Motherhood is always an emotional roller coaster: The highs are joyous and energizing. The lows are overwhelming and deflating. One moment I can be overcome with the joy of watching my little one discover something new, and the very next moment find myself fighting the urge to leave a screaming child behind and go running from my house! And that’s just speaking of normal times, back when leaving the house was actually an option.
Being a mother during a pandemic is certainly unlike anything I have ever experienced before. And definitely something none of us voluntarily signed up for. To say it is hard is such a gross understatement that I just had to pause for a moment to rap myself on the wrists for having the nerve to type it. Hard? Try impossible. Right now I hear “mama” far more frequently than I hear my own name. Right now, I am all mama all the time.
I love my girls more than anything in the world, but I never planned to be with them ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. In normal times, I get breaks when I get to take off my mommy helmet just to be Julia. They go to school and daycare while I work. Plus, they spend some nights with their grandmother, so my husband and I can enjoy date night. We spend time apart, I recharge, and I am a better mother because of it. The pandemic has robbed me of those breaks in the Mommyverse. I no longer get to recharge, and as a result, my batteries are low. There is definitely still joy, but the constant togetherness is exhausting.
And I know all the mothers out there are experiencing this extension of mommydom along with me. Yet unlike normal times, we can’t get together for a coffee or a cocktail to talk about it. We are all living and re-living the monotonous days of pretend play, virtual school, constant food prep, emotional management, and clean up. And many of us are simultaneously trying to work jobs and to keep up with…well, with whatever it is we usually keep up with. All while trying to maintain some semblance of our non-mommy selves. We are all doing it, but separately. Wake up, rinse, repeat. Every day.
In normal times, when I take off my Mommy hat, I’m a photographer. And from an artistic standpoint the pandemic actually created a really novel and compelling storyline – the family dynamic while under house arrest. Unfortunately, the pandemic also prevented me from going into clients’ homes to photograph this unique experience. So I had to turn to the only Mommy I had access to – myself!
I created this self portraiture series with my children because I was overwhelmed by all the different emotions I was feeling being a mother during a pandemic. Putting all of those feelings into photographs felt cathartic. And it turned out to be a really fun collaboration with my children. Not only did we make images that I feel will resonate with mothers and caregivers in general, but my children got to watch me create. They got to watch me be a photographer. They got to see that even though I adore being their mother, there is more to me. And I felt those batteries charge up just a bit more.
Now that my children are home all the time I get lots of “help” with everything. I think most of my laundry gets folded at least four times:
1st — the fold that my kids “help” with
2nd — the repeat fold after the help
3rd — the fold after my kid dumps it out to use the laundry basket in some kind of pretend play, and
4th — the final fold I do with a glass of wine after my children go to sleep.
Being in the house all the time means the refrigerator is always in view. And in my modern Pavlovian dystopia, they now constantly salivate at the sight of the refrigerator. They are hungry all the time. “Can I have this? What about this? How about a…” ad nauseam. I wish I could just hide it like I do with all of the music-making toys family members send, but it’s too friggin big. I can’t openly endorse this, but I kind of wish they would just sneak the food they want and leave me alone.
We are finding ways to enjoy what were previously the pretty mundane moments. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I felt the urge to go to extraordinary measures to make life better for my girls. I thought that surely they needed novel and exciting to make up for what they were missing, right? But the truth is, quality time and love is enough.
Driving is no longer primarily a means to get from point A to point B; it’s a noteworthy activity in and of itself. We sometimes just go for a drive to get out of the house, to feel a bit more normal. And from the safety of our car we get a glimpse into the community we miss. At times it feels comforting to see the familiar; at others it feels sad to see things so empty. For me, it’s just a nice way to sneak in a moment with my own thoughts while the girls are strapped into their seats.
Working from home with children is like… trying… to… write… a… paragraph… one… word… at… a… time… over the course of an entire day. Every email I manage to write feels like a huge accomplishment. Don’t like my typos? Deal with it, because you are getting no apologies from me.
There are days when I feel really good wearing my Mama hat. You know, those days – when energy is high and things just fall into place? On those days, my kids can suggest an activity, and without thinking about it, I am all in, flowing with the vibe. It delights them to have me join their play. And let’s be honest, it makes me happy that I delighted the little critics. Just because they are my children doesn’t mean their reviews don’t matter to me. I give myself a pat on the back for rocking it.
But there are other days when I don’t feel like being Mama. Before the plague, those were the days when I used to call in reinforcements – just set up a play date for my kids or call a babysitter so I could get away. But right now we don’t get to tap out. Those moments when we can’t escape, that’s the hardest part.
Getting out in the sunshine makes a huge difference in my energy level. So we go for lots of walks. And I always cave to the requests to bring things on our walks. Even though I know what will happen — the distractions that slow our walks to the point that we are hardly moving. The bikes they promise to ride but lose interest in immediately. Or the fact that my oldest is going to stop five times per block to make me listen to her re-read yet another excerpt from the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. If there is Guinness Book of World Records category for longest walk around the block, we can compete.
Sometimes, if I’m lucky I can sneak in a nap. But even then a Mama’s job is never done. I must have some kind of magnetic field surrounding me because no matter how much space is available, they wind up on top of me or burrowing into me. I wonder if they are coordinated in their efforts. Could it be a running joke?
Even when the world feels like it’s falling apart, my girls can still find the joy. Seeing their happy little faces is what keeps me going.
The pandemic has given us the time to try lots of new recipes. My girls love to bake, and I love their passion for baking. I’m undecided about whether or not I love baking with them, but at least it usually ends with a treat, excluding that terrible banana bread fail.
I’m not built to be a great Mama all the time. And I’m okay with that. My children don’t need me to pay attention to them all the time. So when they give me space, I take it.
Sometimes life gets to be too much, and I just revert back to being a kid again. Riding a tricycle is much more fun than folding laundry. Besides, folded laundry is of questionable value anyway these days. When you are home all the time nobody cares if you have wrinkly clothes.
Somehow, we are making this work. One day at a time. One activity at a time. It’s exhausting, but we are doing it.
When being a mama feels suffocating, I try to remind myself of the importance of having a constant in your life. In such an uncertain time, I am a constant for my children. I don’t always do a great job, but I always show up, and my love is fierce.
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