Meredith C. Carroll: Pandemic parenting? No. Problem.
A few hours after giving birth for the first time over 20 years ago, my sister lovingly buried her face into her tightly swaddled son before appearing startled and abruptly sitting back upright.
“I can’t believe I have to cook three meals a day for the next 18 years,” she said.
I remember giggling then, although when I think about it now, I snort. Only three? Lucky.
My 8-year-long stint as a simultaneous stay-at-home mom and full-time employed human being came to an end when my youngest child started full-time school in 2016. I expected the first day of kindergarten to bring me a mix of relief and pride for having survived clinging painstakingly to my family and work with equal intensity for an awfully long time. Instead it was as if I’d just returned from war (with apologies, and much gratitude, to all those who have served in actual war).
I suffered post-traumatic stress from never being, having or doing enough. If I eked out a day with more peace of mind than penitence for managing to be sufficiently emotionally present for even just one of my children, it necessarily meant my professional ventures suffered, and vice versa.
When the world jolted to a halt this past March, I started the long, perverse journey of second-guessing every career choice I’ve ever made. For a long time my mom, who taught fifth grade for decades, had urged me to pursue an education degree. Yet while the teaching part seemed fine, it was the other stuff that disenchanted me, like knowing I could be vomited on at any time by someone not related to me (as I once did on a teacher who wasn’t my mom).
Of all the joy I’ve snuck in during the pandemic, not one ounce of it has originated from reprising my role as an adult who needs to earn a paycheck while also acting as a full-time mom, teacher, social worker, psychologist, vomit attractant, custodian, spa attendant, detective, judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, jury, chef, food stylist, hairdresser, dishwasher, room service attendant, playmate, peon, bad-news bearer, receptionist, coach, quarterback, head cheerleader, director, supporting actor, key grip, executive assistant, camp counselor, accountant, chauffeur, personal shopper, mind-reader, saint, chambermaid, cruise director, consoler-in-chief, librarian, nurse and referee. Did I mention only one of my 41 occupations pays in real dollars?
If you’re someone whose choices look different than mine, COVID-19 may have elevated your children’s formal schooling options, including through rigorous online academies, specialized culture and sports camps, private tutors, pods, professional private teachers, high-priced babysitters, and all kinds of corona-contingencies should any one plan fall through.
(There’s a Four Seasons Walt Disney World “schoolcation option” that I would discuss if it weren’t so far removed from my real life, which was spent last evening accommodating a child who alleged to be flirting with death by heart attack caused by the proximity of a bowl of roasted broccoli to her dinner plate.)
That I’ve made a poor choice(s) along the way was confirmed this summer when I saw a local classified for a job offering six figures doing what I already do for free (although if we’re being honest here, I do it at a great deficit). The ideal candidate for the “family life coach” position advertised must have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling or education, speak fluent vegan, and ski and play hockey aggressively (as vegans are wont to do). “Wins” is among the desired character traits listed, especially as it pertains to helping “create attainable and realistic strategies” to achieve goals and “transform th(e children’s) lives by coaching them in overcoming obstacles and inspiring them to reach their full potential.” Also included in the job description: “Doesn’t mind getting in the household management weeds with diaper changing, etc.” Did I mention the “high performance” kids in need of unicorn coaching are ages 2, 3 and 5?
A different local family is running a want ad in The Aspen Times for a “laundry worker” who “should quickly be able to identify fabrics and know how to properly care for them. Ironing skills are critically important.” It didn’t list a salary range but I am willing to bet it’s more than I make doing laundry. (If I seem bitter or jealous of people who have people who just do laundry and the people for whom laundry is their primary responsibility, it’s because I am.)
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.