Is your kid on fire?  No? Then, you’re doing a good job: The Essential Work of Parenting as Part Of My Ongoing Chronicle.

This writer and I have been searching for truth in the same sandbox for many years together.  She took time offline from work/mom-ing to paint a picture of the everyday of raising two boys (six and nine) during this crazy time.

“…Might be interrupted at any time inevitably, but… I mean, where do I start…?  There have been so many different things, hard to put it into one thing.  It’s been extremely challenging, right, but there’s also been really great moments we wouldn’t have otherwise as a family… I don’t even know why I’ve started crying…”

She sets her tears aside to engage with one of her boys who asks if they can take a break now.  I thought of my own mother on the phone talking with Faye who only lived down the block and the time I put a Walt’s shopping bag over my head to jump off the kitchen steps ala Superman and ended up with stitches for the umpteenth time. You got to take advantage of those moments when mom is on the phone to do serious permanent damage.

“It started off, they were saying two weeks (the school),  but I knew it would be longer than two weeks, because we live close to the school and the sign out front said, ‘closed till further notice.’ We knew it would be longer, sure,  and some of our friends who maybe paid more attention and knew,  were saying  they (the kids)  are not coming back this year–  and I was like, ‘that’s crazy, that’s insane.’ I didn’t believe it.”

“We took our kids out the day before school closed actually.  We had plans to see my mom in Chicago.  She was supposed to come here, but then when things started happening, we figured it would be safer for her, for us to go there.  Then, of course, we canceled that trip and took the kids home and said, ‘we are doing it, we are staying home.’

“It was really hard. Immediately.   I was like, ‘I can’t be a home-schooler.’  I have friends who do it, and I admire them, greatly, but I’m also trying to carve out times to write, and rewrite, and the business of writing, you know, networking, and pounding the pavement, all the things that it takes to be a writer… Maybe that’s why I love summers when the kids are home, but I struggle with it, too,  ‘cause I have to give up a lot of my creative time.  And I am someone who if I’m not writing regularly… it has proven to be an anxiety trigger, and just me, as a person, when I feel I have no control over my life or a situation… so I was just immediately confronted by this…’

“And I am aware of these things. Awareness helps. I have a great partner who is able to work from home, able to keep his job, I have a therapist I can still… and then, I got sick.  I didn’t know what it was.  And it was so emotional.  And as you know it’s a hard time to just be sick. I had a lot of anxiety, I was like I have to be around, you know, for my kids and then, my doctor on tele appointment thought I had strep.  So, I took a strep test, got penicillin and I was in a room, isolated, then I got better and my husband got sick.  So, it was so much laundry, so much cleaning, so many dishes- added on top of everything, you know, just trying to disinfect everything…”

“And this distance learning is challenging in many ways – and you find it out at different times.  As you go.  My older son is nine, he’s in fourth grade, and now that all of his work is done at home, alone, it is very isolating and It’s… lonely.  For him.  When you are struggling with a particular problem, you are not in a room where other kids are raising their hands saying, ‘I don’t understand,’ so he feels that he is the only one not getting it.  He can’t see the questions other kids may have, when their hands are in the air and they may not know; that group-learning thing is helpful for my kid, and it is missing and it is really hard.  I hadn’t even thought of it, then it was like a light bulb.  So it’s an added layer that makes it harder…”

“And the teachers and principal are great, district-wide it’s been… the grades can’t go down; they can improve, but they can’t go down.  His teachers have set everything up, but he’s left to his own devices a lot because I have a six-year-old who needs my constant attention, all– day— long.  And the teachers give these worksheets – he hates the work sheets – he’s in kindergarten.”

“The whole Zoom thing is really hard… he’s in kindergarten.  So my struggle with that is, ‘how do I keep him on track? Keep him emotionally supported and make it fun.”  So we play games for math that keep it fun.  I told the teachers, ‘listen, he is not doing the work sheets;’ sometimes he is, but I can’t manage it and I don’t want miserable kids… like he’s got this addition game we got him for Christmas where the problems have a lock and each number has a key and he has to learn which key unlocks which lock and he loves that, so we do that.”

