Rediscovering Our Children While Reinventing Ourselves
It was early March 2020. Carefully penciling in all the known schedules for the next couple of months, it was obvious that May would have to gain about an extra week to accommodate all our family’s commitments. I knew it was not possible, and I knew we had to do it, somehow.
And that “somehow” for me was secretly wishing that we could postpone this logistical puzzle indefinitely. You know, one of those very childish wishes that you logically understand will never come true, but you wish for it anyway, out of desperation or pure stubbornness.
Well, we all know what happened later that March…any plans we had — whether we looked forward to them or not — would forever remain just markings on a calendar, signs of a past life that would not materialize. Be careful, what you wish for! I did not know I had that much power…
As schools, festivals, concerts, conferences, restaurants, and stores shut down, one thing became very clear — our calendars have become obsolete. We were free of our commitments, of our old lives… Yet instead of feelings of freedom, it was more like a disorienting free fall. We now had other things to worry about — how do we get enough toilet paper, sanitizers, masks, groceries, while also finding clear direction, comprehensive information, inner strength, outer calm,… patience? We had to find loads and loads of it, and it was in short supply.
There was a lot to take in. People were losing loved ones (real loss of life to COVID; the loss of physical proximity due to the geographical divide), people were losing jobs as well as the ability to do the jobs they still had in peace. Amidst figuring out basic logistics — when is the best time of night to snag a grocery delivery window or when are parks not flooded with new-found nature lovers — another reality began to set in. It was clear, we had to redefine and redesign our lives. As a family, we had to learn to co-exist in the same space, all of the time. We had to re-discover each other and ourselves.
By the time chaos unleashed, our family had a very normal, overcommitted life. Our two girls — both hitting major milestones as a first-year middle schooler (6th-grader) and a first-year elementary school student (kindergartener) — spent most of their waking hours at school or extracurricular activities. As all the routines blew up in the air and new ones were not yet fully clear or set in well, our reliance on the social institutions to support us as parents was quickly exposed. For those of us with kids, that meant reinventing ourselves — the Western style of parenting had to be set aside for a while. We had to start figuring out how to take our kids with us into the “work field” — something that our society is still not very good at doing.
Being very privileged to work from home entirely, it was an adjustment to suddenly lose my headspace and my quiet during the day. At first, my stress level escalated when I would have to break my focus on a document review to step away and attend to a computer issue for the younger one or check in with an older one after a math test she was concerned about. My husband and I would tag team and keep up with each other’s meeting schedules to know when to give that time to the other person. However, kids did not run on that schedule — their questions, concerns, meltdowns, their need for comfort or companionship or play, could not be neatly arranged on a calendar. Let’s just say, many days did not pan out as planned.
The first time my now 1st-grader popped in on my work Zoom meeting, I was honestly embarrassed. I felt I had to separate my work life and my home life. My team, especially my boss, quickly helped me overcome any ingrained feelings of inadequacy. With everyone on my team in the same situation — women with kids ranging from toddler to high-schooler in age — we normalized being what we are, working moms. My boss often had to cut a meeting a few minutes short to ensure her daughters were getting on their online class in time; we all had to step away from Zoom to provide technical or emotional support to our kids; in meetings, we met each other’s kids and saw them readily being granted the attention they sought instead of being shooed away or being told: “mommy’s at work right now, I am not here.”
In time, any stress from losing two separate spaces for my work and parenting gave way to a deep sense of gratitude. When your boss asks first about you, your kids, your family before asking for the latest update on work projects, it helps put things in perspective. It seems like a no-brainer that if your kids, your family, you as a person are ok, it makes you a better employee and colleague, yet our society is still not fully accepting of the duality of our lives.
In this past year, we have rediscovered our kids. We have learned how persistent and dedicated our 7th-grader is! She is a planner, unlike her mother. With that quality, she isn’t just full of amazing ideas, she knows how to implement them and deliver beautiful, impactful results. We learned that she is an excellent writer and a talented editor who, basically, has been teaching Journalism 101 to her classmates. We have learned how vulnerable and caring our 1st-grader is. She genuinely cares about people’s feelings and finds the most striking ways to give them beauty and kindness by making personalized crafts or arranging Instagram-worthy vegetable platters.
My husband and I both feel privileged for being with the girls this past year. While we enjoyed time free of rushed car rides, hectic kid swapping from activity to activity, we did not necessarily minimize our commitments as a family. All of our schedules remained very full — so much so, we wondered how it was possible to be so busy while staying at home? Our kids continued to navigate through academic schedules, after-school clubs, and extracurriculars — it was just done in a smaller space, running from one Zoom or Blackboard session to another. Yet because we were just a few feet away from them at any given time, we were there for all their tears, frustrations, disappointments, but also for all their wins, displays of creativity, discoveries, giggles, and growth.
When else would we have had the time to binge-watch Gilmore girls, Marvel movies, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer with our oldest? When else would we be able to watch all the 80s kid movies with our youngest (did you know that Home Alone or Adventures in Babysitting are very violent and vulgar by today’s standards?) and talk about the fashion that comes and goes? All the criticism of excessive screen time aside, it is amazing how productive TV watching can be if it brings deep discussions of real-life matters that you might have not had a reason to broach just yet. At dinner time, we did not just talk about what everyone learned at school or work. We discussed politics, gender roles, reproductive rights, religious views, historical context for current events, language and cultural differences, and so many other topics that might have been lost in the shuffle of everyday routines. We played board games, discovering that our little one is a shark in just about all of them, especially Monopoly. We all learned more about each other and from each other.
We do not know what the future brings, or how our girls will adjust (again) back to a more “normal” life. We have seen their resilience through all the changes they encountered so far and believe it will carry them through future challenges. We have witnessed their perseverance first-hand, watching them grow and deepen their understanding of the world. We know they will have to spread their wings and have a chance to live, putting to use everything they have learned this year. It will be a different life for us all, and we want nothing less for our girls than a chance to enjoy it to the fullest. We have confidence in them to do so and hope they have confidence in us to continuously be there when they need us.