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Britta Gustafson: Pandemic parenting might prevail

Unclear guidelines and inconsistent messaging; that’s not just the government’s response to this pandemic, it’s becoming my unintentional parenting mantra, too.

I was going to be the “cool mom,” the one my kids and their friends would go to and trust with challenging information.

“Going to be” are the key words. As we were all beginning to grope around in the dark, searching for leadership, guidance and reassurance during this crisis, I had already lost my cool.

Jaw dropping, I blurted to my kids the announcement that school had been closed, and then, in a near frenzied state, I made them take like five showers while sipping on zinc, thermometers in their mouths. I left the news on and talked candidly on the phone.

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My kids quickly learned to read my facial expressions to gauge whether to ask me what was up, or to run.

So now, over six weeks in, they expect blunt, unfiltered honesty from me.

How can I gauge the severity of each new wave of information I’m presenting to them? Particularly when it often contradicts the very last thing I read.

And I’m a little busy. I was wearing multiple hats before as a single mom with a full-time job. But let’s add in full-time, distance-learning teacher for two separate grade levels and of all subjects, including band and Spanish; I’m not fluent in either. To be honest I’m not even fluent in fifth grade math.

I roll my eyes at the more than 45 daily emails my 8-year-old son is now supposed to manage. Today his teacher asked him to clean up his inbox, so he hit clear-all and went outside. Cool mom me high-fived him in my mind, but teacher mom me had to spend the next hour trying to find out why school accounts don’t save deleted emails.

I’m still mastering the art of creative cooking and homeschool housekeeping, too, which never ends. I’m also now the household nurse (DIY stitches, yep), online/screen-time family autocrat, disciplinarian/referee, entertainer, the family visionary and optimism cheerleader.

In the first few weeks I felt capable of, albeit dysfunctionally, juggling a few extras. Now I’m just throwing them all as high as possible, hoping for a tiny reprieve as I try to catch one or two while the majority pummel me on their return.

Making time for mindfulness and gratitude helps. It’s just that making time is not simply semantics. And the inhuman level of social media pressure to share all the awesome, awe-inspiring ways we are taking advantage of this together time never ceases. When my head hits the pillow, I’m one blink away from all the fears creeping in and keeping me up all night.

Cool mom me wants to say damn the man. I just don’t know which man to damn.

My kids want to understand why I’m not taking them to Moab and Lake Powell every weekend like their friends. The rebel in me believes that staying at home is really the nonconformist action right now. And I wish I didn’t have to be the bad guy in my kids minds but we live near and care about people in compromised age groups and in high risk categories. Uncool as it may seem, I think we should keep our distance, wear our masks and do what’s right for the most vulnerable among us. Limit the assault on our health care workers by actually walking the talk. But look how awfully full the parking lots and recreation center parks are already.

And I can’t give my kids the full story. I don’t want them to see what it might be like to actually say goodbye to their grandmother in a Zoom meeting. I can’t tell them that the curve isn’t really flattening, that the U.S. is still seeing more cases everyday, that Colorado has the fourth highest caseload west of the Mississippi, and that the supply chain is weak at best. That medical science is suggesting this virus is unpredictable and that more comes out each day about how dangerous and complicated a killer it is. I can’t tell them that reopening means that a second wave is inevitable, or that preventative measures like contact tracing become irrelevant once we have tourism here again. They can probably deduce, but I can’t say to them, that our government is humiliating and that we are basically on our own. Or that my guess is as good as theirs as to what’s happening next. (At least I’m not telling them to drink bleach.)

I always thought adults knew best. Now I know we are just older, not wiser.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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