Motherhood in a Pandemic

There is no end in sight.

an abstract watercolor illustration of a woman who feels like she is failing as a mother
Image created via Midjourney

Earlier this week, I received an email from Quentin's teacher that caused me to have a mini-meltdown.

It was his week to be "Star Student" - something he has known and been looking forward to since the start of the year.  He worked last week on putting together a Google Slideshow of his favorite things, and he would be sharing it in one of his recurring classroom Zoom meetings of the week.  He worked really hard on his Slideshow and had it turned it into his teacher well before his scheduled day to present.

On Tuesday morning, I mentioned to him that I hoped he would have fun presenting his Star Student Slideshow.  I was in a meeting when I received an email from his teacher:  "Does Quentin plan on joining the classroom Zoom meeting?  I hope he can, so that he can present his Star Student Slideshow!"

I looked at the clock.  He was supposed to be in his classroom Zoom meeting 15 minutes prior.  Even though I was in a meeting, I leaped up and found Quentin in the living room, playing with Ger and Autumn.  I said, "Quentin - your Zoom meeting!"  He raced to his room and joined, and was able to still present.

But I crumbled later.  Should an 8-year-old be expected to keep track of the time of day like that?  Of course not.  Both of the kids have reminders on their Alexa devices 5 minutes before their classroom Zoom meetings, but Quentin hadn't heard his go off since he was upstairs.  And I was in a meeting, so I had no idea what was going on elsewhere in the house until I received the email from the teacher.

Quentin's Star Student experience is already different from the kids who had their special weeks earlier this year.  I know that other kids are missing huge milestones, like prom and graduation, but that is comparing suffering and it was a big deal to him.

Part of the reason that I felt so crushed was because of the pressure to keep everything running at home.  I asked Ger if he had any idea when the kids had their scheduled Zoom meetings.  Other than the toddler - because he helps her join and listen to her daycare provider read stories - he had no clue.  I recited from memory:  Theo has Zoom meetings every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 2:30 and Quentin has Zoom meetings every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:45.

The week prior, I received an email from Quentin's teacher that he had not been submitting his assignments.  She could see that he had been working on them, but he had not finished the "submit" button.  In talking to Quentin, I learned that if he had a question about the assignment, he hadn't been asking his teacher - he just left it blank and then didn't "submit" because it wasn't 100% done.  So we worked with the teacher to figure out how she wanted him to submit questions.

I receive email notifications from Theo's class if he forgets to submit something, and followed up with him last week when I got such a notification.  His response was, "Oh right!" and he rushed to his Chromebook to submit the assignment.  I asked Ger if he had any idea how to check their work in Google Classroom.  He did not.

This is all further perpetuated by the fact that the teachers don't contact Ger for anything - the emails come to me.  I was the one who received the email from Quentin's teacher about him being late to the Zoom meeting, even though I was the parent who was working at the time, while the other parent was on Kid Duty.

It has always felt like the burden of being The Brain of the house has fallen to me, even before the pandemic.  I don't think that's unique to our household — that invisible load has always been on women to keep the gears turning.  Pulled in many directions, prioritizing everyone else first, managing the household activity calendar, ensuring that everyone has their emotional needs met — and then feeling guilty when falling short.

That evening, I told Ger: "It's a lot of pressure."  Even though the expectations for school have greatly eased, there are still far more things to keep track of during the day than pre-pandemic.  I checked off the things that I had done over the past week: An online order for Teacher Appreciation Week, done through a site that also benefited the school.  Placing the grocery order for delivery, which requires a lot more planning than simply going to the store.  Beginning to think about activities for the kids for summer, since we will not have our normal camp options.

Ger's immediate reaction was to feel like I was being critical.  I assured him that I wasn't — that our lives have changed, and we have to adjust accordingly.  All of the things that I mentioned had been added to my plate.  I know that organizing and interacting with the school would not be his strong suit, so we talked about other responsibilities he could take over in the house, to share in that workload.  We have also upped the frequency of our marriage therapy to use the time to talk through how we feel with our therapist.

I feel better today than I did earlier this week.  Everyone on the planet is weathering the same storm, but we are all in different boats.  Any boat that has young children is facing these challenges - they are unavoidable.  There is no end in sight.  And we have to keep rowing.

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