Every few days, it comes: the emotional bulldozer, the thing that knocks me down.
On Day 1 of Week Whatever, I’m angry because the kids have tracked mud through the house, and I’m exhausted knowing I’ve got to re-up the eggs and milk soon, and I’m beyond BEYOND frustrated that I can’t figure out how to make my kid sit long enough to finish a lesson… or IF she even should be sitting still at her age because who has time to read a child development book right now?… and then….
Then I learn one of my friends had coronavirus. One of my friends. Not a stranger. Not a person meme-ing on the internet. Someone I know and love and have touched and held and want to be friends with for a very long time.
I think about it, think about how it could have been Mr. Burdy or I trying to navigate a sudden, life-threatening illness with little kids, and an order to shelter in place… and I am filled with panic, then relief, then sadness, then anger. There is a brief lull where a necessary gratitude rushes in to fill the void. And then it passes, and I’m back to being furious about another mess to clean, another colony of dried Play-Doh crumbs to vacuum up, another refusal to eat/do schoolwork/pick their stiff and filthy pajamas off the floor and put them in the laundry hamper.
Then I hear that my friend’s father has died. Not a stranger. Not a person on the internet. Someone I’ve never met in person, but someone I’ve heard of, someone I feel I know by proxy. A friend’s father. Her father. He died, necessarily, in isolation, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from his daughter, of coronavirus.
I sit in the shock of it, hold my phone in both my hands, typing a message of consolation and erasing it, then typing another and erasing that one, too. There are no words, really. I look around my house at all the devices we’re using to get through distance learning, and imagine using one of those devices to say a final goodbye to one of my parents instead of being there in the room with them. I stare at the window overlooking my backyard for a long time, the piles of mud, the ongoing sewer/trench/drainage project, and wonder how I could ever have been mad about mud on some kid-sized boots.
A relative drives down to our house and wearing her mask possibly upside down and not really over her nose drops off gallons of bleach and disinfecting wipes. Who gets mad, this day in age, about having bleach and wipes delivered to the house? I do. I get mad because that visit equals unnecessary exposure. But then a wave of euphoria washes over me as I realized I won’t have to scour a 10 mile radius for bleach, which I have been hunting for four weeks. Then I feel guilty as hell for subsequently telling her to please keep her distance. Then I feel justified in doing what I need to do to protect my small family. I am agitated and on edge for a day. Then it passes and I am back to feeling resentful for being the only person in my household who understands that fruit leather wrappers do not go behind the couch, they go into the trash.
And then another someone I know dies, and I think:
What do I think? I’m not sure anymore. It’s all tangled up and not so easy to untangle anymore. I feel a thousands things a day, if I allow it. It varies moment to moment. I have to keep an eye out for the feelings I’m trying to stuff back into my heart, telling myself I’m not “allowed” to feel bitter or angry or frustrated or maligned when WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES.
In the beginning, this whole lock-down was nutty, a little zany, like a scene out of Benny Hill, kids running around half-clothed and a bra and a kitchen towel and maybe a hobby horse hanging off the back of an armchair. It was actually kinda cute. Now it’s starting to feel like a true crime series, where the tension just won’t let up, where you know someone has to die because that’s what the plot calls for, and DAMN, could we just switch the channel because holding this much tension in our bodies is exhausting.
We’re all feeling a thousand things at once, and I’m trying to remain tempered here, trying to give equal time to flare out all the emotions rushing the court so that one or the other doesn’t make me do something stupid in its lone insistence.
I don’t want this to read as Another White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult Right Now (though they are.) I’d like it to read: we are all dealing with having been born into certain ways of being, and this virus has rubbed up against these ways, and we’re having to forge new ways of being and the work is hard, and it’s lonely, and it’s unrelenting, and it’s made harder still because the one thing that might keep us going just a little bit more for the day, the thing that keeps us going in good times, is missing: a little reassurance via human contact.
I also get that:
Specifically a) I was raised to think motherhood was this precious, unfailing thing. You loved your kids no matter what. You took family photos in matching white tee shirts and acid washed jeans. You felt this upsurge of unbridled, inexplicable LOVE when they put that newborn onto your chest. Every moment was to be treasured, photographed if you could manage it, remarked about using a lexicon of very specific and limited language.
