Nothing like a global pandemic to make you want to restart your blog.
I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I don’t have any more spare time than I did prior to COVID-19 upending our lives. In real terms, I probably have even less than I did during this crazy past semester where I was teaching four courses (summary: completely insane) now that the kids are also at home and I’m meant to be somehow continuing to teach while also supervising E’s new virtual learning and keeping P. from interfering with E’s new virtual learning. (Case in point: I have been writing this post now for four days.)
I guess I’m looking for a space to document what’s happening, to take notice of the crazy new normal, to record our lives in more detail than I can fit into my five year journal.
I have thoughts.
And this has always been the space where I have put them.
So, to start.
This is a post about privilege and about how much I am struggling with managing the cognitive dissonance between the two voices in my head. The voice that says (truthfully) that in the grand scheme of things EVERYTHING IS FINE and the voice that says (also truthfully) that THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.
First, the privilege.
I have not lost my job. My job is now online, but the course I was scheduled to teach in the summer semester was originally designed as an online course. I did have to convert (with extremely short notice and no down time) all of my courses into an online format to be able to finish the winter semester, but I have taught online before (see: summer course) and I knew how to do it. My learning curve was not steep. It took a great deal of time and I cut some corners but those courses are now finished (
except for one which still has an exam running) and many of the grades are submitted.
Q. has not lost his job. He was on sabbatical this year so he didn’t need to convert any courses to an online format.
So there’s the biggest, most giant ball of privilege I can claim. We are both still employed and our jobs can be done from home.
We are able to look after our children. We are able to supervise E’s virtual learning and help him with his work.
It’s not possible to do this while also working a full-time job, of course, so we’ve split the day into two blocks. I have the kids until 12:30, at which point we all eat lunch, and then Q. has the kids in the afternoon until 6, when we all eat dinner. E. does math, French language and science with me, and creative writing (alternating French and English) and French watching/listening with Q. He also does French reading (usually right after lunch) and practices his recorder (usually right before dinner). After dinner, I do bedtime while Q. cleans up the kitchen and then disappears downstairs to try to cram another couple of hours of work into his day. Sometimes I work once both kids are in bed, but not always (or often). If I’m too strung out, I can’t parent well.
Yes, Q. is going to burn out eventually. He doesn’t listen to me. I’ve tried. We missed the original (December) deadline for our giant book project, which is meaningless in the land of academia because everyone misses their deadlines, especially people trying to wrangle eighteen other people into producing two very large edited volumes. But this eats at Q., because he doesn’t miss deadlines, and so he’s been stressed ever since, even though it was always going to happen since one of our colleagues still hasn’t produced a first (!!!!) draft of his chapter and our other three editors all had to be removed from the project since they’d done no work. Q. and I are now the sole editors of a project that will ultimately be close to 300,000 words long and was supposed to have the editorial work split five ways.
And then the pandemic happened.
So now Q. is trying to do the bulk of the work that is left without access to libraries and with a drastically shortened work day. I’m chipping away at my bits but I’ve only just started to have the time to do this (see above: four courses).
It will all get done eventually, but it’s not going to be pretty.
From a work perspective, EVERYTHING IS FINE because we are both still employed and Q. has probably one of the most secure jobs in the country (as a tenured academic) and I have signed contracts for the fall and even if the university claws those back we can live on Q’s income alone.
And from a work perspective, THIS IS TERRIBLE, because we were both under tremendous work stress before the pandemic happened and the pandemic made things a lot worse. Also the book project is an albatross around our necks. Just say no to edited volumes. We’ll never make that mistake again.
Second giant ball of privilege: E’s schooling.
We have enough devices in our house that E. can always log in to his online classroom when he needs to. We have a printer so we can print out the worksheets that he would rather do by hand (because sometimes typing everything is all too much, especially the math problems which require him to illustrate his answers with diagrams or charts or something). We have high speed internet so when his teacher organizes a virtual meeting he can attend and hear everything and not have terrible lag times or broken video.
Oh yes, also Q. and I both understand French, so we can help E. with his work.
And, let’s not forget that we DIDN’T LOSE OUR JOBS, so we have enough disposable income (especially since our outlays on public transit, restaurants, fuel, etc. are down to zero) that I felt no guilt whatsoever about purchasing a whole bunch of books online (English and French). My kid burns through the books. Our public library is shuttered (that’s another post). I threw money at the problem until it went away.
So again, EVERYTHING IS FINE. We have everything E. needs to be able to fully participate in his new virtual classroom. We are making the time to sit with him to make sure he gets the work done. We are able to support him and help him work through his frustration and his anxiety.
