Blog Post From The Edge.

Updated: Feb 17

"The character of a nation is related to how it treats its most vulnerable citizens." ~M. Gandhi


For months--almost eleven months--I haven't really had time to write. A little, here and there, and I even squeezed in two writing workshops, two hours each, six months apart (both online). I'm writing now. It's a Saturday morning. Children are watching television in pajamas. Today, as I do many Saturdays, I might let them watch t.v. for a while.


Plenty of data is being written about the collective meltdown so many of us (most of us) are feeling right now. Even more prominent in my daily media smorgasbord are the articles and reports about pandemic-working-mom-fatigue--which is so real, and hits so close to home, that a mention of it on NPR is enough to make me yell wildly to myself in the car, one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised high (can anyone see me in the 7 a.m. morning commute winter darkness?)--especially about statistics like 25% of women in the United States have had to leave the workforce in order to care for their children-- children who are mostly between the ages of 8 and 12* .



We have three children: they are 8, 10, and 12. Two of them will have 504 plans by Spring, the first of which we started pursuing last October; the second of which we started pursuing the year before that (concerns fell on deaf ears). Between last March and June, many tears were shed by both the children and myself while trying to survive day after day of prescribed, 2nd- and 4th-grade homework (not to mention 5th-grade math), and figuring out why I couldn't share my whiteboard screen and therefore carefully-planned lessons with my own students. Had these kids been in school five days a week, they each would have received the one-on-one support they needed by professionals who actually know what the hell they're doing.


I am also a full-time, high-school English teacher. Those of us who know teachers intimately do not question our time commitment to the jobs we do outside the classroom, like curriculum writing, one-on-one conferences with students, professional development, professional learning communities, faculty and department meetings; personally, I also advise a club, and sit on district- and faculty-level committees. Our job does not require it, but many teachers make ourselves accessible beyond the normal school day. We respond to parent and student emails while making dinner, respond to a frantic text for help with a last-minute college essay, stay up later than we'd hoped to writing letters of recommendation after putting our kids to bed. And so on.


When the Director of the site where we enrolled our kids for their remote-learning days called me out of work to pick up our youngest child, and before I even knew what the issue was, I felt a foreign kind of rage surge through me. It was December, and it was the second call of its kind: he'd misbehaved, and if it were to happen a third time, he would no longer be able to attend the program.**


Which would mean having to stay home with him three times a week.

Which would also mean going part-time, or taking a leave of absence.


And I'm here to echo what I hear so many other women screaming into the void:


I. CANNOT. DO. THIS. I am on the brink. I am not 100% okay.


Here is a list of all the shit that needs to get done, has needed to get done, or hasn't gotten done lately:

Plan lessons for multiple grades/courses. Read the book you haven't read since 1990/this past summer, which you'll be distributing to students next week. Plan both in-class and at-home activities for texts to account for hybrid learning model. Keep the fine line between empathy and rigor in mind.

Grade work and enter 2nd quarter grades. Contact parents of students who have scored lower than 65% and in Honors cases, lower than 75%. Walk the fine line between compassion and challenge, empathy and rigor. Take care of 1st quarter Incompletes. Follow up with students who still have not completed first and second quarter work.

Get groceries, emphasis on stuff kids can pack themselves for lunch on remote days and stuff I can throw into an Instapot and hope for the best. Maybe look up recipes.

Schedule multiple counseling appointments.

Find a new counselor for kids and possibly a family therapist.

Schedule appointment with Nurse Practitioner (missed the last one due to blinding overwhelm). Call back and beg for a rescheduling.

Put a deposit on a kitchen reno. Just call her back already, she needs to know if we're still interested.

Talk to pediatrician and connect him with new therapist and (hopefully) not-too-pissed-off Nurse Practitioner.

Start and follow up processes to get FMLA in order to stay home with child in need: fill out form, have others fill out form, wait for approval. Have a plan B in case the application is denied. Have discussions with family about the plan B.

Ask music teacher when kid b should start trumpet lessons again, since music teacher's swim coaching schedule can no longer accommodate trumpet lessons for kids whose parents do not work from home.

Plan lessons for multiple grades/courses. Read the book you haven't read since 1990/this past summer, which you'll be distributing to students next week. Plan both in-class and at-home activities for texts to account for hybrid learning model. Keep the fine line between empathy and rigor in mind.

Grade the incoming work. See fine line above.

Inform parents of students who are falling behind, look excessively tired or sad, follow up with students between classes or after school.

Work with students to plan Black History Month activities that were approved on the last days of January.

Make lunches. Order lunches online if they don't include grilled cheese, anything with ham, or anything that says "chicken."

Pick up materials to help child who is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Help child organize these materials even though they all look exactly similar. Remind child to practice every day.

Get child to his math tutoring on time (we missed two sessions in a row due to blinding overwhelm). Don't forget to pick him up at the correct time.

Vacuum around the doors where the dog has dragged in sticks and mud. Vacuum everything that can be vacuumed. Resist vacuuming the dog's paws. Remind kids about chores.

Walk said dog so that she doesn't chew through the wall (again). Find Spackle. Find sanding paper; find the paint that matches the hallway.

Contact music teacher to schedule trumpet lessons for kid b, who's fallen off the lesson schedule since music teacher started coaching swimming and whose schedule no longer accommodates kids whose parents cannot work from home. Remind kid who hasn't practiced or thought about the trumpet due to blinding overwhelm about new lesson time.

Break down all boxes and recycle where dog can't eat them.

Make dinner.

Clean up.

Load dishwasher, unload, repeat.

Remind kids to do chores.

Prepare realistic consequences for kids who don't do chores.

Spackle, sand, and paint the walls where the dog chewed through again.

Vacuum upstairs.

Laundry. Remind kids to separate their laundry. Remind kids to put clean laundry away.

