My fingers are almost frost-bitten by the time I am back from my early morning walk. We went from tee shirt weather to winter like cold over a day. The sun is an eerie orange ball on my evening walk. Despite the cold and the bitterness of the wind that swirls around me, these are my pockets of happy, the time I carve out for myself, to be still with the thoughts that have nothing to do with children, the husband, food or the home. I notice squirrels nibbling away on acorns, I watch deer gamboling on the golf green, I notice the wilting flowers, the falling leaves and the change that is in the air.
My days are busy. They start early. I am grateful and lucky to have Amma to help me with the kitchen and the myriad other things she has seamlessly taken over from me. I am on work calls all morning. I run up and down stairs at least a dozen times each day checking in on my twins, ensuring they are in the right class, are online if it is a zoom session and focused on what the teacher is instructing them to do. I spend a good part of my morning logging into my children’s virtual classroom, navigating the multiple folders to distill what the true deliverable each day is. My downloads folder is chockful of assignments that are due, rubrics for the said assignments. Some get printed. Some stay so I can get the kids to start over as needed. I keep an eye on their attendance, their grades, their required responses to other people’s posts.
I do all this while trying to juggle work, food, doctor appointments and bills that are due.
Each evening, after dinner, I sit with my older girls checking off items against the list I labored over in the morning. I spent an additional couple of hours getting them to work, submit and do what needs to be done. I am tempted to do it for them. Instead I wait, agonizingly, patiently, for them to work on it at their pace. I watch their shoulders slump, their body language turn to one of defeat before we head to bed.
There are days when it is poignant. There are assignments that ask them about self-worth. These are revealing and demoralizing when I realize my children struggle to name the traits, they are proud of in themselves. I could easily tick off a dozen things I am proud of about them. I wait, watching them think about, give up and finally state something just for the sake of filling a box. It breaks my heart.
We talk about it. At this point, everything feels like labor.
I am beat by the time I am in bed. I am exhausted going to bed. I am exhausted waking from bed. The idea of the next year or more like this feels insurmountable. I repeat to myself that I must not let my stress get to them. I give in against my better instinct to let them play where my eyes can’t see or track them. They need that social interaction. They need friends and games. They need that space where they are not being watched by an eagle-eyed parent waiting for them to slip. They need physical exhaustion to match the mental load they carry.
We are in week three of online school. My youngest is now navigating everything with ease. She reads books that are way above her level. She reads instructions, uploads work, records herself for assignments, submits work and calls it done before half the day is over. She stays close to me as I work, remembering to be quiet. She plays on apps on her school iPad, and claims she is an artist and goes about her day with nary a care.
The dichotomy is glaring. It makes me sad. It makes me grateful in ways I cannot express. It makes me strive to be a better parent. It spotlights why things that are so easy for some people can be so hard for others. It teaches me empathy in ways clinically knowing something can never drive the point home.
I have no idea what the future holds. All I am hoping for is that I, and by extension, the family can navigate these trying times with grace. That we can choose to see silver linings, grab our pockets of happy and be cognizant of it.