Some days, I’m almost positive I’m not going to make it.
And then more yelling — louder this time — and of course, more tears.
This is often accompanied by silent prayers for my sanity. As I gaze skywards, inaudibly mouthing the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the power the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”), my kids glare at me, wondering if I’ve finally lost it.
There’s also tons of begging on these blessed days. I plead with the kids to sit down and do their work independently so Mommy can get some of her own work done. I implore them just stop fighting and play with each other peacefully. Because after six weeks of uninterrupted sibling time, older brother Man is over it, while little sister Lady is gearing up to play her 5,000th round of hide-and-seek.
These days I wear two hats: full-time employee and full-time teacher/caretaker.
I hang up from a conference call and immediately switch back into special education teacher mode. I read Man his assignments, just as his 504 dictates I should. I lay out his organizational tools, creating a step-by-step plan on how to accomplish his next task with as little guidance and support as possible, just as his aide would do. I allow him to stand and take body breaks as needed, just like his classroom teacher would do. I wordlessly thank God that in my past life I was a speech therapist and have a vague familiarity with both his diagnoses, and the tools he uses regularly to promote effective learning.
I walk into the other room and begin to access Lady’s distance learning tools on her iPad. Is that assignment in One Note or Teams? Why do these worksheets insist on hiding within each application? Did I make sure to read the updated class emails from 9:47, 10:05 and 10:13? My God, why is this link not working? Did we miss today’s class chat? What is her damn password?
My computer alert bings; work emails are coming in that will simply have to wait.
Time is quickly running out. By 1:00 p.m., I disappear behind the door to the “office” and log on to tele-health, where I run therapeutic groups for the next two hours. I will not be available to assist my children at all. They know that when Mommy runs her groups, they are not to disturb, so they often slip notes through the cracks of the door jamb: “Can I use my iPad yet? I’m hungry, when can you help me get a snack? Lady is bothering me. Man won’t play with me (angry face, angry face)!!!”
I am temporarily distracted by the sound of the paper landing on the floor. My group notices. Do I take a minute and read the note and help my kids, or do I continue to run my therapy group and ignore it? At this moment, both my clients and my children require my focus and they all deserve my undivided attention.
I am being torn apart and reminded again that I am forced to simultaneously operate as two different people in only one little body.
Just like all of you, dear readers, I’m both physically and emotionally exhausted. I don’t know how working full time and having the kids at home is sustainable for any real length of time. I am frightened and anxious by the prospect of what the summer might look and feel like.
However, at the same time, I’m oddly okay. And it’s not because I have a degree in mental health counseling, or participated in my own individual therapy for longer than I care to admit, or even because I’m in recovery and have acquired some additional, unique coping strategies. It’s because this, for the most part, is startlingly similar to the way my life was before the coronavirus hit.
I was exhausted before.
My mental load was at its maximum capacity before.
I felt overworked and under self-cared for before.
There was too much to do and not enough time to do it before.
I lived the dual life of super mom and super employee before.
While I will not try to say that these times aren’t exceptionally stressful, exhausting, and anxiety provoking, these feelings are nothing new for us parents. I mean, it’s as though we’ve have been training for this crisis for years. Put me in coach, I’m freaking ready!
That’s what I have the hardest time reconciling. I am not surprised by the extreme emotional overload or constant onslaught of daily, unending anxiety and stress. I’m surprised by how little this emotional experience differs from my day-to-day typical life. And that is the most disturbing realization of them all.
On any given day, I’ve already readied myself, prepared three breakfasts, thrown in a load of laundry, and packed up two school bags all before leaving for work at 7:30 a.m.
I have rushed out of work to pick up one child at an activity by 5:30 and then schlepped across town to make sure to get the other one by 6:00. Then headed home to pack up three lunches and make dinner while assisting with whatever was left of the kids’ homework.
I have fielded phone calls from school in the middle of an individual session with a client.
Left work early to take a child to an emergency doctor’s appointment.
Spent weekends food shopping, cleaning the house, doing laundry, chauffeuring kids from play dates to activities, and completing school projects.
I’ve been found reciting what my husband dubbed my “mental list” to myself in the corner of the room just to make sure that I have checked off everything required of me to satisfy the needs and wants of those in my care.
I have not done all of this alone; it is accomplished with the assistance and support of a dedicated teammate, my husband. Yet I still have not carved out ample time to make my own personal mental and physical well-being a priority.
I don’t know when I began to place so much pressure on myself to be superhuman. It happened subtly and without warning. I suspect I’m not the only mom out there that feels this way either. There is simply so much to do for our families that it never seems done.
If I have come to take away anything from this horrid experience, it’s that I need to begin putting some of my own needs at the top of my “mental list” more regularly — and that doesn’t just mean getting a quick mani/pedi on a Saturday afternoon. It’s time to make some much needed lifestyle changes, for I am not superwoman; I am simply Laura.
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