Day 14: Jody

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The pandemic lockdown has introduced me to a new breed of nightmare – one that thankfully, can never actually come to pass. It’s me, stuck by myself in the house for weeks, with my three young children, simultaneously their mother, their teacher and their primary source of entertainment.

These days, my kids pointedly do their own thing. As I write this in the dining room, for instance, my daughter is a pebble’s throw away in the living room, staring at her phone, silent.

But every time I log onto Facebook, there is Jody, enacting my alternate reality. Jody lives in New Jersey, and is married to Matt, one of my husband’s first cousins. They have two boys, Brennan, age 6, and Finn, age 4 (Jody has allowed me to use the family’s first names). Every weekday, Jody posts an update like this one, from March 30:

Kickin’ off week 3 and day 10 of COVID chronicles. MONYAY! MONSLAY! More like – MONCRAYCRAY! So, we started with yoga and some ‘dance and freeze’. Then moved onto schoolwork. A bestie had a birthday today so we made cards and delivered them. I still remember how to drive. #winning. After lunch we did arts and crafts , puzzles and attempted Mousetrap (I hate that game). Snacking. Lots of snacking. Then I decided it was time to add “The History of Micheal Jackson Music” to our curriculum. We ended the lesson with the FULL Thriller video. #covidchronicles#homeschool#socialdistancing#stayhome#washyourhands#doyourpart#dirtydiana

Just reading all that makes me sleepy. Then I scan through the pictures of the two adorable little boys stretching and earnestly filling in worksheets and coloring cards and making puzzles and playing board games and finally, a video of them jumping up and down to Michael Jackson, and I’m exhausted by proxy.

How does she do it, I wondered? How does she get up each day with a smile on her lips and the world outside her doors inaccessible, and, like so many parents across America these days, face her children — again?

So, I called her up and asked her. Here’s what she said, in an edited, condensed form.

There are two totally different kind of things that I feel I’m living through. I’m living through being the wife and mom stuck at home with her kids, and then I’m living through the pandemic.  Who ever thought, we’d be faced with the statement, “Get ready, in the next week, a lot of people are going to die.” You are almost like waiting to hear who you know, who you love, is going to be diagnosed with coronavirus.

The kids are getting sick of, “Okay, it’s time to sit down and do xeroxed copies.” I try to give teachers benefit of the doubt. No one knows what they are doing. It almost feels like the first time you become a parent, in a way. You’re out of control, you don’t feel prepared. I worry, Am I doing okay by them? Are they learning enough that they can substitute what they would be getting at school?

It’s hard to be in your house, with your four- and your six-year-old, all day, every day. Like, there are the screens. There are games that are appropriate for Brennan at six.  Where he can be online at the same time as friends and they can play together. And of course, all he wants to do is check if Luke is playing, or Brian is playing. So there’s always this begging, begging, begging to be on screens. That has to be controlled. I’m not the type of person that can say, okay, today’s a screen day, and let them be on screens for eight hours. I don’t judge anybody who does it. That’s not me. It’s just — that would really mess with my head.

We still follow my schedule. Brennan has it memorized. He gets up in the morning and he knows. He’s like, “Okay, we start Healthy Body and Soul right after breakfast.” He helps me stay on task. Now when I say it’s time for learning time, he may complain. He may ask for ten more minutes. But he expects the schedule. It’s the same thing at school, the same thing every day. That’s how they operate the best.

Still, when he says, “I can’t do another worksheet,” I say, “Okay, you’ve done enough for today.”

The hard part is never being able to be alone. That’s the hard part.  We have carefully worked out a deal with our regular babysitter who still comes a couple of afternoons and one evening a week so I can get work done. I struggle with this, bringing someone into the house right now, but I honestly can’t work without her and she is making safety her top priority. But, because I’m just upstairs, I can’t really completely disengage.  The boys are constantly running into my room, or I hear them fighting or misbehaving. 

Matt takes over on Wednesday mornings because he starts late in the office. He also helps when he gets home. But still, he gets to get up and go into the office all day when I rarely get a break. I find myself thinking, about him and his work, “Lucky, lucky you. Everybody else’s life has been turned on its head. How lucky are you?”

If we were in this quarantine when I was single with no kids, I would be like, this is awesome. But right now, there is nothing about this that is easy.