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A Seattle Mom on Solo Parenting During the Pandemic

COVID-19 might be 'The Great Pause' for some, but not for single parents

Published on: June 19, 2020

silhouette of a woman bent forward with hair falling across her face

I just locked my keys in the car.

With it running.

As the million and one emotions wash over me — panic and overwhelm and sadness and embarrassment and, running beneath it all, the ever-present crushing exhaustion — one reaction stands out.

The feeling that this — this level of forgetfulness and distraction — is the only thing that makes perfect sense.

*Of course* I locked my keys in a running car.

I’m on day 72 of being a single parent during the pandemic.

~~~

I call AAA, and they say a truck can be there in 20 minutes.

“Any other features to help us recognize the car?” the man on the roadside assistance line asks.

“It’ll be the one with the frazzled-looking lady standing next to it,” I say. We laugh.

I open the link to track the truck’s progress on my phone. I stand next to the car in the light rain, willing myself not to cry — not now, not when the truck will be here any minute, not when there’s so much left to be done.

I can break down ... later ... sometime. Right?

I send up a silent prayer that all my mistakes — all the balls I am inevitably, unavoidably dropping — are this harmless. This temporary.

This easy to fix.

~~~
You know that feeling you get around your eyes when the exhaustion just won’t quit? I sleep in on weekends and it STILL won’t shake loose. Right now, it’s just a feature of the landscape.

~~~

People on my social media are talking about rest and leisure and slowing down, calling it “The Great Pause.”

I blink at these posts, bewildered — are they posting from a foreign country? We live in the same state, the same city, but somehow worlds apart.

I am working from home and dealing with the thousand new tech challenges of working from home and trying to raise my son and cooking and cleaning and all the grocery shopping which is now 900 percent harder and trying, as best I can, to take care of an anxious child and an anxious me in the midst of a GLOBAL EFFING PANDEMIC.

My friends are posting their freshly baked bread, their newly painted living room, their latest art project, their feet in a hammock.

And I? I am more exhausted than at any time in my life except for when I had a newborn.

But this time around? No new baby smell.

~~~

I work from home now.

I am grateful to still have a job.

I am grateful to still have a job.

I am grateful to still have a job.

I am grateful to still have a job.


But the server has kicked me out for the seventh time today and my son is on hour eleventy hundred of screen time and my internet connection can’t even sustain MY internet usage to work, and they think we have enough bandwidth for my son to attend virtual school?

My son was struggling at school before any of this began — he hated it and wasn’t participating in class, Yet, they think that somehow, under the stress of a pandemic, that’s gonna be ... better? They think the boy who needs constant supervision and cajoling just to get through one homework assignment is going to dutifully log in and get himself through virtual lessons while I work?

He calls over to me — he doesn’t want me to miss a cool part of the show. I snap at him, because, between the internet issues and the TV noise, I’ve barely gotten a single thing done today and don’t get to keep focus on anything for one solid minute.

Then I apologize.

He was trying to interact and be with me, and I’m supposed to be in the same place but paying attention to the office work.

My heart and my brain are trying to head two separate directions and I’m stuck here in the middle, exhausted and drained.

I get up to reboot the router. Again.

I am grateful to still have a job.

~~~

Someone posts in an online forum: “Why isn’t anyone talking about how this is affecting parents?”

I reply: “Because those of us living it are too busy to write.”

~~~

A few years ago, my dad said to me, “Honey, I don’t know how you do it.” (He meant working and raising my son on my own.)

I said, “Honestly, Dad, I don’t know either — if I list out all the things I’m in charge of and everything I have to do, it all feels impossible and overwhelming. But if I don’t think about it all at once — if I just stay in motion — things seem to work out.”

Right now?

Right now, it feels like the balls I’m supposed to keep in the air have tripled, and every support I’m usually aided by — school, after-school programs, coworkers, friends, kid’s friends — has fallen away, and my personal reserves and resources are cut off at the knees. The balls are falling down all around me.

It’s starting to feel like a ball pit in here — and not in a good way.

~~~

It’s not like life was perfect before the pandemic — we were late to school (okay, a lot), there were always dirty dishes in the sink, the laundry piled up ... But we were okay, right?

Life felt okay.

~~~

A friend who just got laid off mentions that she finds herself sleeping a lot. “I guess that’s just my body’s way of dealing with it,” she says.

