The question that finally sent me over the proverbial edge and careening toward an adult tantrum was the one that came from my dear husband. “My mother wants to come for a socially distanced visit next week. Should she come by on Tuesday at 6pm or Thursday at 2pm?”
Tuesday at 6, or Thursday at 2? Was he really asking me this? Did it make any f**cking difference? What was time anyway? Couldn’t he just decide WITHOUT MY HELP?
“I DON’T KNOW!” I yelled. “I CANNOT MAKE ONE MORE DECISION! MAKE THE DECISION YOURSELF! PLEASE, LEAVE ME ALONE! TAKE CHARGE!!!!”
Here is an incomplete list of the things I’ve had to make decisions about over the last few days. Maybe it’ll sound familiar? What will the kids eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner, what will the adults each for breakfast/lunch/dinner, do we have that particular food in the fridge/pantry/freezer and, if not, is it crazy to make a trip to the market or will it be too crowded and unsafe, which parent will get time to work, when will that time be, what room will they work in, how might we fill the hours this weekend, can we accept the invitation to swim at that person’s pool or is that risky, can we visit with that friend from afar, is she being safe, should we still wear masks if we are 15 feet apart, what about 10 feet apart if we’re outside, should we order these masks or are the ones that look more breathable actually more breathable, is it safe to use the bathroom at the beach, is the beach even workable if no one can go to the bathroom, should we move to Canada for the year, should we worry about how the cashier took off her mask while the person next to us was checking out, should we stop going to that pharmacy, is it safe to accept dessert from our downstairs neighbor, should I email the HOA about people not wearing masks in the building, should we be wiping down groceries, what about the mail even though studies are showing it’s not necessary?
You know I could go on. And on. (And on.)
To quote GWB, I am the Decider-in-Chief in my house and I am decided out. Big, small, important, insignificant decisions: it doesn’t matter, I can’t make choices anymore. Sometimes I just stare into the fridge and cannot string three ingredients together. Sometimes I eat toast simply because the thinking involved for anything else is more thinking than I can muster. Sometimes I let my 7-year-old turn on the TV because the thought of coming up with another activity makes me want to kill myself. My brain is firing on so many cylinders it often feels on the verge of collapse. (When a friend told her daughter to bring over “that hard structure, the thing we sit on,” I knew I wasn’t alone. “The chair?” her daughter asked.)
I speak for all parents when I say: Someone, please, take charge and make some of these decisions for us. I am at the very end of whatever rope I have left, and I know this is far from over.
These are unprecedented times, and not just because of the obvious (pandemic, economic collapse, school in flux). It is unprecedented because no one is leading the way through all this chaos and there is no universal bright star. It’s all patchwork, state by state, city by city, school by school, community by community, leaving individual families to decide what’s workable and safe enough for them, one micro decision after the other (as if we don’t all impact one another!). It’s dizzying and exhausting and maddening and parents are *this* close to losing it.
What do parents need? Beyond someone actually coming in to save us?
I don’t have The Answer, but I do have an answer: empathy.
We need empathy, desperately, from everyone. “Parents, we know this is so hard,” would go a long way coming from the President, our governors, the school principal, our bosses. “We will work with you on deadlines/meetings/obligations. How are you holding up?”
But we also need to have empathy for ourselves. We need to ease up when it comes to school choices, cooking, screen time — all of it. Living through a pandemic makes it feel like every choice we make is a life-and-death one, because, let’s face it, some of them are. But some of them are not, and there is, sadly, no Right Choice about… anything.
We need to throw in a frozen pizza and call it a day. We need to turn on Hamilton for the millionth time and say, Sing along! and leave the room to go take a bath or scroll Instagram or stare at the wall and do nothing at all. We need to take naps when we can. We need to be able to cry to each other on those long walks around the block we take to escape our families. And to be able to yell at our kids and then apologize. We need to be able to say, Make yourself a snack! I’m off!
Easier said than done, but who said any of this would be easy? I’ll try if you will.