Post 374.

As Ziya distractedly watched TV, I watched her pour extra sesame seeds from some crackers into a bowl. I counted how many likely fell on the rug, and thought of how I’m constantly cleaning throughout the day even while I’m home working full-time.

I paid less attention than I should have when she went into the kitchen, pulled out flour and poured water, while I again prayed simply for minimal mess. Half an hour later, she had made dough with parsley and rosemary picked from the plants she had helped pot over the last weeks, and covered it all with a cloth. My nine year old made bread.

Each family is different. Some mothers are simultaneously remote-working, cleaning, caring, supervising on-line schooling, and engaging in extra-curricular activities at home. Some describe feeling like they are failing. Where they are teaching, schools have cut down on workload, yet working and single parents may be barely managing. Those reeling from economic shock are worried about their children’s nutrition and schooling. Thousands of mothers are now back at work as part of this phase of opening, and worrying where to leave their children.

Still, each of us has small victories at this time. We need to notice them as signs that, amidst more effort and less productivity, and more stress and less certainty, there are precious moments that provide a bridge from one challenge to the next.

Now that it’s daily and not just on weekends, Zi has washed more dishes, folded more clothes, helped with cooking, taken walks, biked, made art with whatever supplies (including all the masking tape) she could find, and had to learn to deal with a different reality where places are closed, friends are distant, and health is at risk.

On the days when I was too busy to notice what she was doing, there was more television, boredom and loneliness. That’s life for children of working mothers. Eventually, she would figure out how to survive – learning life-long lessons in independence and resilience.

In many ways, her capacity, calm and creativity improved now that we were not rushing out each morning, spending evenings on homework, and then rushing her back to bed. Her complex personality began to flourish because she needed to achieve less, and life became a little less demanding for her even as overlapping responsibilities increased for me. She experimented more with everything, even empty boxes, because she had time. I loved the break from the academic rat-race.

Meanwhile, there is no substitute for seeing each other throughout the day, having a chance to hug up, eat lunch together, and for much more conversation. It’s taken me time to appreciate that as a gift. I’ve had to grow from an old pattern of treating my family as an obstacle to my work deliverables to remembering that they are and should feel like a priority. I’ve recognized that maybe, the whole time, I was out of sync with the emotional beings now in front of me.

The newspapers are full of economic analysis, but I retreat to reading how other parents are managing, laughing with their stories, learning from their strategies, finding community with those who are happier to give children space for self-directed learning, life-skills or just to be, as well as feeling compassion for others overwhelmed by children home with little to do and fearful of their future failure. Such stories provide a qualitative picture, and point to realities and priorities, in a way that statistics can’t.

If the PM and his ballsy recovery team thought of workers, not just as having families to feed, but as parents with nowhere else to leave their children, how would they incorporate recognition of childcare? What multi-tasking stories would they hear?

Tens of thousands of children are usually in school at this time, often attend camps during school holidays while their parents continue to work, or in a usual year are at greater risk of sexual abuse and neglect because safe and affordable care options are unavailable. A child-centered approach would highlight the responsibility of care during economic recovery, draw on how children are coping and growing, and consider what they need.  

Zi and I are both learning, earning small victories. I keep thinking that, by September, we will finally have worked out a routine, just when she has to go back to school, and I’ll deeply miss this time with all its messy mix-ups, sacrifices, tinkering and fears, and combinations of string, glue, paper, and crumbs everywhere.