Currently, my days are a mix of “Okay, I’ve got this,” and, “Oh crap, I so do not got this.” Anyone else?
One of my first contributions to the blog was an article on working from home with a toddler. I proudly shared my tips for how to make working from home and parenting my toddler easier. I wish I could go back in time and tell 2019 me what was to come. When I wrote that piece, I had no idea that I’d be again working from home with my toddler, but now it would be full-time, during a global pandemic, while my husband (an essential worker) is away from the home. And oh yeah, let’s add a newborn to the mix for fun.
On my first day working from home alone with two kids under three, I thought to myself… I’ve worked from home with one child for years, it’s only one more kid to manage, this is no big deal.
I was wrong. It was a very big deal.
Within the first few moments of feeling confident, I was put in my place. After setting up the toddler with breakfast and the baby with some toys, I hooked up to my breast pump, ready to drink my coffee and catch up on work email while the kiddos were seemingly entertained. I promptly kicked my cup over onto the cream colored carpet and both kids started crying simultaneously. My pump came unplugged and I leaked milk all over myself.
Consider me humbled.
After I cleaned up the coffee, instead of writing emails, I wrote a letter to myself.
I wanted to process my experience, and I usually do that through writing. I also wanted to offer 2019 me encouragement and set her up with some realistic expectations for what it would be like to transition to working from home with two children during a pandemic.
Dear 2019 Me:
This might sound strange, because you know you can’t predict the future (wouldn’t that be useful) but there is something big coming. This something is going to be scary and beyond the scope of your experience. That’s because no one will have experienced this before. It’s going to going to isolate you both literally and figuratively. But it will also be an incredible opportunity to grow and reset your priorities if you let it.
You have a vision right now for the way maternity leave will go. You have specific plans for how to make sure your big kid feels special through one-on-one outings. You want to have friends over for coffee and take trips to your in-law’s farm and your hometown. None of that will happen, though, because you’ll be taking social distancing seriously. I know you don’t even know what social distancing is, but you’ll learn soon.
You will be so disappointed in the change of course that you will scream and cry. But, your creativity and patience will shine through. You and your toddler will take the time to color and explore with every crayon in the box, and closely inspect every detail of the new flowers in the front yard. You will revel in lazy afternoon naps with your newborn.
You will be forced to slow down and it will be so good for you.
Your parents will meet your new baby through your living room window. You will not be allowed to have them come in and hold her, or hold you. Your heart will break into a thousand pieces over this. You could really use a hug from your mom. Make sure you are honest with your husband about that and he will give you one of the biggest and warmest hugs you’ve had in your life.
It’s a good thing you’ve had a baby before because you won’t be able to see a doctor in person for postpartum or newborn care. You won’t be able to meet with your therapist. Your network of support in friends and family will all be tapped from managing their own households during the pandemic. You will be lonely.
Eventually, though, you will connect with people.
The big scary thing that prompted you to write this letter will also bring you closer to some people that are unexpected or you’ve fallen out of touch with. It will give you a new perspective on what it means to lead with your heart. You will once again find strength in being vulnerable with those you trust. Social media will be a new way for you to connect with and cheer on fellow mamas as you all navigate this uncharted territory together.
Be easy on yourself. There will be days where things feel impossibly hard. Days where you are sleep deprived, and your toddler is teething (she’s going to cut three molars at once, so buckle up), and the baby is cluster feeding. These are the days I want you to take a breath, go to the kitchen, and make another cup of coffee. You will all find your groove and the quarantine won’t last forever.
The toddler will get more screen time than usual. This is fine.
You will not be as productive with work as you once were. This is also fine.
Disney will release Frozen 2 and the soundtrack will be on repeat for weeks because it keeps your toddler happy. This is… fine, I guess.
Remember your resolution to model compassion and kindness for your children? You had no idea then just how challenging this season would be, and you need to also model that kindness and compassion for yourself.
You are but one human, trying to make it through the day, like everyone else.
Your strength and resilience are about to be brought to their limit. Your marriage, your patience for your toddler’s toddlerness, your ability to run on nothing but caffeine and leftover goldfish will all be challenged and shine simultaneously. There will be days you’ll question if you’re cut out for this. But girl, you will prove yourself wrong. You will do it. The kids will be fed, and after an initially painful transition from school to home, your big kid will thrive on all of the time with her parents.
When you feel like you’ve reached your limit, remind yourself that while this is incredibly hard, you have been through worse. Your capacity to adapt and thrive is much stronger than you imagine. You will be one of the privileged and lucky during this big scary thing. Things will be hard, yes, but you will still have your health and your job.
So, 2019 me, go for coffee with that friend. See that movie in the theater. Hug your loved ones a little longer. Take your toddler to the aquarium for the fifth time in a month. Let her linger at the library and blow the day’s schedule. These are the things you will miss when the world slows down.
Lastly, when your world does slow down, remember that you have to slow down with it.
Take this letter filled with your own advice that you wrote and create realistic expectations. You can’t do all of the things all of the time. Focus on the things you can do and the things that matter the most, like your beautiful children. The rest can wait until the world takes off running again. And when it does, maybe you’ll want to resume with a jog instead of your usual sprint.
Oh, and wash your hands.