“The principal and his teacher said ‘focus on their emotional development and we will catch him up academically in the fall,’ but it’s really tiring… I mean, today?  I am really tired. Some days are better than others. Spring break I set aside all of my own stuff.  I said I am going to just make it fun! We were going to go down to San Diego be with family, but that couldn’t happen, right, so instead I came up with a theme for each day; one day was pirate day, one day was medieval day.  I built a pirate ship out of boxes, and for medieval day we made swords and armor, and watched movies, like Shrek, and whatever film fit for the day,  and that was so fun… That was something I would never have done.  I am not a crafty mom, but we are home, and we were like let’s make it fun and memorable, and I was excited about that, but I can’t do that every day, I still have to keep up with my work…”

“This is such an unprecedented time… Such a weird time.  I feel like all these things that are hard…?  It’s okay that they are hard right now.  And I have friends who remind me of this.  My brain is wired for perfection, and it’s just how I am, if I’m not perfect, I’m a failure… but this … it’s crazy what we are dealing with.  Friends remind me, ‘it’s okay, it’s okay it’s okay.’ A writer friend who is also a parent posted this thing on Facebook in response to some fear of… ‘what if I not doing good with this home schooling,’ and it said, ‘is he on fire?  No? Then, you are doing good.”

I hear her son ask if he can play outside in the pool that is not a pool.

“It’s a little plastic thing, you’re supposed to put sand in then fill it with water and call it a pool – well now it’s filled with sand…it’s crazy…”

“My son has all these I.E.P. (Indiviudalized Education Program) appointments, and O.T.  appointments, speech therapist, extra supported learning, and it’s all on Zoom, we just heard from his –“

There is a question about bubbles and something to do with the garden hose from her youngest. I hear her futz with some kind of toy bubble gun.

“And I have this ready bubble kit ready to go – stroke of genius…”

She pours fresh bubbles in and continues…

“So we heard from the speech therapist, and it’s another zoom call  and this isn’t-“

She gets a delivery and asks me to hold. I hear her teach her son to keep six feet away and not touch the box…  There’s  a mini-meltdown about not being able to open the small grill her husband bought

“My youngest gets real upset, hates the mask, and when we go for walks in the neighborhood, he gets frustrated that he can’t touch things.  He likes to touch things all the time… Back to what I was saying, the point is the I.E.P. — there’s no real support for I.E.P. learning right now – and I don’t know how people are doing that.  To do a Zoom for him with someone he’s never met before, ‘cause his regular I.E.P. is on maternity leave, I don’t know… so again, if it creates misery around him wanting to go to speech therapy that is not gonna help – so we are gonna watch, and if it doesn’t help, we’ll pull him out and wait till the fall when his regular speech therapist returns.”

“And the district won’t let the school therapists meet one-on-one with students on tele-health, open Zoom sure, but not one-on-one in… It’s just.. and all the emails, every day, from the district, the therapist, and the I.E.P. team and it’s just too much, I’m  just trying to get through every day.  And when I do get in bed, I’m so exhausted.  The feeling of being behind on everything is—  and me,  who has had a hard time with that feeling in general,  and having it be just okay, you know?   ‘Cause it’s not going to be forever…  And trying not to be crabby and short –  even when I am feeling… like the other night;  my husband puts this small fire pit we have in the driveway, so we can roast marshmallows, and I just … couldn’t be around people – I love my kids, but I couldn’t be around them anymore.  They were being just awful, all day- constantly yelling at me,  and I didn’t blame them at all,  because this is hard, but I was done!  And I got into bed.  It was like eight-o’clock.  I was like, ‘see ya!’

“Thankfully, my husband was like, ‘do it, I got this.’  We understand each other. It’s much easier when we both don’t need that at the same time… I feel really really lucky to have my husband, and we are a real good team–  my heart goes out to single parents,  or… parents who have one kid!   It’s harder when they’re on their own.   I can send mine out to play together, and yes, it turns into fighting in five minutes, but they have each other.  There is a lot to be grateful for.  But we are learning a lot.  Every day.”

“I miss my family. In Chicago and in San Diego, and not being able to see my mom– we see each other once every two /  three months,  so, those things are really hard… ”

“And thinking about what the future holds… on The Daily the other day they were talking about,  ‘how this can be, is going to be, a lot longer…’  I try real hard not-to-go there.  The things that help me the most are being present with my kids– AND they help me with being present because they demand my presence. I say, ‘I’m busy, I’m doing this or that,’  but my little one has trouble wiping his butt, so that brings me back to the present moment and there is not a lot time to hang out mentally in the what ifs.”

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