Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering what it's like to live under quarantine as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. The single woman's essay is here. Read their responses here.
Let’s start this reflection with a positive in my life—my nails have never looked better.
When I am going through stressful times, my nails are usually the first to suffer, which creates self-perpetuating cycles of frustration. Early on in the pandemic, I did a little online research and found that I could do salon-quality powder-dip nails at home. I ordered a set, and my nails are now looking longer and lovelier than they have in years!
These days, I’ve got to take what positives I can get to keep going.
As a woman with family members working in health care, I was grateful when my state of Ohio announced social-distancing measures early in facing the novel coronavirus. We have since seen the flattening curve, and I am so thankful for the care we’ve taken to stop preventable deaths and suffering I would wish on no one.
So there’s a great part of me that doesn’t want to share any negativity about the fact that I’ve been staying home, because I wouldn’t change a thing in the circumstances. But upon being asked how this has impacted me as a wife and mother of three children, I will tell you, and I will try not to whitewash away the negative elements.
Overall I feel there are limitations we are all experiencing in the world of COVID, and as a working mom, this plays out in a feeling of overwhelm, juggling the responsibilities of taking care of little ones while completing work that contributes to our livelihood. I was struggling already with mental fog from my postpartum experience and was feeling a need to make adjustments to my work schedule and home routines to lift the load—and then the world blew up. On any given day, I waffle between feeling extremely weighed down and waltzing through this surreal chaos.
Being a work-at-home, stay-at-home mother
Thankfully, I still have work. It was remote to begin with, so that aspect isn’t a challenge. What’s hard is to do remote work while taking care of two school-age kids and a baby (for whom I previously had occasional in-home childcare). That, mixed with adapting to the new chaotic normal at home, makes me almost want to laugh at times in the past when I thought I was burnt out.
The older kids can do self-directed play, and the baby can take naps, so I always hold onto a glimmer of hope that I can get some block of work done; but, more often than not, it falls apart like a house of cards. A kid gets hurt; or a disagreement needs to be mediated; or I get struck with ravenous hunger, as a breastfeeding mom does, and have to get up and make myself another meal.
Infinite things interrupt my flow, to the point where it feels like the only constant is interruption.
Previously, my older kids were out the door to school by 8:30, leaving me and the baby at home, with long stretches of relatively uninterrupted work. Now, we’re all in the throes of a new daily routine that none of us are quite adjusted to. I’ll get them started on school work and finally get to my own work around 9:30 or 10, but it’s inevitable one of them will need another worksheet or audio lesson for their schoolwork, or they’ll want permission to go outside, or some other question. I’m in no way annoyed by their requests; they have needs, and as their mom, I’m happy to fill them. But the lack of uninterrupted time to work does remind me that we’re all juggling more than feels possible to do at once.
Each week, each day, each moment, I’m trying to think of new ways to improve the ever-evolving system of home and work management, striving at every juncture to keep my composure while doing the “next right thing,” since I can’t do it all. My latest plan is to scrap daytime work attempts altogether and start work after the kids are down at 7:30 p.m. Most days I end up working until 1 or 2 a.m. anyway; I might as well give myself the daytime off, to conserve energy.
Bearing the mental load
There have been some times when my husband is home and suggests I go upstairs to work uninterrupted while he watches the kids. Many times, the adrenaline of deadlines looming pushes me through a solid chunk of work. On occasion, however, my mind and body completely shut down. It’s like just one moment of silence, after hours of carrying three kids’ needs, is paralyzing.
On the one hand, genuine self-care is hard to come by: I have few moments alone that last longer than a shower. The house never goes quiet, as it did for just a couple hours when my older kids were in school and I was just taking care of a sleepy angel baby. I miss the option to have an afternoon or evening off, thanks to babysitters, to help clear my mind and recharge. My husband helps with the kids when he’s available at home, but we both feel very pushed to the brink. The most neglected items are sleep and tidying—the lack of which both unfortunately compound stress. Between tripping over things in the house or struggling with dishes, it can feel like constant survival mode with no breaks, with a nagging feeling that I’m still not doing enough—while I know I’m doing the best I can. Which is what makes it feel as much a physical struggle as a mental one.
