Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

Now that this COVID pandemic is largely over—or at least we hope—this may be a safe time to make a few confessions, one parent to another. 

When the lockdown began last spring, we adjusted to working and schooling at home for what we thought would be a few weeks, at max. I thought, “Great! What an opportunity to spend more time with my kid!” I imagined a sweet vision of idyllic harmony as my tween daughter and I bonded even more as we read books, painted watercolors, went for walks in the neighborhood. I could even get more involved in her education. Ahhhh. It was going to be bliss!

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. Here’s what really happened:

I was often afraid my daughter would develop scurvy from her largely unregulated diet of carbs, salty snacks, way too much sugar, and way too few fresh fruits and vegetables. My frequent reminders to eat more fruit are met with “I’m full.”

I was frequently tempted to Google “feral children” after seeing my daughter’s hair in a mat of frizz after no one had bothered to brush it for days. We learned that grooming is overrated.

Pajamas often doubled as day wear (and vice versa), especially when we never left the house. And socks were wholly unnecessary, even on those rare occasions when we did need to go somewhere and there was snow on the ground. We learned to get by with a minimum of fuss.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I thought it just might be fun to homeschool. I must have been nuts. After months of distance learning mainly via Zoom, the best I could do was ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be in class now?”

More often than not, 4:00 p.m. rolled around and I found myself asking my daughter, “Did you eat lunch today?” I feared the answer would be “no” because I know I certainly didn’t make her anything. If I was lucky, she may have concocted a smoothie at some point during the day.

It’s okay for a developing child to go to bed at 11:00 p.m., right? After all, there was not much taxing her brain and body during the day. Every night as I watched the time tick closer and closer to my own bedtime, I cried out, “Why are you still up!?!”

I found myself suddenly more amenable to things that would have been hard and fast “no’s” just six months earlier. Case in point: getting a cat, to which I am allergic, and yet it was sold as a method of providing “emotional support” during these trying times. And where does said cat sleep? On my bed, since the cat has started waking up her “true owner” at 5:00 a.m. by biting toes.

After years of putting off entry into more social media, I acquiesced to creating an Instagram account, which has been appropriated by the tween and is mainly a vehicle for posting pictures of the cat and recipes for smoothies.

We quickly careened down the slippery slope of unlimited screen time. I don’t know how we got here. It seems so far from the reasonable and even idealistic standards I used to have—actual daily screen time limits of an hour or so. But this pandemic parent lost her will to enforce more limits.

While my daughter has never been a good napper and has always seem to not need that much sleep, I on the other hand, found myself growing more and more tired. I perfected the afterwork nap. Pandemic life is exhausting!

I found new delight in doing errands. All. By. Myself. Drives to the bank and post office have never been more satisfying. And even the excuse of going into my empty workplace was a welcome change.

Someone should really start a Parents Union with universally agreed upon work expectations, hours, duties, etc. The words “I am done for the day!” have slipped out of my mouth more than once—mostly at the end of what has seemed like an endless day. (See late bedtimes, above.)

I even tried going old school in the fall after we had been indoors way too much. Me: “You know, some parents just send their kid outside and say, ‘Don’t come in for an hour’.” Daughter: “Mom, you are NOT that parent.” Touché, kid.

So faced with my shortcomings, I swallowed my pride and admitted that the year knocked me for a loop. Then I mustered up some gumption to do it one more day. And then another.

Slowly, we have started leaving the house for school, for work, even to socialize with other people—in real life. As life begins to look a little more normal, we may even begin to miss each other a little (in the case of the tween) or a lot (in the case of the weepy mother). And then I will wish for all that time at home, when we rarely said “goodbye.”

Welcome to WordSisters!

We are Elizabeth and Ellen—sisters in writing—in it together from inspiration to publication. We’ve been part of the same Twin Cities writers’ group for close to 10 years and admire each other’s work. We love to write, and we both have memoir manuscripts that we want to publish. Although our lives have taken different paths, we share similar values.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth recently experienced the Mudder—10+ miles of mud, freezing cold water, climbing walls, and electric shocks. She was team captain until being fired for bringing two left running shoes to the race. She ended up running the hilly muddy obstacle course in her Sketchers. The Mudder is a team race, which is not Elizabeth’s forte. She is mostly known for getting in fights with the “real” captain on a team. “I just kind of always disagree with the leader,” Elizabeth explains. She is not known for following rules either. Her team “We Be Slow,” would have started before their assigned start time but fortunately, a team member’s father hadn’t arrived, so the team had to abide by the rules.

Elizabeth continues to evolve. She started the race with four teammates and ended the race with the same people . . . though it took her the first two miles to understand there is no “I” in team. Her spiritual growth was assisted by the real possibility that the 67-year-old member of the team might go into cardiac arrest. Plus, another team member threatened bodily harm if Elizabeth didn’t stick with the group. Most days, she can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. Always liking the heat, the unknown, the adventurous, she hopes she’ll grab your attention and keep it.

Ellen

Ellen is decidedly NOT adventurous and certainly not athletic. The only reason she’d ever be running is if someone were chasing her. And even then, she’d probably try to talk the thug into giving up the chase and getting something good to eat instead. Cooking and eating good food are a big focus in her life. That’s why both her 20-something sons are into food (they’re downstairs making Cuban pork right now, while her husband John is making strawberry shortcake from scratch).

Her version of “mudder” involves dirt. And flowers. Lots of them. She haunts the St. Paul Farmers’ market and garden stores this time of year, dreaming of wonderful color combinations—the red marguerite daisy. No, the yellow one. No, the orange zinnias. She’ll calm down by August. But until then, a knockout garden still seems possible.

The rest of the time, she writes marketing communications for a small children’s hospital and does the occasional freelance copywriting project. After having her own copywriting business for 18 years, she still likes working with a handful of fun clients.

WordSisters will appear weekly and focus on topics such as work and motherhood. Ellen’s blogs may also include observations about politics, women’s rights, and middle age. Elizabeth’s may include her outlook on spirituality, adoption, Tae Kwon Do sparring, Guatemala, being part of a two-Mom partnership, and being in a relationship with that same woman. Occasionally, other members of our six-person writers’ group may also contribute.  Ellen & Elizabeth