On Teaching In-Person During A Pandemic––While Being A New Mom

by Rachel Cockrell
Originally Published: 
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I am so. fucking. exhausted.

I know it’s not just me, and I knew being a mom would be hard, but being a mom during the coronavirus pandemic plus teaching high school full time is on an entirely new level. I’ve always been relatively decent at managing my stress and anxiety, but this year isn’t a normal year for anyone.

I had my first meltdown in August during the first week teachers went back to school. I noticed one night, just a few days after going back and sending my 4-month-old son to daycare, that he was a little snotty and congested. Other than that, he seemed perfectly fine. By the time he woke up and got moving around the snot was all gone. He had no trouble eating. He didn’t have a fever. Everything was normal. I told myself it was just the inevitable “new to daycare” bug. In any other situation, this wouldn’t even be worth worrying over, but nothing about 2020 is normal. I agonized over what to do, all while he babbled and breathed normally and was totally fine. I took his temperature and he didn’t have anything even close to a fever. So, I sent him to daycare and I went to work.

Then, my friend whose son is in my son’s class texted to let me know she wasn’t at work that day because everyone in her house was sick. She had a sore throat, her son had the sniffles, her daughter was congested, and her husband had a sore throat. She called the doctor, and the doctor recommended that they go get tested for strep and COVID.

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I panicked. I hadn’t trusted my gut that morning. I sent my son to daycare. And my friend did what I hadn’t done by keeping her family home. I called my husband, fighting tears, and we decided that I would pick my son up during lunch and we would try to get him an appointment with the pediatrician.

I broke down in the car leaving the school. We’re talking wracking sobs that had me shaking and gasping for air. Over the sniffles. And I am not a crier. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in the last 15 years. The rational part of my brain knew my son was fine, but I couldn’t stop the tears. And I was right, it wasn’t COVID. My friend and her family all tested negative, too.

I know it’s neurotic. I know it’s insane. But this is parenting during a pandemic. No sniffle or cough or tickle in your throat is safe anymore. You can’t assume anything is benign. Everything is a symptom of COVID, so you never know what’s nothing and what’s a potentially deadly virus. Compound that with the fact that my baby is in daycare and I teach 135 high school students each day, and there’s no avoiding these kinds of scares.


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I had my second meltdown just before Halloween. My son’s teacher tested positive. His class was quarantined for two weeks and the daycare shut down for one week. Unfortunately, my school district doesn’t care if someone in your household is quarantined due to close contact, as long as you aren’t the close contact you’re still expected to work. So, my husband had to navigate working from home and watching our son, while I randomly took sick days to help when my husband had meetings he couldn’t reschedule. We tested negative, thankfully. But it took almost a week to get the results of that test. There weren’t any wracking/gasping sobs during this meltdown; it was more prolonged. But there was a lot of crying over that week, and a lot of temperature checks and over-analyzing every little cough or sniffle.

It was so hard for my husband and me to decide to go ahead with daycare and go ahead with me teaching this year. I just got my master’s last year. I just re-upped my AP Lit certification. So much would be lost if I didn’t go back. We agreed that I would go over the top in taking precautions, and we trust my son’s daycare and the precautions they’re taking. Even still, I question my decision every single day. Because this is the reality of being a new parent – or any parent, really – right now. What most people would write off as new mom paranoia, I can’t afford to ignore. I had those meltdowns because motherhood is already so fucking hard, but with a pandemic that half of society chooses to ignore, or claims is a hoax, it’s damn near impossible. Navigating all the politics and the health concerns and the deteriorating familial relationships of the world right now is something most new mothers don’t have to deal with.

I’ve always been able to keep a relatively cool head. I don’t get upset. I don’t usually let stress affect me like this. But this year is different. My son is seven months old now, still in daycare, and I’m still teaching. His teachers all wear masks. My students and I all wear masks. I keep my family away from maskless contact with others. I’m doing everything I can to keep us safe. But every day I wonder if it will be enough.

It feels like I am all alone on an island of sanity while everyone around me is swimming with sharks they refuse to acknowledge. They know the sharks are there, but they just hope the sharks decide to eat someone else in the water instead of them. After all, the odds are truly in their favor, and they really like to swim.

I don’t care about the odds. I care about my son and keeping him healthy and safe. If that means tense relationships with family, fine. If that means breaking down into tears over a few sniffles, fine. If that means wearing scrubs and full PPE to teach my high school English students, fine.

What I can’t handle, is the island. I need support. I need understanding. I need all the coronavirus conspiracy theorists and hoax believers and “oh, but only x% of people die” people to have some fucking empathy for once in your life and put on the goddamn mask. I need you to stop acting like this doesn’t matter. Stop acting like it’s okay for life to just move on as normal while people are dying of something that is preventable. Just because it doesn’t affect you, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I am drowning in anxiety on this island by myself. I’m tired of shouting at you to watch out for sharks. I’m tired of your anger at me for refusing to swim.

I’m just. so. damn. TIRED.

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