A raft of bursting bubbles float past my laptop screen. On the flickering rectangle, I am attempting to wrap my head around the concepts of equity and equality as my essay is due in a few days’ time. Behind the screen, my 5-year-old breaks into her iconic cackle. It is her way of bringing some magic to a challenging situation.
We have been home-schooling since the beginning of January, stuck in what feels like an involuntary participation in an open-ended ultra-marathon. We have stopped running at this point. We carry weights on our shoulders and are walking for however long we need to.
Still, blisters will be unavoidable. On this false summit-riddled hike, I am seesawing between gratefulness, and distress. Grateful for the support I have received, but distressed about the lack of control I have over managing my child’s social needs alongside my own ambitions and desires.
I am craving the stuff that, beyond motherhood, makes me me. This cannot be juggled away.
Yet, when Boris Johnson announced the national lockdown, my initial response was nonchalant. We can handle it. At that point, I had perhaps naively assumed that by early February, primary schools would open again.
A month that would unfortunately coincide with my deadline period. Still, we were routineers. I considered reincarnating the home baking frenzy of lockdown 1.0. During these glory pre-school summer days, the satisfying wafts of freshly-baked sourdough had me briefly toying with the idea of a baking career.
If I still ran, this weekday solo-parenting one-woman bandwagon would have lost its wheels a long time ago
Professional aspirations much like the scent of freshly baked goods evaporated with my daughter’s first day at school in September. The sinking feeling set in a day later, when Michael Gove gave March as the earliest starting date, with May also being a possibility.
How am I supposed to pace when I don’t know how far we are supposed to go? So, we walk. If I still ran, this weekday solo-parenting one-woman bandwagon would have lost its wheels a long time ago.
When the news broke, I had been encouraged by my tutor to file for extenuating circumstances. I did, and managed to get an extension. This meant being able to get enough sleep whilst putting my best foot forward.
This is also thanks to my partner taking a week off from work (and working away) to help the situation. I am grateful for both the institutional and personal support I have received.
Beyond my own little bubble, stories of organisations that have stepped up to support their employees who may be struggling during this difficult time bring me joy.
I also need to acknowledge that lockdown 3.0. is eroding standard coping mechanisms
They see me dream of a more equitable society, one that supports those who do not lack ambition or talent, but merely have care work to fit into the equation. It has instilled a sense of hopefulness within me.
Yet, running no longer hurts, too. Opportunities that I would have ordinarily thrown myself into now whizz by. I am torn between carrying the home-schooling burden with temperate grace, or odds-defying fierceness.
My default mode sees me gravitate towards the latter, but I also need to acknowledge that lockdown 3.0. is eroding standard coping mechanisms.
I would need to compromise on sleep which is a hard boundary for me. I insist on sleep because facing a full day of home-schooling, and care work is equivalent to a 12 -hour workday.
Like in any work setting, there are exciting days, breakthroughs, setbacks, flat-out sabotage, meltdowns that culminate in my trainee screaming, and then curling up in a foetal position on the floor. Sleep matters. Especially as the slog is beginning to settle in.
Learning at the age of 5 is a social experience. Without her peers as encouragement and challengers, she regresses into perfectionism
My 5 year old misses her friends. Her face lights up when her teacher appears in a pre-recorded video. In week 1, it would make her day. In week 5, she wonders when she will be able to return to the classroom.
Learning at the age of 5 is a social experience. Without her peers as encouragement and challengers, she regresses into perfectionism. Frustration erupts more readily as the reward of a shared learning experience has collapsed.
Her enthusiasm is dampened, and I am spending a good part of the day trying to re-ignite it, rather than getting the work done. This work is challenging and has deepened my appreciation for teachers to no end.
Still, I am also wondering if the appreciation will extend to parents. Perhaps, as the lines between home, work, and study have blurred, parenting could be recognised as a form of leadership post-pandemic.
Home-schooling during COVID times means creating a safe space for personal development, and growth in challenging circumstances, after all.
I worry about the image of mothers as the primary carer being reinforced as the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect women
As a parent, I learn on the fly, I adapt and need to manage my time and emotions very carefully. Even in normal times, the feeling of being overwhelmed is always waiting to strike in a vulnerable moment.
These days, it lingers just beneath the surface and, sometimes, I cannot help but think that these are currents that I cannot row against.
As a mother, I am feeling vulnerable. Fearful that the post-pandemic world could swing in an unfavourable direction. I worry about the image of mothers as the primary carer being reinforced as the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect women, and particularly mothers.
Perhaps, post-pandemic motherhood will value apple pies more than my own judgment of what I can and should handle. Reading the PM’s letter to parents across the country, praising us as heroes, I am concerned that my pandemic sacrifices will be tokenised.
I worry that my responsibilities will be romanticised into a narrow, reductionist version of me, as a mom, as ‘the student mom’.
Shovelling, a sense of ‘not-enoughness’ on top of my mental load is not the motivational incentive I need. Now, more than ever, my energy is the most valuable resource I have.
Being hard on myself in a situation that already stretches my capacities digs deeper into a hole I am trying to climb out of
Worrying about not doing or being enough is a poor investment of time. In a few years, nobody will give a hoot if I don’t have a CV jam-packed with extra-curriculars such as the likes of Quidditch society or flair bartending.
Having worked for a couple of years before I returned for a Masters degree, I know that the only thing that matters is getting my foot in the door. There are many ways of going about it.
Being hard on myself in a situation that already stretches my capacities digs deeper into a hole I am trying to climb out of. On a rational level, I already know this. Emotionally, I am getting there – slowly.
Once I have finished the essay, I will go for a run. Running has always been my remedy. I will hit the asphalt and once again feel the contours of my usual self.
I will feel ambition, adrenaline, and endorphins flow through my body. My lungs and legs will burn, more readily so these days, and I will feel the weight lift from my shoulders.
I need to make the most of these pockets of joy that bubble up during these grey long days
As I run, I will also need to listen to a quiet voice that has emerged in recent weeks. It will whisper that stoicism cannot be my only coping mechanism, that I need to make the most of these pockets of joy that bubble up during these grey long days.
Now, I have been toying with the idea of buying roller skates. I cannot skate, and neither can my daughter. Still, the idea of being able to jazz up our commute once schools reopen seems like a worthy carrot to dangle in front of us.
Perhaps I will throw in an 80’s outfit, too, goodness knows that the world needs some colour right now (and mullets apparently?).
Featured image courtesy of Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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