Occasionally I share guests posts from local moms who are experts on different topics. Today, I’m sharing something a little different. This week marks one full year that most schools have been closed/remote/hybrid and moms have been scrambling to balance the demands of motherhood, work, schooling their kids and more. When local mom of four, Meghan, reached out to me with a personal essay on her struggles during the pandemic, it really struck a chord. Meghan wanted to publish this essay so that other moms might find relief in the shared experience as well as perhaps invoke discussion on how this current burden on working mothers can be addressed.
Pandemic Scrambled Eggs
by Meghan Viader
The alarm goes off. I push a pudgy toddler foot out of my eye socket and roll over. It is Thursday morning. Or is it Tuesday? It is one of the days in one of the months….in the endless string of them in the global pandemic. Here we go again.
I swing my feet onto the floor and try to muster my positive attitude and patience which will no doubt dissolve into puddles for me to slip on in the first two hours of being awake.
I get the baby out of her crib, go downstairs, start emptying the dishwasher and plop her on the floor where she makes fast work of undoing mine, pulling out every cup, plate and bowl that she can reach and rolling them around on the hardwood floor.
The rest of the kids bang down the stairs like a herd of elephants in army boots. How such small people can make so much noise just walking is beyond my comprehension. My five year old sees that I am preparing to make scrambled eggs and bursts out crying. He sits on the couch and cries, he lies on the floor and cries some more, he moves to the table and cries and blubbers about the injustice of my actions.
My seven year old is in her pajamas and has a messy tangle of bed head hair that will take multiple products and concentrated effort to attack…neither of which I have at my disposal. Instead I urge her to go upstairs and get dressed. Zoom 2nd grade starts in 3 minutes! She resists and argues and talks back, asking what the point is? I know I should stick to my principles here, insist that she dress the part of the student she is. But it is about the 54,987th day of this and I just don’t care anymore.
In those three minutes before remote learning starts, a comedy of errors ensues. The baby has pulled up on a chair, slipped in her footy pajamas and cut her forehead on a table leg. In turning to see what is the matter I burn my hand on the frying pan for the eggs that are ruining my son’s day..and based on the intensity of his reaction..maybe even his whole life. The toddler is so upset at seeing blood coming from her baby sister’s head that she is panicking and overwhelmed and now there is pee soaking through her pajama pants and running onto the carpet. I am trying to stop the bleeding, soothe my burn, mop up the urine, block out the incessant whining over the eggs. And now the Zoom link isn’t working. My daughter is missing her “morning meeting,” and the measly 20 minutes of teacher led instruction she would have gotten that day is going down the drain because I can’t get to her in time to fix it. I want to scream. And later, I will.
After breakfast I am trying to help with her writing assignment. Her ideas are good. Her execution is sloppy. Is it developmentally appropriate sloppy or problematic sloppy? In a normal year I would find out the answer, but right now I don’t have the band-with. She is at the kitchen table. I am breastfeeding the baby and fielding questions I don’t know the answer to from my son about how electricity works. My daughter gets up constantly. The reasons are myriad. She wants to kiss the baby, she needs to brush her hair, sharpen her pencil, doesn’t want to write! I plead with her to put sentences on the page. I burp the baby and go and check her work. I admonish her for forgetting punctuation. The egg pan lies in the sink, judging me.
I look at my sweet cheeked, twinkly eyed three year old sitting on the rug surrounded by shape sorters and stacks of colorful board books which she has no interest in. She is behind for her age in speech and cognition and because of the pandemic has only been able to get therapy virtually, an absurdity for a toddler. In this crazy year I haven’t been able to put any of the time into helping her that I want to and that she deserves. I turn back to the 2nd grade writing journal. There is a 5 sentence minimum for the entry. We are at 0.5 so far. My 3 and 5 year old start chasing each other around the room. Soon they are wrestling over a rubber lizard and screeching and the baby is right in the war path. The phone rings, the email chirps, the baby cries. My daughter is out of her seat again, doing an Irish jig across the kitchen floor. No further words have made it to the page. “Just sit down! Just do it! Just write!” I scream at the top of my lungs.
Tears spring to her eyes. And to be honest, to mine too. The baby is bawling and way overdue for her nap. I scoop her up, douse the frying pan in dish soap and carry her upstairs, leaving the other three to their own devices which I know can never end well.
The baby’s nursery doubles as an office during the day where my husband has been working from home for the past 9 months. So instead I head to our bedroom where she will take her nap. We snuggle up to breastfeed and I cherish the sweet quiet moment with her. She was born right as the pandemic swept our nation, everything was in lockdown and the birthing experience was eerie and all that followed lonely. I was lucky my body already knew how to make milk, having done it 3 times before. I already knew what to expect from the first raw weeks of sleeplessness and leaking and bleeding and trying to acclimate a mewling mixed up creature to the complexities of this planet. Experience was my savior and my heart went out to all the first time moms navigating this haze without lactation consultants, grandparents and meal trains.
