I imagine the childless remote workers of the world sitting in quiet rooms by themselves. I imagine that they can sit in their quiet rooms as long as they wish without interruption, without anyone bursting through the door to demand a red crayon, and they could sit in there peacefully for five days straight if they felt like it. They have choices. They could do anything if they just felt like it.
Do you want to know what I did during lunchtime today? I bathed my five-year-old daughter.
Yes, I am a single mom, and I am responsible for keeping another human alive — but hopefully, also keeping her happy and healthy. And maybe on a good day, I can even keep her learning and developing. But that’s just too much to dream for, so most days, I settle for happy and healthy. I ask her while she watches Netflix on the sofa, and I am at my work desk: “Are you happy?” She nods. Because while mommy does her job, she gets to eat snacks all day and watch TV. In the afternoons, I try to get her outside and walking around in nature if I can, but that takes away time from my work, of course. I try to give her anything she demands so that she doesn’t remember this work-from-home-no-school time as “that time mommy ignored me all day every day.”
I opted out of virtual learning long ago. No, sir. I will not be trying to keep my daughter on her school schedule, talking to teachers and classmates she’s never met on a computer half the day, and probably hating it. I will not participate in that torture, and frankly, I do not have the time. There are non-optional things, such as trying to keep my work meetings free from random interruptions and tantrums. But virtual learning seemed like a great thing to choose not to do.
Tell me, please tell me: how were schools planning to help me keep my employment? Clearly, that hadn’t occurred to them. They started piling on all the requirements about meetings and picking up laptops for my child, and I freaked out a little bit. Then I realized that the world would be a much less stressful place if I could opt-out. So I did.
The world has very little empathy. The people who make all the decisions for the rest of us are sitting in their million-dollar pandemic homes with plenty of money in the bank and their nannies that have been coming to care for their children consistently for this entire time. I’ve even heard about families that hired tutors who come to their homes and sit with their kids while they do virtual learning, then help them do their homework. And they are the exact same people yelling at the rest of us every time someone suggests that the kids might need to go back to school someday.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the energy (or the time, obviously) to sit there and lobby for myself. Society has led me to believe that being a parent is a choice and that it’s my own fault if I fall into poverty and become homeless because I have a kid. It’s my own fault if I can’t physically do virtual learning. It’s my own fault that sending my kid to school in a pandemic is a better personal option than trying to make virtual learning and remote working a reality. Right? What a loser I must be.
I just want a chance to have a chance at the same quality of life as everyone else.
I don’t have as much as some people, but I have so much more than most people, and I am aware of that. But it seems like many people out there really don’t care about other people and rarely think about strangers' struggles.
The day my daughter’s school announced that they were going virtual last Spring, I couldn’t stop thinking about the other families at the school. While most of my neighbors and Facebook friends were focused on yelling at everyone around them about masks or staying home forever, I was focused on the immense fear and sadness of the people who have no voice. You see, my daughter’s school is a place for immigrant families. They already had so little, but they work hard to make a living in this country. Their ability to make a salary and go to places of community support was all taken away from them overnight when the lockdowns started. On top of that, all of the news and information that most of us are used to consuming daily was not as accessible for them since English is not their first language, so the only message they could ever receive was fear. They locked themselves inside their apartments and tried to stay sane and fed.
You never see this narrative in the media. These people are forgotten. Unless we make a conscious choice to have empathy, we will only pay attention to people in our social circles and people of the same socio-economic status as ourselves. These are the people most visible to us. We make decisions based on this filtered idea of reality, and this is how we end up not caring about masses of people.
As for me, I chose to focus on immigrant families and not complain about my own position in life. The school gave all the families debit cards to buy groceries, and I used it up buying groceries for the other families in the school. After picking up the groceries to take to one of the families, the teacher said to me, “You have no idea how happy you have just made these people,” and that just made me want to die. A few fresh tomatoes, bananas, and granola bars made these people’s lives exponentially better.
There’s no way I could possibly complain about anything in my life.
I keep things going as best I can, and I stopped thinking that my situation is even unusual. I’m just doing what I’m doing. But then I read the New York Times article today about Biden’s paid leave plan, and I’m jolted to pay attention to my dire situation. I could be a recipient of this plan, and with very good reason — yet I’ve been under the impression all these months that the choice to have a child and keep a full-time job is my own fault, and I need to make the best of it till I perish of exhaustion.
When I opened that article today and read about the paid leave, I burst into tears. I don’t want to think about getting handouts. It’s crazy to me. I want a chance to have the same chance as everybody else. And, yes, having paid leave so that I can focus on being a good mother would mean everything to me.
The exact line in the article that made me emotional was this one:
It’s just one sentence that states some statistics. I don’t usually get emotional over numbers. But damn. Men gained jobs, and women lost them. Women everywhere are struggling in silence the same way I am. And I imagine them worrying every day about how to put food on the table and give their kids a shot at life. Far from their minds is the notion that they may be paid for what they’re doing and be given a chance to be moms. It’s too wild to imagine that anyone would value what we do. That society would value childrearing. That moms might be given some compensation for their sacrifices and be acknowledged for having less chances in life of a career than others have.
That’s just too much to dare to dream about.
Yet there it is in the New York Times. Written in black and white. It’s real. There might be hope.
So, maybe the world is becoming more empathetic. If companies can acknowledge that the parents working for them have a disadvantage in life, maybe the world is changing. Moms have it hard. Single moms have it harder. Yet, no one seems to notice us. By nature, we are strong and persevere — ironically, making us ideal employees — so we don’t complain too much. We love our children, and they are our blessings in life, so why would we complain? We make things work, and we keep going one day at a time.
Every once in a while, someone else out there acknowledges that our lives are hard as hell. And then we allow ourselves to acknowledge it. I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if the empathy lasts. I will be so glad when people start to care about each other more.
Hi, I’m Emily. I write about parenting, meditation, and sometimes humor. Connect with me on my website.