One day this week, I snuck away from my work-at-home desk to attempt to hit Trader Joe’s and Target during usually less busy hours, headphones stuffed into my ears listening to a conference call. I work from home full time and now that everyone is home all the time, it has become acceptable to expect me to be on calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day while my kids are at daycare for 8-9 hours a day. Extremely germophobic and terrified of crowds, I went mid-day to try to procure a Christmas ham, some teacher holiday chocolates for gifts, Christmas morning breakfast items, and the only yogurt my son will eat.
I parked, and once my call ended, I masked up and headed to the waiting area outside TJ’s, coming face to face with a line that stretched to the far end of the strip mall. The sheer volume of potentially infectious humans sent me scurrying like a startled cat back to my SUV (mom car).
Determined to accomplish something before my next call at 2:30 p.m., I headed to Target to pick up an online diaper order through their Drive Up service. After being cut off by a crazy lady in a black sedan with tinted windows, I snagged a Drive Up parking space, only to realize after waiting for five minutes that at least ten other cars were circling like vultures searching for their orders.
Twenty minutes later, already dialed into my next call with my headphones tangled in my mask and after yelling to the attendant “There! Those are my diapers!” I had my case of diapers … but I was reaching the brink.
On my way home, as I listened to an impassioned debate about contract requirements and heard frustration in my boss’ voice, I stopped at the strip mall down the street to mail a mountain of Christmas cards. Because — like a masochist — I still bother to have professional photos taken and make nice cards for 75 people, about 10 of which actually return the favor, even during a freaking pandemic. Mask on again over headphones, I headed to the mailbox and attempted to open it, but it was jammed. Full. Panting into my mask, unmailed cards clutched in my fist, I stalked back to my car, climbed in, and threw the cards on the floor.
In that moment, the last fuck I had to give was lost.
Once again, I had failed at something, which has become my natural state during COVID. I’m either failing at work because I’m distracted by a Kindergarten Zoom call in the kitchen when daycare is closed due to a COVID scare (while on a conference call of course), or I’m failing at parenting because I’ve parked my kids at daycare all day during a pandemic to allow me to focus on my demanding job. Not to mention the debacle that is my Kinder-age son’s education and homework assignments.
Emails from corporate human resources stating “You need to take time for yourself – try meditation!” or “You should incorporate self-care during these difficult times,” appear in my inbox regularly. They are well-meaning but empty and infuriating. Meeting after meeting ping on my Outlook calendar, and I watch in distress as my one precious free hour each day disappears, that hour when I could have spun holiday magic or gone for a mythical sparkly walk in the sunshine.
One moment, let me add meditation to my to-do list:
-Collate six weeks of Zoom worksheets in chronological order along with STEM homework assignments and drawings for school projects
-Write kids’ Santa lists, tape them to the fireplace, and order all gifts online
-Figure out what my husband’s family wants for Christmas and order it
-Decide whether to send kids back to daycare after COVID scare or endanger elderly parents
-Purchase eight Starbucks cards, eight small gift bags, eight boxes of chocolates for daycare teacher gifts
-Try not to cry in front of computer screen this week
-Purchase gift for the children’s shelter sponsored by day care
-Purchase gift for the senior living center sponsored by elementary class
-Send $20 via Venmo for Kindergarten teacher’s gift
-Find and print holiday recipes
-Order new leggings for Peloton riding
So that’s it – I’m calling bullshit.
We’ve all read the articles and tweets. Women are tasked with more and more today: demanding full time jobs, perfect organic play-based interactive calm parenting, skinny bodies honed during daily 5 am Peloton rides before work starts, kin-keeping and holiday magic-making, meal planning and food prepping – the mental (over)load – and now we’ve thrown a gigantic public health crisis into the already overcrowded mix. And what we are expected to do with a smile, while remaining unemotional at work and not yelling at our kids or spouse, and still trying to climb the corporate ladder and get promoted, is bullshit.
It’s impossible. Women are leaving the workforce in droves, and with good reason. The system is not set up to make us successful. Something has to give. We can’t do it all, be it all, provide it all, manifest it all, to everyone all the time. That idea is a fantasy and it is bullshit.
And I’m done.