I watch as the condensation on my wine glass forms into droplets and slides down into a puddle on my nightstand. I take another sip and focus on my deep breathing. I count to three and exhale. An island rendition of “What a Wonderful World” plays through my earbuds and I imagine myself eating fistfuls of Spam Musubi somewhere far, far away. I splash cold water on my face and check my phone again. It reads four o’clock, but it somehow feels later. I open my bedroom door and take a brave step outside. It’s day 1,453,569 of the quarantine and my kids are already outside the door, screaming.
Several months ago, life was different. I was a mom, but also a full time student. My life was one big schedule with a (reasonably sized) dash of family time thrown in. Then, the coronavirus hit and life as I knew it was gone. My classes went virtual and the only time I went outside anymore was in search of toilet paper. Eventually, I located a few rolls online through an industrial supply company, but the jumbo single ply rounds required special handling — one arm to hold the damn things up (they didn’t fit into regular holders) and the other to collect the tissue by making large, circular motions. It was a bit like playing air guitar, except a lot less fun.
After COVID-19, my kids’ lives were cancelled, too. School, soccer, and swim classes disappeared and my kids — Max, who is seven, and Sofia, who is four — had nothing left either.
And like so many others during the pandemic, my husband and I found ourselves 24/7 parents in addition to the regular joys of work and school.
Problem is, during normal times we parents already need a saint-like level of self-discipline to raise our children. We need the fortitude of Martin Luther King. The kindness of Mother Teresa. The patience of the Dalai Lama. The generosity of spirit that is media powerhouse, Oprah Winfrey. When you throw in a global pandemic, the task becomes all but impossible. No one is that perfect or capable (unless, of course, you’re Oprah, but she has no kids of her own).
With the added pressure of COVID-19 and after so many months under quarantine, it’s no surprise I developed a rage so intense my husband grabbed me by the shoulders one day and shouted, “Snap out of it! We’re the adults here!” It was like a scene in a war movie where the noble general tries to prevent his wayward soldier from going around randomly blowing shit up.
My kids didn’t fare well either. Soon after lockdown they began bickering and fighting — with each other, but mostly us parents, as a protest to our new roles, not only as their 24/7 caretakers, but also full time school teachers.
Early one morning, the trouble began while I was helping Max with his weekly writing assignment. The assignment was to write three sentences about a reptile. Max, however, hates writing. In fact, he’d rather do just about anything but write. In an effort to get him through the assignment, I said “Pull off the Band-Aid, Max. Write the three sentences — boom, boom, boom — and you’ll be done!”
Instead, it took him four hours to write three sentences and I became frustrated, because people run marathons in less than four hours, but my son, who has the stamina of a champion racehorse when it comes to making poop jokes, couldn’t write four sentences in less time. Naturally, I ended up yelling, which led to Max crying, which led to hours of consolation by my husband and me.
Later that afternoon, things were calmer, but by bathtime, my youngest declared she wanted nothing to do with her brother. In fact, she’d grown so upset, she no longer wanted to bathe with him; she’d only shower with me. By this time, I’d given up any semblance of a boundary, so I said, “You can shower with me, but you get in, you get out. Capeesh?” She agreed.
In the shower, Sofia occupied herself with a mini squeegee. She went up and down the glass partition and I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief as the hot water spilled over my tense body. After I was done rinsing, I turned off the shower and reached for my towel.
That was when I felt something cold. I looked behind me and it was Sofia trying to wipe me down with the metal squeegee. I said, “Damn it, Sofia, don’t squeegee momma’s ass!”
And she’s all offended, like “Okay, but you said we had to clean all the water off when we’re done.”
I replied, “I meant the glass, not my ass.” (I didn’t say ass to her, by the way. It’s a bad word in our house.) So I said, “Clean the glass, Sofia, not my butt, okay? This is mommy’s private area. Don’t touch my ass. I mean butt.”
By then, I’d had enough. I told my family I needed a break and I grabbed my robe, poured myself a glass of Pinot, and climbed into bed.
And that’s how I ended up listening to IZ play Hawaiian versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” on loop like an emo sixteen-year-old school girl. As I laid there, I began crying and thinking, I shouldn’t have had kids. I’m horrible at parenting. I can’t control my temper. I don’t have patience. And, worst of all, kids are fucking annoying! And then I think, Oh my God, I’m the worst mother in the world. I can’t stand my own kids.
I feel guilty and terrible. Like one of the monsters in their storybooks.
The next morning, I’m still feeling horrid and the kids are already fighting. Max is holding Sofia’s purple bunny hostage and Sofia is screaming but I ignore them and make breakfast. I cut up strawberries and mix pancakes. When I finally sit down with my plate, Sofia waltzes into the kitchen dressed in her unicorn bathrobe.
She asks, “Mama, can I have Doritos for breakfast?” She begins rooting around the countertop looking for the bag of chips.
I take a breath and say, “No, Sofia, you can’t have Doritos for breakfast. It’s not healthy.”
Then she walks up to the dining table where I’m sitting, points with her finger, and asks, “Then why do YOU get to eat THAT?”
I look down at my brownie.
On a normal day, I’d try to explain why brownies are more breakfast-like than chips or respond with something more noble, like, “You’re totally right, honey. I’m not going to eat this. It’s not healthy either.” But as I sat there, I realized that my brownie was life.
And I realized something else, too. I realized that as much as it sucks to be a parent during this pandemic, it must suck a whole lot more to be a kid. You can’t stuff your face with unhealthy carbs. You can’t run around the playground. You can’t see your friends. You can’t even call or text them. (Texting is definitely out of the question for Max. He can’t even write three sentences without having an aneurysm!) And the worst part is, you can’t escape your parents. They’re always watching you and breathing down your neck.
As I sat there staring at my brownie, I understood for the first time that my kids are simply tiny versions of me. They’re people I created (mostly on purpose) with needs and wants of their own. And like the rest of us, they’re simply trying to find a new normal and a little bit of happiness in this whole lockdown, COVID-19 mess.
So I toss Sofia the bag of Doritos and said, “Knock yourself out, kid.”
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