And yet, THIS IS TERRIBLE. E. gets deeply frustrated at how long it takes to type everything (even with the Dance Mat Typing we’ve been doing for the past year he still tends to hunt-and-peck). He shuts down when things appear difficult. His little sister runs riot at every opportunity. The workload is reasonable but the expectations for what we have to do and what is optional are unclear and change every week. Work often gets posted after the point in the day when we do most of his schoolwork, so I discover it the following morning and feel like we’re behind (this is my problem, not anyone else’s, as is the difficulty I have with not getting EVERYTHING submitted every week so the classwork stream doesn’t have anything left in it).
E. misses school. I honestly never thought I’d say that. He spent the entire year counting down to various holidays but he’s said repeatedly over the last month that he misses the routine and he misses his friends and he misses just being somewhere that isn’t our house. He is doing the best he can and he is doing remarkably well, but he is anxious and volatile and we can never quite be sure when his inner volcano will erupt.
P.’s feelings about the whole thing can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that she now has a whole slew of imaginary friends (mostly the cast of Paw Patrol) who are living with us. She holds imaginary contests with her friends from nursery school. She tries and tries and tries to get her brother’s attention, often in ways that push all of his buttons (often intentionally). She is very obviously missing the social contact (Q. and I might have inadvertently bred an extrovert).
As far as P. is concerned, EVERYTHING IS FINE. And yet, THIS IS TERRIBLE, because we are asking so much of her. She often needs to play alone, and she’ll set up her dolls, or the Playmobil, or the trains, or the LEGO, or the Bruder trucks and soon a complicated game is underway. She usually sits up at the table to “do her work” during the blocks of time when E. is doing school-related stuff. She colours and cuts and glues and stamps and beads, and thank goodness she loves doing art as much as she does because it would be a nightmare if we were having to more actively manage her while also being available to help E. But there are signs (especially this week) that she’s getting bored of the routine. She gets outside twice a day, and she has one-on-one time with Q. in the afternoons while E. plays Prodigy or other vaguely educational apps, and once a week my Mum talks to her over Skype and reads her stories, but it’s not the same as the outstanding nursery school environment she was in before the pandemic, and she misses it. She’s almost never our focus.
In the grand scheme of things, however you look at it, EVERYTHING IS FINE. We are all safe. We are all healthy. We have enough food to eat and we can (usually) buy (most of) the things that we need when we place an online grocery order (food is a whole post of its own).
If I see my neighbours when I’m outside with the kids, and they ask how we’re doing, I say that we’re fine.
Because we are. We’re FINE.
I would never complain about anything to anyone else. I’m very very aware that my family is loaded with privilege right now, and I would never dump my negative feelings on outsiders.
But my blog is a safe space, so here I will also say that THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.
I am an introvert and a highly sensitive person. (Elaine Aron’s books are great at explaining this concept if it’s new to you, but Modern Mrs. Darcy also writes about it quite frequently.)
To quote Modern Mrs. Darcy:
HSPs tend to avoid violent movies, are easily overwhelmed by bright lights and loud noises, get rattled when two people are talking to them at once, and need time and space to regroup during especially busy days.
I originally had an ’emphasis mine’ in brackets before the quote, but, really, I was going to end up highlighting the entire thing. This is ME.
I adore my children but they exhaust me every day. They did this before the pandemic and having them at home with me, all day, every day (because even when I’m working in the basement I can hear them and I tend to have unexpected visitors at least twice an afternoon) has made things SO MUCH WORSE.
It isn’t just that I’m too busy and we’re all cooped up together and our world has shrunk and the news is always terrible.
Our new normal is really, really bad for my mental health.
The kids are loud (of course they’re loud – they’re kids!). I used to silently chant to myself “Loud is not an emergency” before the pandemic. Now I have nowhere quiet to go and no way to recharge before bedtime (see above: why I don’t work in the evenings).
The kids fight (of course they fight – they’re siblings and they’re bored and cooped up and anxious!). The yelling and screaming and crying feels to me like physical pain.
I am overwhelmed on a sensory level multiple times, every.single.day.
I am realizing how much my anxiety management has always relied on walking, on time and space away from the house, on quiet, and how difficult it is to achieve these things now. I walk or run every day, but our neighbourhood still has a lot of people out and about. The green spaces are too crowded for me to feel safe there and even having to dodge someone every other block becomes stressful.
My anxiety flares as anger. I bottle and bottle and bottle because it’s almost never about the kids, it’s about me and my own lack of control and my own fears and my own feelings of being overwhelmed and how those make it harder for me to take my deep breaths and respond to them as I know I should.
I can tell I’m clenching my jaw again at night. I need a new mouth guard but my dentist appointment was one week too late into March and was cancelled.
I am doing the best I can every.single.day, but it is really hard.
In the grand scheme of things, EVERYTHING IS FINE.
But also, THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.