Call or check in on family. Watch for text updates for those who've recently had surgeries.

Remind DH to bring home _x_ on his way home from work.

Get on zoom a, b, or c that will invariably intersect with dinnertime or bedtime.

Forfeit zoom because kid a, b, or c needs immediate attention. Apologize.

Schedule boys' haircuts. They cannot see.

Write down the various practice and game times for sport x that will happen each Saturday or Sunday for the next six weeks except for two days that are randomly not holidays.

Confirm meetings with kids' teachers.

Finish student course recommendations for 2021-22 school year.

Consider that Valentine's Day is soon.

Consider that kids will be home for a week for February Break and need things to do that are pandemic-safe. Look up stuff to do on town's recreation website.

Show up for work on time and be presentable.

Schedule dog grooming. Don't be so blindly overwhelmed to forget that too.

Find a rug that absorbs the snow/ice from all the boots and paws.

Pick up poster-making materials for kid's ELA project. Maybe also get Valentine-making stuff.

Google "why do dogs chew walls."

Google "headaches that last for more than 24 hours."

Google "Instapot family-friendly chicken recipes no cheese."

Get child on his zooms and make sure he's prepared with necessary materials in between teaching remote (zoom) classes. Help him with the online math problems between teaching remote classes. Make lunch between teaching remote classes. Take out the dog between teaching remote classes.

Contact teachers whose zooms we missed on remote days due to zoom IDs that are no longer valid or blinding overwhelm.

And I'm not a single mother. My husband does his share when he can. But we have different jobs, and these tasks invariably fall on my plate simply because.



Nor am I an unemployed woman, trying to feed my kids and completely, financially, strapped--though putting our three children in a program for the 3 out of 5 days they're remote has us rethinking the very necessary kitchen renovation (things are literally falling apart), not to mention taking on extra jobs like summer school (which means even less time with my kids).


Nor am I a black or brown woman trying to protect her community, family, and self from nefarious, invisible viruses in addition to COVID-19, including systemic racism and gender/racial bias. As Jocelyn Frye puts it:


"Women of color often stand at the intersection of multiple barriers, experiencing the combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias while navigating systems and institutional structures in which entrenched disparities remain the status quo. Many women of color have to grapple with negative stereotypes and attitudes that affect how they are treated at work, whether they can provide care for their families, and whether they can access the quality health care that they need without bias and discrimination. Now, the aggressive spread of COVID-19 is creating new obstacles with far-reaching implications for the ability of women of color—and all individuals—to survive, thrive, and participate in an economy that works for all." -On the Frontlines at Work and at Home," 4/2020


I hardly see my coworkers. I go to work: I work. I teach: then, the second shift begins. [Side note: an entire podcast has been dedicated to the phenomenon of women who work outside of the home as well as who are mothers, called The Double Shift--and I highly recommend it.] When I finally get a chance to have meaningful interactions with other adults, I can't utter any response to "How are you?" beyond "fine" or "doing good" without wanting to cry in despair and utter exhaustion.


I have faked a headache so that my kids (and everyone) left me alone for four hours. With my door closed, I could switch off, scroll through Instagram, and fall asleep on my own bed. It was blissful: because I WASN'T thinking about all the crap that had to get done. Of course, I returned to a laundry list of to-dos and a kitchen that looked like it belonged in an abandoned frat house. There were other prices to pay, too. Since I'd missed the dinner-making and dinner-conversing part of the evening, my husband and I didn't have the chance to talk through the logistics of the next day--such as who would need to bring lunch from home, who still had homework to finish, who would need snowpants/gloves/boots for recess (and where were these hiding?), who had an appointment the next day and who would be responsible for picking up. All the things that you need to talk through to make sure there isn't all iterations of a fresh hell waiting for you the next day.



When does this madness cease? When policy makers realize that our country is going right down the shitter, one woman at a time, one potential contributor to the economy at a time, one potentially well-educated future voter at a time. When they figure out universal basic income should be a right: when they understand that the unpaid workload women carry necessitates some compensation.


Two addendum to this post since first appearing:


The responses to this post have been so interesting: and polarizing. There are few of them, but those of the mind that the subjects of 504 plans, children needing academic or mental health supports, therapy and the need for it, and the division of labor in a household are verboten topics in public spaces. Then there are the rest of us. If this post has caused you to:

* feel shame connected with you or your child's receiving a 504 plan or receive support

services;

* consider the division of labor in your household, whether your children are grown

or still young;

* question how the division of labor looked in your household when you were growing up

* feel shame associated with the need for mental health support for anxiety, depression,

overwhelm;

* have feelings about needing any kind of help while raising children/caring for aging

parents

then please take the time to read any of the linked articles or listen to the linked podcasts in the collage above. While most of these address the inequities associated with the division of labor, specifically with regard to child care and the care industries in the United States, only some of them touch on the gross inequities that single women and BIPOC women are dealing with right now. They also center and normalize the need for therapy, counseling, support services, academic help for children, and learning plans for kids who need them. Our society has stigmatized these needs for too long, and now it's our kids who pay the price.


2. The articles and podcasts listed above have in large part contributed to my understanding of this fact:

That for as isolating and exhausting as these past months have been for me (a white, privileged, full-time working woman in a two-income marriage with children), my situation is not the most excruciatingly difficult nor the least: I fall somewhere in between on this spectrum of despair. But: I AM NOT ALONE.


I'm writing a follow-up post of the things that have helped me get through these months. Stay tuned.





*(sources: "Multiple Demands Causing Women To Abandon Workforce," NPR, Oct. 2020, and Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Jan. 2021)

** Mind you, if this kid were in another other program, his choices would have been dealt with differently, by professionals who have degrees in child psychology or who have experience teaching. But not in this program.


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