Then, there’s the sheer enormity of the pandemic in the background. I feel a hyperactive instinct to take care of my kids at this time, to protect them from the virus, from any injury that would require medical attention, from emotional overwhelm and fears in their little experiences of this life. I’m always checking the task list in my brain over and over to make sure I haven’t missed some provision we should have during a period of not going out frequently, during a period when normal needs like food and medicine are less accessible. And my mind is often on our loved ones in vulnerable situations, those in worse situations than mine, and what I can do to help.
In general, I try to talk myself down to a reasonable level of worry, but the overwhelming desire to save my family from every possible malady is strong. Some days are worse than others, but the emotional drain is ever-present.
One of the challenges early on was discussing with my husband how strictly to practice social distancing norms. He was following protocols of caution (wash hands, stay home if you are sick), but I wasn’t convinced these measures were enough given the chance of being an asymptomatic carrier. At first I attempted to make him see things my way by sharing stats on social distancing, but arguing with my equally intelligent husband on statistics was going to go nowhere. I soon discovered it was more productive when I spoke directly about my feelings and what would help me feel more safe. When he heard about my concerns of protecting our family (our baby was having respiratory issues at the time, lingering from prior RSV), he said that’s all he needed to hear to get fully behind my desire to opt for minimal outside contact whenever possible. Ultimately it was more effective for me to ask clearly for what I wanted, than to try to convince him about numbers and data. We both felt much more in tune with each other after that.
Seeking silver linings
Still, at the end of each day, there are moments of hope and gratitude.
I’m thrilled the kids are spending more time exploring our backyard than ever before. I’m dazzled by the ingenuity they display in their self-made projects each day, as well as my baby girl’s delightful little face, ever oblivious to the world’s problems. As my husband said the other day, as I struggled washing the baby bottle after the last feeding of the day, “Hey, look, she’s fed! She’s happy, and she’s healthy, and that is the most important accomplishment.” It was such a comfort to be reminded about what really matters and what I can be grateful for.
We've also fallen into a rhythm of late, leisurely lunches, where I have enjoyed daily chats with my kids about what’s going on. Early on I explained how germs are something we are avoiding even more these days, just like when the baby was born in flu season. I explained how we needed to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, a task they immediately took seriously, and we talked through how they’re feeling about it all.
Furthermore, despite churches being closed, the spiritual life in our home has skyrocketed since the pandemic. I have felt no shortage of opportunities for grace in the present challenges and feel brought to my knees much more frequently throughout the day. The kids and I prayed the worldwide rosary with Pope Francis weeks ago in a reverent way I’ve never seen before in their behavior. They’ve paid quiet attention to our televised Masses and church services. They’ve prayed for their two aunts who are in contact with COVID-19 patients at our local hospital, and for all the suffering people around the globe.
Things are far from perfect for us, or for most people, right now. All we can do is resolve to try better the next day. I have made some time to journal. I have had video calls with friends one-on-one and video “happy hours” with my sisters. I have ordered takeout to help lift the load of cooking. And I am aware I need to do more to improve my self-care since I haven’t even gotten into the basics of good sleep and daily exercise. I’m trying to take it one day at a time.
But there are some habits I’ve made during these tough weeks that I want to keep. After this crisis passes, I want to keep the heightened level of concern for others’ suffering and find more ways to help people in need. I want to give more generously and pray with greater frequency. I want to keep the close bond I’ve forged with my husband during this time of crisis that we’re in this home-making game together. I want to spend more time talking with my kids and really listening. And I want to keep having beautiful nails.
Do you have an experience about quarantining that you'd like to share? Tell us here and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.