I sit there and wonder what it’s like to just ... let your body do what it needs.

~~~

The next morning I spill two cups of uncooked oatmeal on the floor. When I’m trying not to waste food. When I’m trying to minimize trips to the grocery store.

I stare at it for a minute — the oatmeal. My dirty kitchen floor.

If I let myself cry, I don’t know if I will stop.

I hear my son’s cartoons from the living room.

I shake my head — no time for tears — and go get the whisk broom and dustpan.

~~~

I have absolutely no idea when I last brushed my hair.

Some days — some days — I’m not sure when I last washed it.

In the early days of the shutdown, I somehow made time to take a couple of long baths, on days my son was at his dad’s. I wonder how I made that work, then.

“Self-care” ... I *know* it’s more important than ever. Everyone’s saying so. But that knowledge doesn’t magic together the time and the energy for it to happen.

Just one more ball I’m dropping.

~~~

One of my son’s teachers leaves me a voicemail, at one point saying: “I’m 99 percent sure your family has internet access, so ...”

Does she actually think that internet access is the only thing you need to make pandemic schooling work?

~~~

I make a confession to the mom of one of my son’s school friends — we’re trying to set up enough technology so the boys can video chat.

She asks how we’re doing with the school stuff. So I tell her.

“To be honest, we haven’t done any of the school stuff — not any of it. I just don’t have the time or the bandwidth for it.”

I forgot that, sometimes, the thing we’re most ashamed of can be a gift.

She writes back: “Me too — it’s just all too much. It makes me feel better to hear that other folks struggle with it, too.”

~~~

When I finally log off of work for the day, my son brings me a day’s worth of pent-up need for attention.

He swarms into my lap, this boy rapidly getting too big for lap-sitting — and knowing my days of holding him like this are numbered, I don’t ever want to push him away.

But after a day of trying to wrestle an unruly internet connection and focus on tasks that seem increasingly irrelevant to the world in this moment, my brain just wants to shut off. I can’t figure out what to make for dinner, or how the hell I’m going to muster the energy to make it.  He wants my undivided attention and I don’t know where to get that from, either.

I saw a quote online the other day: “We all get one whole minute of focus per day during the pandemic. What did you spend your one minute on?”

Work. Work got my one minute.

“No, honey, I don’t know what’s for dinner.”

Is *now* when they think “home school” should happen?

~~~

I do sometimes open the emails from the school and the teachers.

And then I close them.

How many days do they think I have in a day?

~~~

At the beginning of the pandemic, word got around that a pulse oximeter was how you could tell when you were still okay and when you needed to get the hell to the hospital, so I bought a pulse oximeter. Overpriced, I’m sure, because everyone was buying them right then — but what could I do? I’m a single mom, my boy needs me — dying is not an option.

Some nights my chest hurts — I have no other symptoms, but the stories read, “One minute they were fine, and the next minute they collapsed,” and now my chest hurts ...

I use the pulse oximeter. My oxygen levels are fine.

It’s probably just anxiety. “Just” anxiety.

As if that makes it hurt any less.

~~~

I’m writing reminders to myself over and over on my mental chalkboard:

“I will not panic anytime I have one small, normal, throat-clearing kind of cough.”

“I will not panic anytime I have one small, normal, throat-clearing kind of cough.”

“I will not panic anytime I have one small, normal, throat-clearing kind of cough.”

I hear my son cough.

“I will not panic anytime my son has one small, normal, throat-clearing kind of cough ...”

~~~

I’m aware that I’m one of the lucky ones.

I know a single mom who’s immuno-compromised.

I know single moms with no other parent in the picture — my nights alone aren’t a complete break, but the quiet helps. One less thing to be on deck for, at least for a while.

I know folks whose jobs went all the way away.

I know folks who got sick.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I *know* I’m one of the lucky ones.

But I’m still drowning.

~~~

One by one, the summer camp cancellations start coming in.

“So much uncertainty ...”

“Out of concern for the health of our campers and staff ...”

“Due to the restrictions ...”

One or two send emails with bright, all-caps invitations: “JOIN US ONLINE! YOUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES AT HOME!”

I stare at these.

So, I’d still pay them money ...  but my son wouldn’t go anywhere ... and I’d still be supervising him?

Meanwhile, the school district sends out emails about all the committees they’re forming to discuss reentry in the fall.

“We’re looking at multiple options: an A/B schedule, different grades at different hours, high school remote so younger grades can use their buildings to maintain social distancing — or continuing all grades by remote learning.”

Translation: There’s no end in sight.

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