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.”

Try And Make Me!

9781623364069_p0_v1_s260x420[1]I still have my book. It has di Grazia scrawled in black magic marker on the front cover.

It is my guidebook, rules to live by. I have no intention of ever purging the book or giving it away as I have many parenting books.

Today, I leaf through try and make me!, pages stiff from absorbing moisture in the bathroom. “I’ve seen that book,” Crystel says as I carry it upstairs to write this blog. Indeed she has. For kids from 2 to 12 it says on the front cover. Antonio has just turned 12 and she’ll be 12 in six weeks. She most likely saw me reading on the couch when she was little. I also recall many times when I slipped away from the two toddlers to read a chapter that was happening RIGHT NOW. That’s what I liked about the book. I could relate.

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Defiant kids are born or made. Because Antonio and Crystel are adopted, I was constantly trying to determine where their behavior stemmed from. In the end it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a question that was on my mind when my three-year old was jumping up and down in Super Target yelling, “No, no, no.” Instead, I glanced around for a place to sit. Then said, “Let me know when you’re done.” (Thank you to the mothers who acknowledged me and asked if I needed help).

Once, I did ask for help. I asked a security guard at the Mall of America if he would escort me and my child out of the store. He looked like a policeman to the five-year old who immediately glommed on to my legs when he realized what was transpiring. “Do you see what is happening here?” I said. “I can’t walk you to the car alone.”

12-years old

12-years old

Page 6. Never, Ever Give Up. That was the child’s last fit. It took years of constantly disengaging from his behavior and letting his problem stay his problem.

Four characteristics of defiant children are: control-craving, socially exploitive, blind to their role in a problem, and able to tolerate a great deal of negativity. Beyond these characteristics there is another difficulty that can make a child seem defiant: inflexibility.

To combat these Jody and I keep to a schedule, have rules for the children, and when they don’t follow them there are consequences. Because we have been doing this since they were young, few words need to be spoken. “Dude, you just lost your electronics,” is sufficient. Sometimes, I just purse my lips (so I don’t respond in anger), shake my head back and forth, and say, “You can continue–but there will be a consequence.”

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

When the children were young I often looked for the root cause of a fit. In reviewing the Mall of America incident, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to my child to take him to the Lego Store. It had gotten late and I could see that he was over-tired (problem). I thought it was more important to eat than to go to the store because all of us were hungry (problem), which led to the broken promise (big problem).

If I had been proactive, I wouldn’t have been at MOA with a screaming flailing kid at my feet, concerned that I was going to be asked for identification. In the days to come, I apologized to my child and told him that we would go on a date to the Lego Store. “We won’t buy anything. We’ll spend up to 45 minutes looking at everything.” And that is what we did.

It was my child’s 12th birthday when I realized how far we’ve come. He was on his fifth day of a weeklong Boy Scout camping trip at Many Point. I promised him that we’d come see him on his birthday even though it was a 10-hour round trip.

Lots to be proud of.

Lots to be proud of.

He saw us drive into the parking lot, and ran hollering, “Mama Beth, Mama Jody, Crystel.” Before his long strides reached us I thought of the bugs, the night, and the uncertainty of tent camping and a group of boys cooking outdoors. All those ‘thing’s’ that bothered him as a child. When he was young, to reduce his anxiety we bought a tent trailer, cooked food HE liked (and didn’t let it touch other food on his plate), and I accompanied him on all Cub Scout camping trips. This time he was alone to manage for himself.

I started crying before he even reached me. This child had grown up and was doing just fine. I hugged him hard with the knowing of how far we both had come.

Genetics or Childrearing?

At some point all adoptive parents ask themselves this question. Maybe biological families do as well, but I wouldn’t know about that. What I do know is that Crystel sings, not only in the shower but in her bedroom, in the living room, on her way to the bus and … you get my snowdrift … she is warm to the idea of singing anywhere. On the other hand, you don’t hear a peep out of me.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Tia Anna sharing her joy of music with Crystel. Crystel started lessons at 7 and took them for about 4 years.

Now, is this because I don’t have the talent, or is it because singing wasn’t nurtured growing up in my family of 14? “You could have had your own softball team,” people would say. Well, we could have had a pretty darn good choir, too. Well … maybe not.

I did belong to a choir in middle school, mostly because my best friend joined and harangued me into joining with her. My group of friends thought it was funny to stop the entire choir from making any noise while I was doing my solo to see where I would fit in the choir. The choir director noticed the quiet and admonished them. Guess what? I’m an alto.

Antonio and Crystel have taken piano and drum lessons. Crystel is looking forward to learning flute in middle school. I was in band as well. First cornet and then French horn … you guessed it … right next to my best friend. The band teacher couldn’t hold himself back once and called me “cabbage ears.”

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Antonio giving a recital. He took piano lessons for one year and drum lessons for one year.

Though I enjoyed playing the French horn, he also told me, “Don’t worry about playing, just march and try to keep in step with everybody else.”

Genetics or childrearing?

Antonio is an artist. He can look at a picture of a Pokemon and sketch it exactly. He’s been doing this for years. I used to ask him if he traced the Pokemon. I knew he didn’t—I watched him as he drew it. For the past few years he has been taking requests for drawings from his classmates.

“I stole a drawing in seventh grade once,” I told him. “It didn’t have a name on it and so I put on mine and handed it in as my own.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“The art teacher said I stole the persons sketch who was the best artist in the entire class. Funny thing, I was trying to take the one that I thought could pass as mine. The scary thing was that the drawing belonged to the sheriff’s kid and I didn’t know it at the time. I had to find him in school and apologize.”

To this day, I hate Pictionary. I can’t even draw an accurate stick person.

Genetics or childrearing?

995931_10200718761105581_953653948_n[1]Perhaps it is a little of both. Jody and I encourage Crystel to sing unless it’s bedtime. Antonio hits his sketchpad when his allotment of electronics time is used up. Already, he says that he wants to be an artist and I’m helping him to understand that could mean many professions: architecture, theatre backdrops, book illustrator, and so on.

Whether its genetics or childrearing, it is great to watch something so foreign sprouting in our house.