Into the phone booth: mom self. Out of the phone booth: work self. Actually, with these days of social distancing, remote working, and homeschooling, it’s really more like into the pantry/lock self in bathroom/hide in the closet — and out again as soon as someone starts screaming, fighting, or yelling, “MomMooommMOMMOOOMMOM!”
Before all this coronavirus craziness crashed down upon us, I was an office mom. And even then, I always felt like I was dodging in and out of the phone booth, exhaustedly managing ALL of life — work life, kids’ lives, social life, home life. I was constantly doing quick changes, never getting completely dressed, and always getting stuck in the phone booth door as I hastily made my way out to the next thing on my list. And no, no one really uses phone booths anymore except for those cute Insta pics while in London (if we ever get to travel outside our backyards again), but the Superman identity-change metaphor was a daily constant in my life.
Now that we’re ALL home ALL the time, the phone booth metaphor still applies (except now I’m usually sitting in it, crying). It’s the everything being blurred, no lines thing, that’s REALLY hard. Switching back and forth from mom to employee every five seconds (literally). Not finishing an email because big brother is sitting on little brother, someone spilled their juice, the oldest can’t find her computer charger… the back and forth is even harder because there’s no separation between work and home.
And the mental load we are all carrying is nothing short of absolutely exhausting, on top of the stress and anxiety that the daily news likes to dose us with. I like things in boxes much better. Work box. Home box. Mom box. Pure Barre box. Spouse box. Sure our social calendars and kid-activity calendars are now empty — but we also never.get.a.break. with school out and being unable to go anywhere. And there’s still food (actually, MORE food… OMG STOP EATING) and laundry (although less, right? pajamas are clothes are pajamas) and all those other home life things to get done — with children constantly IN OUR FACES. Not to mention job loss and financial worries we may be stressed about.
I have four kids, including a set of twins, and that means four kids to shepherd through the day with some semblance of homeschool. Thank goodness my oldest child is self-sufficient, if not outright neglected, right now. My twins are only 3 and therefore once they color something or trace a number, I stop worrying about their learning. My first-grader requires a lot of attention to keep on task and manage the computer keys. Keeping the twins entertained while dialing into Zoom meetings, answering emails, creating great content for work, and meeting deadlines is really, really hard. The flexibility and grace I have with my job and my husband is keeping me above water right now.
We all knew the balance (hahahahahahahaha) between mom and work life was non-existent. Now it’s even harder. I feel like I am failing at being a mom, failing at being a teacher, failing at being a spouse, and failing at being an employee. Even during the easier times I never felt like an actual superhero, emerging from a phone booth to save the day. Now I just want to hide in the telephone booth/bathroom/closet and not come out — to not worry about being supermom or super employee, to not worry about making dinner, making homeschool fun, or balancing a spreadsheet. Sometimes I hope the phone booth door opens into a vortex that leads to a beach, an open bar, and a good book. It’s not that I don’t like being mom or employee, I actually love being both, but there’s precious little time in between the two for anything for me, and with the shift to social distancing and being homebound, that time is zilch, non-existent.
The positives in all of this — and there are many — is the time I get to spend with my kids I otherwise wouldn’t have as an office parent. I actually see what they are learning and read their school work. We have time for art projects during lunch. We’ve spent a lot of hours in the back yard. We did the #904rainbowhunt. We planted some flowers. We play Go Fish and Uno. I’ve had time to catch up with my out-of-state cousins. I’ve had super fun Zoom happy hours with great friends without having to swipe on any lipstick or put on shoes. I get to see my husband more, and he has time to help with the kids more. We are healthy, employed, and have a backyard. For those things, I am endlessly thankful.
It’s hard to remember that we are all in this together during this hyper-anxiety-inducing epoch in world history, but it sure helps. The impossible standards we place on ourselves as mothers have been exacerbated with the addition of homeschool and the constant togetherness. But keep in mind the mom next door is just as overwhelmed as you are and even an exhausted wave from the front porch can bring a smile. And hey, raise your glass in solidarity to her. You can text each other how annoying your kids are being from across the lawn.
Even on the bad days, the really bad days, the stage 9 on the Britney Spears chart days, there is still a silver lining. This too will pass. And the good news: to your babies, you’re always a superhero. So wear that cape proudly, even when you’re hiding from them in the closet.
And for all of you moms working in healthcare right now, or in essential services, we are eternally grateful and think of you daily. Us staying home with our kids compares in no way to what you are doing on the frontlines. You are the real heroes.