Last week we started school here in LA, the second-largest school district in the country. It’s fully distance-learning for the foreseeable future, so the school-issued Chromebooks are getting juiced up, an unholy number of passwords are flying, class schedules — evolving in realtime — are posted on fridges, and parents are holding on for dear life. With the virus numbers as they’ve been here, school-at-home was absolutely the best option of all the (horrible) options, but it’s a lot — for the teachers and school administrators, for the parents, and good lord for the kids themselves, who instead of running around with their friends are in their bedrooms wearing pajama bottoms and practicing the skill of pressing the mute/ unmute button at the correct times.
As we’ve gotten underway there has been a lot of mom solidarity and pep-talking flying around. Encouraging, supportive catchphrases, reminders to one other of our strength and resilience. “We’re all in this together.” Most often: “We got this.” I know I’m supposed to be propped up by these shout-outs. But I can barely hear it because I don’t got this. Do others actually feel that they do?
“We got this” is baffling to me right now, hollow-sounding and somehow beside the point, really, a sentiment that feels neither relevant nor true. What is true: My little family of four is faring fine. My kids are dynamite. There are still fun times. We laugh a lot. But these days, as we set up new work-spaces and assemble desk chairs and load my phone with daily recurring alarms so I can be aware of the transitions from synchronous to asynchronous learning time and back again, I am also going on cry-runs so I can get some exercise while having feelings in private (multi-tasking!), since private doesn’t exist in my home anymore and I don’t know when it will again. That’s where I’m at.
I’m grateful for so many things I have (a thing I really feel and also a thing that we all somehow seem compelled to keep saying these days), including a job that I can do from home, as that’s absolutely not a given for so many. But I don’t know how I’m going to actually do this job while I’m overseeing school-at-home and my two kids’ different schedules and needs. I don’t know how it will feel to them to “go to school” — for another semester? another year?– by staring at a screen all day, their classmates reduced to tiny, flat digital tiles. I don’t know how the continued isolation from their friends will affect them over time. I don’t know anything. And I’m angry. So, so furious that this is where we’re at when this did not need to be the outcome. By now there are so many losses for us all to collectively hold and make sense of (though they don’t make sense), and on top of it all, we’re contorting ourselves to make unworkable situations seem workable, when they are profoundly not. A person could just kick an IKEA desk.
So I know that the rallying cries, the cheering on, the firing up kind of talk is energizing and fortifying to many. And obviously it comes from a place of support and good intentions. But it doesn’t work for me. It makes me feel like I should have a fighting spirit and I sure do not because I’m too mad, not to mention busy — making dark inappropriate jokes and tending to our list of household projects like drilling a hole in the wall so we can extend an ethernet cable through it to get internet in our 95 degree backyard so my husband can set up an office in the garage. Besides, it’s not on parents to have this, we need actual and concrete help from our leaders to fix the situation. But most of all, I bristle at this kind of cheerleading because I’m possessive of my own… grief? That’s what it is, I guess, and I don’t want to be cajoled out of it just yet. I’m not ready to be done feeling what I’m feeling; I’d rather simmer in it for awhile so that at some point these feelings can go away, since you gotta have the feelings before you can be done with them. If you believe that the only way out is through, which apparently I do, then this may just be a perfectly healthy way to get to the other side.
So I’m doing this, but I can’t say I got this. Like all of us, I’m doing what needs to be done, but let’s please be clear that parents — mothers in particular — cannot hold everything together. It doesn’t work. And that’s OK! To me, the only way to get through this is to be honest about how much this sucks. That doesn’t mean complaining, although complaining is fine. It just means acknowledging the truth and being alright with sitting in the sh*t for a bit. Not papering over. And taking a cry-run whenever the need arises.