Two Things Can Be True
Note: This story was submitted on behalf of the original storyteller, with their permission.
My experience during the pandemic has been privileged. I am not a front-line worker; I am not working in a hospital setting dealing with the horrors of intubation. I have a supportive employer, who has consistently understood shifted hours, the occasional meeting with a child on my lap, and who checks in on my mental health. In so many ways, I have been lucky.
This said, it has not been easy. Days are very long. I am not someone who avoids hard work, but this is an entirely different level.
We have twin toddlers, who had just turned two years old in March 2020 when this all began. Back then, they took long afternoon naps. Our schedule was that I would get up at 6am, work until 9am, then watch the girls until noon. I joined a lot of conference calls with them in the stroller. My husband took on the kids in the afternoon, and he put them to nap around 1:30, and as they slept we both worked intensely to get as much done as possible. Around 4pm, I would be back with the girls until their bedtime, after which I went back to my desk to finish out my day.
I would then collapse into sleep and do it all again the next day.
I often worked on the weekends to keep ahead. There was just so much to do, with real urgency. Turns out economic development is very busy during an economic crisis.
But I told myself to be grateful. We were lucky to be able to keep our kids home. We were making it work. We could get through it for a few weeks. A few months.
The vaccine would come soon.
Once the girls neared three years old, the lack of outdoor time and social stimulation and the introduction of big girl’s beds seemed to eliminate naps. They just wouldn’t sleep during the day. It threw everything into a tailspin.
Meanwhile, we bought a house and moved. This was very, very stressful, but a lucky turn of events. The house so happened to have two units, and we hatched a plan and pitched it to our dear friends, who also have a toddler. They moved in with us, to bubble. It seemed to us that four working adults and three toddlers would somehow be more realistic; plus we were all so desperate for social interaction by Christmas 2020.
The new routine divided up the work-day child care by family. We were responsible for four hours, as were they. It allowed me to begin work around 9, break to feed the kids lunch, then be back at my desk at 1. Then back on kids’ duty at 4pm, and after they go to bed, I can make up the hours or get ahead on projects. It was still a lot, but in this new routine, I was able to get a bit more sleep.
This is a lot of detail about how we have made it all work. But I want to document it because the exhaustion of everything has made my memory poor. It’s been a balancing act that includes a lot of take-out, crumby kitchen floors, and piles of clean-but-un-folded laundry.
In September 2021, our kids started full-time preschool. We finally got spaces and it was time—for everyone—for a new routine. It has been a relief, though it comes with its own worry about variants.
I feel guilty complaining about parenting during the pandemic.
I know that having children is some people’s biggest dream. I know that I am blessed to have had this time with them. We are lucky they’ve only taken one COVID test so far. I have loved watching their language develop. We have spent so much time at playgrounds together.
But two things to be true simultaneously.
I can be meeting my situation with gratitude, and also experience it with misery. I can love my time with my children, and also be exhausted of it. I can feel grateful for how things are, and also wish for them to be different. I can be happy to be sending them to “school” and also deeply concerned about the variants.
The guilt of these emotions may stick with me forever.
My early pandemic mantra was gratitude. When that ran out, my pandemic mindset was grace. I just have to do my best every day and make decisions with that in mind.
With school now underway, I’m again finding gratitude a little easier to find. It might be because I’ve been able to eat my first quiet lunch in 18 months.