It’s been two weeks that the kids have been out of school. My job allows me to work from home if I need to, but I’m busier than ever. Before coronavirus, I was already juggling five children and two stepchildren between the ages of 16 and three and working 20-hour days.
Now, I’m doing all of that without school and activities to keep the children busy and my husband is staying at his parents’ empty house in isolation. He traveled to the States a little more than a week before they decided that anyone entering Israel from another country would require 14 days of quarantine. Try isolating in my small apartment with two bathrooms and all those kids.
And so, I am doing this all on my own.
I watched on Facebook as all these other moms scrambled to find the last rolls of toilet paper and stocked up on canned corn and cereal. I told myself there was no need to panic and that the stores would be fully stocked, and even though in addition to being news editor and head of the website I am sort of our resident health reporter, I convinced myself that buying NIS 1,000 of groceries was not the solution.
Until last Thursday.
Suddenly, I had a wave of anxiety. I took an hour away from my computer to run out in the pouring rain to a “real” grocery store (as opposed to the local makolet) and bought toilet paper and baby wipes and diapers and Kleenex and tin foil and baking pans and cans and jars of vegetables and fruits and spreads – just in case.
The stores are stocked, I saw, but I told myself I wouldn’t want my kids to starve while I am busy writing about the government’s latest guidelines – more of which were rolled out that evening – a new attempt to cure coronavirus or how the Mossad messed up and didn’t bring back all the parts of the coronavirus tests our country needs.
In between writing about the coronavirus, which has become a bit of an obsession, I read about it, which has become a fixation.
On March 13, a British Mommy blogger, who writes under the name “Our BEAUtiful Life,” posted on Facebook about “The 5 Types of Coronavirus Moms:”
• The Kates she described as “well-educated, professional mothers” who learned about COVID-19 on their morning commutes and had a contingency plan for childcare in place before they ever canceled schools.
• The Chelseas are stay-at-home moms with multiple children. “Calm and rational,” they have their homes already stocked with enough food and other essentials to last several weeks.
• The Margarets just realized yesterday that this might mean she has to “stay at home with her children for weeks on end without any adult conversation.” These women are afraid for their mental stability. “Disney Plus, wine and grocery delivery services will be her only hope.”
• The Lilys are homeschoolers who also work part time and are using the virus to promote “self-empowerment” and her business on social media, “currently googling how to make organic hand sanitizer for her non-vaccinated, vegetarian children,” the blogger wrote.
• And then she described The Stacys, who “don’t “give a s**t about the threat of COVID-19 and will continue on with life as if everything were normal.”
Each day, I feel like a different one of these mothers and sometimes an insane combination of all five.
The first day, it was fun to pretend I was Mary Poppins with a different color-coded schedule designed for each child and then one for the household that included art and exercise and reading time and math.
Of course, by day two, the teachers got in the way with all their own schoolwork that comes to me at different and often ungodly hours via email and WhatsApp. The messages tell the children to log on to this site to watch their school rabbi pray and then this other one to take part in math class. There are worksheets and coloring pages and class hangouts and virtual playdays and PowerPoints that talk to you.
But I cannot be a full-time class monitor, because I am already a full-time journalist and none of the other chores, like cleaning the house, cooking or stopping the three-year-old from coloring on the walls – I failed at that task last week – can be abandoned either.
So, each morning, I re-color-code the schedules based on whatever was forwarded the day before and tell the kids to be entrepreneurial and figure out Zoom and PowerPoint on their own.
Even on the days I work at home – and I am doing that more and more – most of my time is spent in my bedroom-office with the door locked and my headphones on, a cup of coffee on one side and a glass of red wine on the other.
In the morning, and again late at night, I cook and clean. I prepare nutritious menus and snacks and leave lists on the fridge of what is available. I put a different older child in charge of each meal and “helpers” who set the table or clean up afterwards.
I like to pretend that they are snacking on apples, oranges and persimmons or celery and peanut butter and granola and yogurt – and dining on chicken and rice and French onion soup left steaming in the crockpot. And maybe they are. But more likely, they are snacking on leftover junk from the shalach manot we acquired over Purim and shoving sugared cereal meant for Shabbat into their mouths in between meals. I am just going to have to be OK with that.
They have also demonstrated resilience, teamwork and good humor. My 16-year-old has prepared triple-decker cold cut sandwiches and my 12-year-old daughter has replicated my Israeli salad many times for her and her siblings. They entertain each other, help each other and are in good spirits, and I am very proud.
Admittedly, though, I am stressed.
There are days that my blood pressure rises with every ding on my cellular phone from one teacher or another with their smiley faces and hearts and rainbows, like lockdown is a game.
“How’s your daughter doing?” one teacher asks via email and I answer how much said daughter is loving doing all her schoolwork from home. The reality, though, is that she threw a temper tantrum last night when I asked her to re-write her “what I want to do for Passover” essay – the one I dictated to her in between answering more than 1,000 emails.
Sometimes I think I am going to break down, so I lie to my children and tell them I have yet another article to write and I lock myself in my bedroom for 30 minutes of alone time just so I can cry or remember how to breathe. I know that if I don’t keep it together then my kids never will, so I try not to let them see me frustrated. But I am tired.
I switch off between red-raging anger at my husband for going abroad when I begged him not to, knowing that he would likely end up in isolation and I wouldn’t see him for at least a month, and empathy for his being holed up all alone without any squishy hugs or messy hands to clean. And I know he would be helping so much if he were here.
Mostly I miss him.
My car stalled on my way to work - more than once. I had to duct tape the bumper on Friday afternoon to drive him a basket full of Shabbat food and clothes. Still, I did it – including picking up his dirty laundry while wearing a pair of winter gloves (he could have coronavirus!) and dropping them into the trunk of my car. I’ll wash and return them.
Our employers expect us to work. Our children’s schools expect us to teach. And our children expect us to entertain them. We expect ourselves to do everything.
So, fellow working mom: l’chaim. Here’s to me and all of you.
Let’s just stick together – virtually, of course – and we’ll get through this.