Today I had a Zoom staff meeting as part of our final week of school professional development. Here’s how it went down. The meeting starts at 1 p.m. Naptime. The baby naps only in someone’s arms, so my husband takes her. The 3-year-old picks today of all days to refuse his nap. New challenge presented. I occupy him with a tablet on the floor while I log into my meeting. Crisis averted. All is well. I am five minutes late to my meeting but I hope nobody notices. Ten minutes into the meeting the puppy (don’t even ask me why I decided to get a puppy during the pandemic) somehow manages to get upstairs. I rush away from the computer to take him back downstairs before he pees on the floor. Too late. He’s already peed. I scramble to mop up the pee, my meeting still going on upstairs. I finally get the dog back downstairs and sprint back up to my meeting. My 3-year-old has closed my laptop and I am now kicked out of my meeting. I wait for the host to let me back in. People will definitely notice this time. I pray I can last the rest of the meeting without another fire to put out, but I doubt I’ll be so lucky. This is the life of a full-time working parent during a global pandemic.
I am a middle school teacher and a mother of two children, ages 1 and nearly 4. Before March, my life was pretty typical. I was a person who considered themselves content with life. I loved my job and cherished my role as a mother. Being a teacher and a mother has its highs and lows, joy peppered with stress and chaos. But I had found my rhythm and managed to dance through it all. Pack the lunches, lay out the clothes, orchestrate the family morning routine and get everyone out the door by 6:30 a.m. It had become an art and, despite the madness, I loved it and I was thriving.
Then the coronavirus struck and my world was turned upside down. I was a stay at home mom and a remote middle school teacher…AT THE SAME TIME. If you write out the list of responsibilities or total up the hours of work that both of these jobs entail, you’ll likely arrive at the same conclusion I did: This is impossible. But a global pandemic does not care what is or is not possible. During a global pandemic, you better do your best, you better survive, and you better make sure to stock up on toilet paper and a lot of coffee.
My husband (a high school teacher and online college professor) needed ample time to complete his two jobs, but I also needed time to grade, record video lessons and conduct multiple Zoom meetings a week with students and/or faculty. Often this looked about how you’d expect: messy. I often found myself grading papers one-handed with a baby on my hip, recording FlipGrid video comments while chasing kids in the yard, and apologizing profusely during meetings or phone calls as my 3-year-old old screamed in the background. While work used to end at 2:30 and I could devote myself wholeheartedly to my family and/or myself at the end of the day, work was now an all-day venture. Grading often had to be done in the evenings and any time an email “fire” needed to be put out, I would scramble for five minutes of kid-free time to get on my laptop. My husband and I often felt like we were in a twisted game of hot potato (the kids being potatoes), fervently tossing our children back and forth. And when the kids finally went to sleep at the end of a long day, there was nothing left in the tank, and we prayed they didn’t wake in the middle of the night before we had to get up and do it all over again. In short, the burnout was real and severe.
I paint this picture to give the world an understanding of what life looks like for the remote-working, stay at home parent. It is a chaotic, stressful, sleepless nightmare. It is the constant feeling that if you are doing one job well, you’re floundering at the other. I realize each person has their own struggle during this pandemic. Isolation is a burden to some while essential workers would trade places with those quarantined at home. It is all relative. I merely strive to bring awareness to the harshness of my reality and offer solidarity to those in the same boat. Parenting is hard. Working is hard. Doing both at the same time is impossible. While we may cherish the extra time home with our families, we are unable to be present as the strings of remote work constantly pull us in the opposite direction.
I don’t know what the fall will hold in terms of schools reopening, but I know that if the day ever comes where we return to some version of “normal”, we will never again take for granted the quiet drive to work with hot coffee, uninterrupted prep periods, or a tight hug from the children you haven’t seen all day. But for now, I will don my numerous hats, spin all of the plates and try to laugh instead of cry when they all come crashing down.
Megan Bosarge lives in Brunswick.