But as the pandemic raged on I hated that my brothers and mother-in-law could not travel to meet her, could not smell her sweet head or feel the delicious heft of her chunky thighs. That they could not fall deeply in love with her perfect innocence and start that bond that would last a lifetime. I consoled myself with the fantasy of an epic blow out one year old birthday party where I could show her off and my childhood friends could finally kiss her and we could make up for some of the loss of fanfare around her birth. As the date creeps closer I know that will not be. Her suckling slows and her fat fingers gently caressing my side grow still. I place her gently in the pack and play and re-enter the chaos downstairs.
It is now time for “movement break,” in which us parents are supposed to facilitate some sort of PE or recess. In the spring, child themed HIIT work outs went viral and I made painter’s tape obstacle courses in the living room. This was back when we all had energy and creative juices and thought we were in this for 2 weeks. Now if I can get everyone outside I call it a win. But it is 23 degrees out today. By the time I have fastened 8 mittens and boots, 4 hats and jackets and navigated an epic meltdown about everything being too tight, we finally get out the door. After the shivering and complaints subside, I convince the kids to try to build a snowman just before the timer goes off. Movement break is over. It is time to start pulling teeth for the math lesson
While assisting with skip counting on a number line and simultaneously insisting that the other kids stop playing with the fireplace tools, I use the last diaper and ask Alexa to add more to the shopping list. She obliges. And then adds “by the way, would you like me to remind you to take a lunch break every day?’ If Alexa had a face, I would laugh in it.
I finally have a chance to check the aforementioned email, which is from my doctor’s office. They want me to come in for a lab test. But children of course can not come along. And the pandemic has shut us off from local family and babysitters who might otherwise be able to cover for me. As with many other important things, this will have to wait. The text is from the school district. A snowstorm is predicted overnight and they have made the decision to change the next day, one of our 2 in person learning days per week, to another remote day. I want to cry. And later, I will.
While the baby naps and it is an app-focused portion of the learning day I foolishly attempt a shower. The water runs hot and cleanses the peanut butter smears from my fingers and the spit up from my hair. But it does little for the guilt and feelings of failure. Before I can rinse the soap from my body the door barges open and everyone tumbles in. My oldest wants to know what the rule is for doubling the consonant when adding an “ed”…nothing helpful comes to mind..English is a bitch of a language but that doesn’t seem like a constructive thing to say. My son needs a bandaid and my little one peeks around the shower curtain, asking “me shower witchu?”. She climbs in. She wants to be held. I lift her into my arms and realize that conditioning my hair was a pipe dream. The intense and constant physical demands of mothering young children are amplified and magnified in this world where we are all together all the time and I have not had one moment to myself in 48 weeks. I feel like I could explode. And later, I will.
The second grade school day is inching toward a close. The science lesson involves a mediocre YouTube video about animal tracks with an accompanying work sheet. My daughter plays the content and then asks me for help with the questions. I hadn’t been paying attention because I was too busy flying across the room to see what the baby had lodged in her mouth; day old goldfish from under the couch or life threatening lego? I pray for the former.
My daughter is frustrated at my lack of help and also more interested in trying to balance a pencil between her nose and lip. In a perfect world I would take her outside and we would track animals in the snow ourselves. Better yet, she would be having science class with a teacher and other students, in the school building which I have yet to set foot in. In the real world, she jots down half hearted one word answers to the questions. I am too tired to argue. I consider the box checked, and call it a day just in time to hear a big thud and run into the playroom to make sure my son’s routine attempts at flying have not caused any broken bones.
That night, when everyone is in bed I finish the day’s third load of laundry, pick up the toys scattered across the living room and pack my breast pump parts for the next morning. I work as a pediatric nurse practitioner and love the job. But the past year has been both the scariest and saddest of my career in healthcare. It started at the onset of the pandemic when I was 9 months pregnant and seeing patients unmasked, before we knew anything about the amorphous beast that is coronavirus. It continues today, where I spend my days navigating the heavy impact of COVID on children and families and come home to strip my clothes off in the mudroom and rub the N-95 mask marks from my face before coming in to hug my own kids. I am grateful to be able to ease the burden of this pandemic for some, even in the smallest of ways, but it is one more thing to carry .
I cut up fruit into bite sized pieces for the baby’s lunch and make sure the bin of clean face masks is freshly stocked. I set out the 2nd grade schedule and list of passwords and zoom links for tomorrow and pull a blanket over my husband who is asleep on the couch after a long day at his new job and tackling the bedtime shenanigans of four small children, something that often takes Herculean effort.
It is not lost on me that I am so privileged in so many ways. Both in the context of this pandemic and outside of it. Unlike so many others during this time, we have kept our jobs and our house and our health. I can not begin to fathom what these days and months are like for all those women who have not.
And despite all this to be grateful for, under the weight of mothering in this pandemic, I feel like I’m going to crack. Maybe I will.
I stare at the dirty frying pan still lying in the sink from this morning’s scrambled eggs debacle. I’m sure I’ll have to time to get to it tomorrow.
Meghan is a local mother of four and a pediatric nurse practitioner with expertise in newborn care and early childhood development. She and her family recently relocated to Massachusetts from San Diego and are getting used to all the seasons! In her free time she likes to read, write, hike and have family dance parties in the kitchen. You can connect with Meghan at @meghanviader on Instagram.