In my home state, coronavirus cases have surged. On the TV, our governor nags citizens to stay home, but from the packed neighborhood sports bar I occasionally drive past, I can see it's not making much of a difference. I follow how the numbers are doing and how my community is reacting, not because I'm judging, but because as a mom, I desperately want my three kids in live school — I mean school-school, the kind with a bus and a building that goes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. — as soon as it's safe.
I just barely survived spring shelter in place, when my three daughters (ages 8 to 15) fought over the quietest corners of the house that also had strong WiFi for their distance-learning programs in three different grades. My husband was also working full time and claimed the laundry room (the only quiet room in the house) as an office. It was left to me and our Maltipoo, Shepherd, to keep the clan calm. Everyone had cabin fever, and tempers were frayed. One kid vacuumed up the other two's almost-completed puzzle, which led to fights so ear-splitting, even our poor pup appeared shocked.
Right now, I'm looking at a pile of laundry so high, I could start taking bets as to when it will keel over. Before COVID-19, my children were occupied at their places of learning, and I'd be able take a break to pour a glass of orange juice and enjoy it on the patio of my tidy home. Instead, I poured my glass of juice, put the container back in the fridge, and got called away to handle some dispute — and returned five minutes later to find it left out on the counter by someone else. Again.
Meanwhile, my 8-year-old seems to have regressed. (Experts say kids' behavior can change during times of upheaval.) She's interested in her old dolls again. One afternoon, I came upon her and our poor dog, swaddled in a blanket with a stuffed bunny between his paws. Being with the people you adore this much is too much — even for a pet. And now with the fall semester in my school district — and others — going virtual, I just don't feel ready. I'm grateful for all that we have, but honestly, my family is on my last nerve.
But this time, I'm creating a game plan. We'll still have five people squeezed into the house, which means we'll need to work together better than last school year. I could have my own show on HGTV with how I'm moving desks and adding storage boxes so there'll be room for books and supplies. And I have a new trick up my sleeve to get everyone to pitch in this fall: bribery. Yes, I said it. I have no shame in incentivizing everyone into complying. My oldest teen says she'll work for some new clothes, while my middle daughter says her price is planning a trip for the future. And thank god I still have one last child young enough for the prize of all prizes: ice cream. I'll also be setting up "office hours" during the day, where the girls can ask me for help, hopefully carving out some time where I can work on my to-do list. But even then, I'll still need to find ways to handle my anxiety.
I'm worried I'll lose my already-tattered patience. My older kids have it rough in particular — but to offer them compassion, I need to not be a mess of a mom. And to do that, I need a minute. Some moms function fine on zero breaks, but I've always needed a parenting recess — and because the schoolhouse will now be in my house, I might not get mine regularly.
While I prefer in-person school, I'm not in favor of classrooms opening up no matter what. I want our teachers, and our children, to be as safe as possible, and I only want to see schools open when we can guarantee that. However, I am for a national overhaul that works harder for moms and dads — including universal child care. Many parents have no idea how they'll juggle a kid learning from the kitchen table and a boss watching the clock at the office (which also may be the kitchen table). It's baffling to me that we, as a nation, offer no clear solutions.
In the meantime, I'm coming to accept that peace in a pandemic will have to begin with me. That means I have to look ahead positively. I'm not sending my kids to a campus this autumn, and I really, truly wish this wasn't the truth. But the trick will be staying strong for myself, my kids, my husband, and the dog.