From Warrior to Housemaid — How the Pandemic Changed Me
I started the pandemic as Mulan. Then I turned into Cinderella — the one BEFORE she met her prince.
We were already more than 12 months deep in pandemic mayhem by the time I noticed. Not sure when it began exactly, subtly at first. But soon it stood tall, looming over me. Staring me in the face like a cold case murder needing to be solved — fresh new evidence that I could not ignore accumulating day-after-day, minute-after-minute.
Let me say it out loud so it can sink in. I had become my 10-year-old son’s servant.
“Mom!” I’d dash from my home office to his makeshift desk in the living room where he was attending virtual school. “Can you get me some water…and a snack?” I’d scramble to the kitchen to fetch his request. Headphones still on from my afternoon meeting as I multitasked work with parenthood. Hyper-focused on making sure he had all he needed for school success in this sham of a year the pandemic had given him.
“Mom!” I’d hear early morning. “You need to wash my clothes, I don’t have anything to wear.”
“Mom!” He’d yell from the family room where he was intensely focused on passing the next level of his video game. “Can you make me some popcorn?”
“Mom, there’s no towel/soap/toilet paper in the bathroom. Please fix this now. I’ve told you five times already [expansive eye roll — from each of us].” Each request seeding doubt in my mind. Why is he asking ME to do all these things? Can’t he figure this out on his own?
Then in would come another demand. Just as I was sitting down to eat at the dinner table, “Mom, can you get me a glass of water?”
It was the moments at the dinner table that really got to me. I had just spent an hour of my day preparing food (again) so the entire family wouldn’t die of starvation. I was exhausted and hungry. He had two legs, two functioning arms, and a brain — didn’t he? Why doesn’t he get his own damn water? — the pandemic rat race was wearing me thin.
And that is the exact point when I realized. The pandemic had turned me into Cinderella — BEFORE she met her prince.
Pre-pandemic I was Mulan. Fighting statistical crime, rescuing a lost data soul, leading my own brave, unique path towards a fulfilling career and stable, healthy family.
But being at home 24/7 with my family where I literally reside on the last rung of all their totem poles, I had become Cinderella. Shamed for working too much (so selfish); humiliated — either thru direct or indirect innuendos — into picking up after everyone else; slighted for forgetting to make lunch (or starting it late). All these hidden nudges pushing me into what they thought my life as a mother should be, rather than what I realistically needed it to be.
My children are bright, funny, caring, determined, and endearing. But living through a pandemic has made us all a little, well, dependent on each other in ways we never were before. Strange habits have crawled out from dark places and pre-historic times — and comfortably situated themselves on the tattered sofa at the center of my life.
How had I established this relationship with my son where I was at his beck and call? Was this also happening with my daughter and I didn’t recognize it, or it didn’t bother me because we were the same gender? No, that wasn’t it. She had remained rationally and stubbornly independent throughout pandemic life, perhaps a default of being child number one. But this thing with my son required immediate attention.
I sat down with him one day and asked, “Why are you always asking me to do things for you that you are capable of doing yourself?”
“I don’t know, you’re the mom,” he proclaimed with staunch confidence. “You are supposed to wash my clothes and stuff. That’s your job.” Where was he getting this intel? It sure wasn’t from me.
“Why don’t you ask dad for these things?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said, finishing with, “if I ask dad, he will just tell me to do it myself.”
My jaw dropped to the floor, rage built in my head, and steam burst out my ears. I knew he was right. Am I just a fool? I took a breath. Stared at him and said, “I don’t work for you. If there is something you need and you are capable, I need you to get it for yourself.” “But you’re the mom,” he proclaimed. “I don’t care,” I said. “It isn’t my job to do things for you that you are capable of doing yourself.” “Ugh, fine,” he grumbled.
“Also,” I said, “if there is something that you really can’t do yourself, I need you to rotate who you ask to help you. Every other time, I need you to ask dad.” “But…Ok,” he hesitantly whispered, agreeing to a plan that he clearly believed was not beneficial to the catered pandemic lifestyle of which he had grown accustom.
That night, as I sat down at the table for dinner, my son looked at me, paused, then turned to dad. “Dad,” he said, “can you get me some water?” “Sure,” dad said and got up to fetch the water. My son turned to me with a smile and a nod. I responded with a wink.
While he might not have fully comprehended my message, he was making progress. As for me, step aside Cinderella, this Mulan-mom is making her comeback.