When Governor Cuomo first issued a stay-at-home order in the state of New York, I panicked. I mean, I knew it was coming. We all did. Infection rates were on the rise. Doctors and hospital staff were (already) compromised, and in the city — where I live — freezer trucks were rolling in. A fleet of mobile morgues descended on Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens. But I didn’t fear death. I worried about my life. Rather, I worried how I would be able to manage all the responsibilities of my life being a work-from-home, stay-at-home parent during a pandemic.
Of course, I know that reaction seems selfish, and in a sense it was. Millions were sick. Thousands had died, and here I was worrying about silly things like celebrity reactions to COVID and what was on TV. At the time, I wrote entertainment news. I was also worried about lesson plans and the laundry. Normal stuff. Blasé stuff. Pre-pandemic sorta stuff. So in an effort to manage it all, my husband and I created a crazy schedule. We alternated work and childcare responsibilities from dawn until (well after) dusk. And while we held things together, we were struggling. Hard. At least until my mother-in-law made an offer.
She said she could (and would) take a leave of absence to help us.
She offered to be our part-time babysitter. To leave her job.
At first, I was reluctant. I didn’t want to burden her or put her out in any way. I have a hard time asking for help, but the truth was I couldn’t do it all. We couldn’t do it all, and my husband and I needed a hand — particularly with our toddler. We love her and trust her, and she loves our kids. So we said yes. We would use her through the summer, we thought. Just for a few weeks. But the days bled into weeks and weeks into months, and now it’s December and she’s still in my home. And while it’s been tough on us all, I am thankful — so very thankful — for her presence. She is a joy. A blessing. A godsend.
You see, because of her, I am able to work. I am a news and features writer, one who needs time to focus on content and copy. On essays like this. Because of her, my husband is able to continue overseeing his department. He is able to manage employees and work his high stress job, and because of her, I am able to give my daughter the attention she needs during the (virtual) school day. She’s a good, smart kid, but she struggles. Before the pandemic, she was already “behind.” I’m also able to go to therapy, which is absolutely critical to my stability and mental health.
My mother-in-law watches the kids while I take sessions in my bedroom, bathroom, or in the car — and my experience is not unique.
Many seniors have become part- or full-time caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to an article published by ABC 5 in Cleveland, many families are surviving and thriving thanks to grandparents. “The coronavirus pandemic has upended work and school life for many families,” Katie Ussin writes, most of which have “only… rebound[ed] from the fallout because of the safety net grandparents are providing.”
In short, grandparents are now the backbones of many families.
Make no mistake: it’s not easy, for her or me. I feel like a failure, as a person and a parent at times. Like I should be able to do it all. Strong women hold it together, right? We carry the literal and figurative weight. I’m hard on myself sometimes.
And, I know she is tired. My son is a handful. She spends her days running after a two-year-old who is hell bent on hurting himself. Think Dennis the Menace meets Evil Knievel. And I know we can get on each others nerves. My husband, for example, has no patience when it comes to her technological ineptitudes. He can be abrupt, harsh, and short. I also know I am very privileged. I have a good relationship with my family and live close enough to my in-laws that this is a reasonable option. That distance is not a problem. Plus, my family is in good health. We quarantine the same, though we reside under different roofs. But she deserves my thanks and immense gratitude, as do all the grandparents who have “stepped up” during these trying and unprecedented times.
So thank you to you my mother-in-law and all the grandmothers, grandfathers, nanas, pop-pops, gigis, mimis, abuelos, abuelas, gammies, grammys, and gramps who are holding us and our children together. Without you, our homes would be messier. Our jobs would be lost, or — at the very least — exponentially harder, and our lives would be more of a struggle. We’d also be getting a lot less sleep. You saw a need and stepped up, and we are eternally grateful: for your life, guidance, hand holding, and support.