In the early days of quarantine, those days when the idea of COVID-19 dragging into summer seemed almost unimaginable, a friend of mine, who was juggling a toddler and newborn, posted on Instagram about parenting without a village. The post expressed the idea that parents weren’t meant to parent without a village, without a friend or family member, in sight. It urged parents to hold on because the village was waiting…just on the other side.
The post knocked the breath out of me. It put into words a feeling I hadn’t even had the mental and emotional bandwidth to give voice to. As a solo parent who’d been under lockdown with two kids for about a month already, I hadn’t had a mental, physical, or emotional break in too many weeks. I was on duty from the moment my kids’ eyes opened to the moment they were closed. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and not giving the kids the best version of me because that version was buried underneath the weight of working from home and home schooling and parenting 24/7 without a partner to tag me out for even a few minutes.
I read that post and cried. I was at a breaking point—tired of being “mom” without a break, tired of feeling guilty that I couldn’t be “mom” without a break, tired of feeling guilty that my guilt took up so much space in my thoughts.
But I told myself, then, that I could hold on until we reached that other side–when I’d have the support of my kids’ teachers and friends to help lessen some of the weight I was carrying. I told myself I could do hard things and there was a light at the end of this tunnel.
Well, it looks like maybe I was wrong. Or, a bit too hopeful. There will be a light at the end of this tunnel, but we’re not as close as I thought we’d be (certainly nowhere near where New Zealand is). For the United States, there won’t be a light at the end of this tunnel, an other side, for a while. We are going to be in a COVID-19 world for a while.
Which means, I’m facing many, many more months of solo parenting—and the weight is already almost unbearable. And it means my kids are getting less than the best version of me. And as the long hot days of summer roll in, as I think about how I’m going to get my work done and also play the role of camp counselor to get them off their screens and active outdoors, I already feel defeated. I can’t. I simply can’t.
When the governor of my state announced camps would open, my first instinct was to breathe a sigh of relief. Finally something that would ease some of the building pressure. A moment later, panic set in. Camps were opening — not because the virus had disappeared or because the danger had ebbed — but because we’d reached some superficial benchmark. Yes, cases in my area were down by leaps and bounds from the peak numbers in April, but the numbers weren’t zero.
Somewhere between relief and panic is an uncomfortable place to be, especially when it comes to your children. The benefits for camp were obvious: fun and freedom, socialization and a taste of normal for my kids; a much needed reset for me so I could give them a better version of me when they came home. The risks simple to understand: COVID-19 is serious and scary and, at times, unforgiving.
But the risk can, and will, be mitigated at camp. The kids will be outdoors, and that’s safer than indoors. The groups will be small and social distance maintained as much as possible. They will be encouraged to wash and sanitize their hands throughout the day. When they come home at the end of the day, they aren’t coming home to anyone high risk—there’s only me. (Which is a truth I’ve never before used as a reason to breathe easier, and the fact that I am now, speaks to how strange our lives have become in a post COVID-19 world.)
The choice would be easier if I knew a reprieve was coming in another three months. Or six. If I knew school would return to normal in January. I could hold out hope, remind myself I’ve done hard things before and I can do this, too. But the truth is, we don’t know how long this virus will be here. In the fall schools may re-open, or they may shut down as a second wave of the virus batters the United States. We just don’t know.
In some ways, sending them to day camp this summer, when cases are down, feels like planning for the worst. Because at least we will all have this break to have a little “normal” in the midst of a pandemic, if the need to lockdown arises again.
Ultimately, my choice comes down to this, to looking at the heart of my intention. If my intention is simply selfish—to give myself a much-needed break—then I cannot send them to camp. I’ve parented them through their father’s brain cancer diagnosis and treatment and death, I can parent them through a pandemic, by myself, for however long it takes.
When I asked myself that question, I knew my answer. My kids are going to camp. Not because I need a break, but because time outside, safely running around with their friends is better than hours glued to the screen while I work at a table beside them, because the risk feels sufficiently mitigated as compared to the benefits and I can’t keep running on fumes, a break would make me a better mother—they’d get the version of me that was lost the day I cried over that Instagram post, and because I’m doing my best, with what I know now, and that is all I can do.
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