Except for two standard-length maternity leaves, I have worked outside the home throughout my motherhood tenure. In the wake of school closures in mid-March and the ensuing “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, my kids and I, like most parents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic, now spend everyday home together.
Let me preface this post by saying I know this virus kills people, and that is a tragedy. My son aptly described it to one of his teachers as a sleeper agent, dormant, and unnoticeable by many people who carry it without symptoms and deadly when activated in others. Maybe because of our generational gap, I think of it more like Russian Roulette – some of us will be asymptomatic and others will have life-threatening symptoms. Some of us will fall terribly ill with flu-like symptoms, and some of us will die. The randomness of this virus sparks terror and creates the need to stay apart so that those of us without symptoms can protect those of us who might die.
I also feel incredibly privileged that the economic hardship caused as collateral damage from this pandemic has spared our family (for now). My husband and I are both still employed full-time and telecommuting from home, and we are grateful.
Having acknowledged the gravity of this global pandemic, I want to share how I feel about my kids and I spending days on end at home together: I unequivocally love it.
My memories of motherhood, recent and distant, primarily involve hurrying, frequently running late, and occasionally even forgetting appointments altogether. I spent an inordinate amount of time in my car retracing the same paths over and over again: home to the bus stop or school (depending on the day), school to work, work to the bus stop, bus stop to gymnastics, gymnastics to the library for pickup after chorus or play practice, reverse to gymnastics, and then finally home. Lather, rinse, repeat. The image of a hamster on a wheel comes to mind.
On top of this running (driving?) around (and around and around), the amount of actual time spent with my kids during the work/school week involved quick car jaunts, dinners, some homework support, and reading, and bedtime chats. I work a schedule that allowed me to get them off the bus or from their chosen enrichment activities daily, so we enjoyed more time together than many working parents.
It still never felt like enough.
Additionally, my body held the stress of zipping around from here to there and never being still, while my brain held the worry (panic?) of forgetting something important. Changes in our routine and schedule always threw me for a loop. It seemed like sheer muscle memory got me and the kids where we needed to go on most days. Throw a monkey wrench in that maxed out machine, and it broke.
But now? In the time of COVID-19 and social distancing? We are just… home together with nowhere else to be.
Even though I am telecommuting, the flexibility makes me both a better employee and a better mother. Whereas before I had to leave the office by a certain time each day in order to meet the bus, now, I can attend late afternoon meetings or work late to finish projects on a deadline because I literally have nowhere else to go. The need, the urge, the imperative to hurry has vanished, and my body, no longer holding that stress, thanks me for it daily. On the flip side, I can stop in the middle of my workday to help my kids with their schoolwork or, more frequently, with tracking down the correct login information for this GoogleMeet or that math program. With increased insight into their school assignments and access to their teachers, I can more easily provide one-on-one support to my kids when needed.
We eat breakfast and lunch together. My daughter got a kick scooter for her birthday. Mid-afternoon, when I stop working, I run upstairs and call for our daily “walk-scoot.” My son and I take a walk around the neighborhood, while my daughter “scoots” ahead of us, then circles back, then scoots away again. One day, my daughter invented what she envisions as a YouTube show called “SquirrelCam,” where, you guessed it, we take videos of squirrel encounters in the neighborhood on her phone. She narrates and says things like, “If you love squirrels, post in the comments.”
We bake more. In what I’m starting to think of as my former life, the scant amount of time available to make a cake for a birthday or a pie for a holiday always prevented me from spending the expansive amounts of time required to teach my children to bake.
Home together with nowhere else to be for the last month, I taught my daughter to make lemon Bundt cake, chocolate cake and frosting, and apple pie from scratch. My husband commented that the apple pie was the best I’d ever made, especially the crust. I immediately gave credit for that crust to my daughter, who did all the work of cutting the butter into the flour, adding the ice water, and shaping and rolling the dough. With all this time home together, I finally got to teach her, with all the patience now available to me, and she made the best crust we’ve ever eaten.
I understand our little cocoon of time home together won’t last, and we wouldn’t want it to. We all miss the grandparents. Since my husband still goes into work one or two days a week, we can’t risk exposing them, so our encounters are limited to phone calls and outdoor conversations at least six feet apart. My kids miss their friends and the peer interactions they need for social and emotional growth. I miss my co-workers and my classmates. We all still feel sad about the spring break trip to NYC that won’t happen and the showing of Wicked on Broadway that we won’t see. We hope to take our planned mid-summer beach vacation, but no one knows what the future holds.
For now, I savor our time home together.
When we go back to our old way of life, ideally in the fall, I hope my body remembers this sense of peace and calm. Maybe I can somehow, through new muscle memory, reduce the stress of hurrying, of always needing to be where I currently am not and mentally calculating how quickly I can get there. It will feel strange to go back after this reprieve, this calm in the middle of the busy, swirling “storm” of motherhood. Regardless, I know I will always treasure this time home together with my kids, this unexpected moment of hitting “pause” on our regularly scheduled family programming and embracing a slower, quieter way of being.