills and responds way better to suggestions that come from her occupational therapist than from her dad or me.
But with cases spiking and so many vulnerable people in my life whom I want to be able to continue to see at a safe distance – my parents, my in-laws, Georgia’s amazing future husband who is finishing up chemo for leukemia – I don’t think I can be comfortable with that level of risk if she’s around other kids all day. While I completely support wearing masks and social distancing at school, I know it’s going to be a challenge for Georgia to strictly adhere to both. As a kid with ADHD, she already gets in trouble enough – I don’t want MORE things for her to do “wrong.”
None of this even addresses my concerns for the teachers or my own thoughts as to how to be safe when I go back to work at a high school, which of course keep me up at night.
And honestly, this may all be out of my hands soon anyway. There is every reason to believe that even if I wanted to send my kids to school, school will not open next month as planned.
Back in March, I truly and naively thought this would all be over by May. Now I don’t even know if it will be over by May 2021.