You know what I want to do with my kids on a regular basis right now? Nothing. I don’t want to play with them anymore. I hardly want to feed them. I don’t want to come up with one more creative way of sculpting peanut butter and fruit slices because they are refusing what’s in the cupboards because they can’t grasp that we’re not just running out to the store every time they can’t decide on a flavor of granola bar. I don’t want to look up “cool stuff” on the Internet. I don’t want to listen to their incessant challenges (as my friend wrote today: “asking me a question and then interrupting mid-sentence to tell me I’m wrong”.) I’m tired of trying to meet teacher expectations by forcing my kid to fill out worksheets she’s not interested in. I don’t want to hear one more complaint, one more demand.
Listen: I’m not going to stop feeding my kids. Chaps my hide though it does, I’m going to continue to help them look up “cool stuff” on the Internet and teach them math. I’m not going to harm them. But I’m going to tell it like it is, because no one ever told ME like it was. This is what the virus is rubbing raw: this idea that time inside with our kids is supposed to be “fun” all the time.
I also get that:
Specifically b) I was raised to think that it was not okay for me to take up space. I was raised to think I had to hold up everything that was falling down. This is not a blame letter directed at my parents. (They were actually pretty damned progressive for their time in some ways, but they were also very flawed humans and THEY were operating full time trying to overcome they way THEY were raised, so their influence was limited.) The larger world was working hard to beat down their progress.
You know what I am doing, in addition to feeding, teaching, and otherwise raising my kids and seeing after the emotional well being of my household? Nothing. I’m not in a position to take up space even in my own house. I’m picking up everything that’s falling down, making sure groceries get delivered, planning and planting our garden, endlessly cleaning up messes to make way for new messes, making sure the toddler doesn’t feel bad about needing diapers again, trying to balance outdoor time with TV time, trying desperately not to take a madness born of tight quarters and no creative time out on my husband. You know how many “tools” I feel I have on most days to deal with the endlessness and the grind of it given that I was raised by people who yelled for everything, and who had ZERO tools of their own? None.
I have a few hours at the end of the day most days to do EVERYTHING I’d like to have done that day: read, write, research, relax. You know what this virus is rubbing up against? The idea that I *should* be nothing but a servant to my family. Know what else? This idea that it is, by default, MY responsibility to surrender MY wants and needs first for the sake of my family.
Maybe I’m a very specific kind of White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult. I get that. I know we are lucky to have health insurance, and full employment, and a fully stocked cupboard. I also know that this incredible need we have, as a culture, to stuff the noise of our complaints down with gratitude is getting on my damned nerves. I get that there’s a time and a place for that.
I also get that:
Specifically c) I learned that my voice did not matter, that it was one of millions that would be drowned out by louder, wealthier, more prominent voices. I learned that writing was not a “real” job. I learned that empathy made me vulnerable and weak and unable to express myself clearly at times. I learned that it was terrifying to feel the feelings of every person in the room.
I’m working on shredding to pieces this notion that I’m supposed to feel nothing but gratitude when shit gets rough. It’s a good thing to have in your back pocket at all times, this gratitude. It really helps refocus you when you’re spinning out of control. I think it looks nice hand lettered on a piece of distressed wood, too. But on days when I’m mad, or angry on up to the hilt? I don’t want to hear about gratitude. I want to hear about change. I want to hear about what we’re doing to help those who are doing this WITHOUT partners with full time jobs, and health insurance, and community. I want to hear about something OTHER THAN WOMEN holding up half the sky.
Right this moment (it will change) I am taking up space, and saying my part, and giving the nod to other women out there who are seeing this blog and nodding back. I’m okay with getting knocked down by the emotional bulldozer because it means my humanity is still functioning. I’m aware that I might sound like that White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult and I’m okay with that.
A combination of age, isolation, and this virus is tearing apart the idea that I’m supposed to take this in stride and not feel resentful for having to do so much work because our current cultural and political system just think it’s my job to gently lay aside my needs and pick up where ineptitude has left off. For THAT rending, and for all that I feel, I am grateful. TRULY grateful.