Working parents cannot survive the continued COVID-19 lockdown - comment

After we finish the homework and send it to the teacher, who responds with a “kol hakavod” and hearts and rainbows and unicorns. I want to respond with a different emoji.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman and her 5 children (photo credit: DEVORAH ROSE)
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman and her 5 children
(photo credit: DEVORAH ROSE)
“I am so glad you are home,” my eight-year-old said, a huge smile across her beautiful face, as I walked in the door from my run Tuesday morning.
Her sweet voice and thin arms enveloped me.
“Will you be able to help me with my book report today?” she asked, her eyes open wide in anticipation.
I melted.
For too many times to count in recent weeks, tears stung the corner of my eyes.
My heart tightened, strained between the need to stay at home and spend the morning switching between Zoom links and downloads, and the reality that I would have to show up at work and do my job in the best way possible.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis and the first lockdown, my family and I have been trying to adjust to this new normal. To Zoom links and “click-to-download” homework assignments. To the fear of opening schools and contracting coronavirus, and the frustration of trying to re-learn geometry – in Hebrew.
Working mothers always had it hard, but many like me really believed that we could have it all – a career and kids, professional stimulation (and the paycheck that comes with it) and boardgames and trips to the park.
And God darn it, we were doing a pretty good job.
But then came COVID-19.
In the first wave, I felt empowered. I color-coded my children’s lives with charts of art and exercise and chores and schoolwork. My oldest daughter learned how to do laundry.
I bought smartphones and an extra computer and set them up thinking, “we’ve got this.”
Until I realized that virtual school for younger children is really not school at all. It is, “Mom, I cannot find the link” and “Mom, I need you” or “Mom, can I use your printer” – said while I am in the middle of an article that is due in 30 minutes, and is crashing and one of my desk managers called in sick.
With five children and two step-children between the ages of 17 and four, we have seven different schedules and almost as many online platforms for accessing their school work.
It took me two months to understand how to use the “Pedagogy” system. Admittedly, I am still not sure how to take pictures that actually go through to the teacher.
And I consider myself technologically competent.
The teachers send messages asking how the children are doing. I tell them that they are all doing “just swell,” glossing over the temper tantrum my 10-year-old threw the other night when she couldn’t find the book she needed.
“It has to be on your desk,” I tell her culling through the markers, construction paper and crayons left on that same desk by my four-year-old, who managed to color all over it, too.
When the math book with the right number is found, it’s like striking gold.
“High five,” I say, a sigh of relief. Crisis averted.
Except for those crises that have not been averted – or maybe they were in my house, but not in other homes across the country.
A report published by Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital earlier this week said there has been a 20% increase in physical injuries to children between March and December in the midst of the pandemic.
“There is no doubt that children will pay the highest price as a result of the non-opening of educational institutions,” said Dr. Hagar Gur Soferman, director of the hospital’s Department of Urgent Medicine for Children. “Beyond the psychological price, being at home significantly increases children’s injuries.”
This includes fractures, cuts and other injuries, she said.
One out of every five Israelis reported suffering from high or very high levels of depression, according to a study by Tel Aviv University and the Academic and Technology College of Tel Hai that was published in December.
Children are likely not immune to such depression.
School is a “very important framework for kids to learn formally and informally,” and education is a big determiner of long-term health, Ora Paltiel, a professor of epidemiology at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, told The Jerusalem Post earlier this year.
“As a society, we have a moral and ethical commitment to provide children of all ages with the opportunity for education,” a position paper that Paltiel helped write explained in October. “An educational framework is critical for learning; for acquiring social tools, skills and values; for exercising and for promoting social equality.”
Fortunately, my children are totally healthy and safe. And we still make time for fun. We adopted an amazing dog. Find time to make chocolate balls and sushi. And the family recently enjoyed a long, late-evening game of “Heads Up!”
If you haven’t played it, you should.
I have become a math teacher. An English teacher. I have even had my hand at Torah and Prophets – studied well past bedtime, which is usually when I get home.
“You are the best teacher, Mommy,” my eight-year-old tells me, while I instruct her to use a multiplication chart and explain the difference between addition and subtraction once again. A cup of coffee – OK, let’s be honest it is the third cup – in one hand, a pencil in the other.
After we finish the homework – on Monday that was due by last Friday, but we always get it done – I snap pictures of it and send it to the teacher, who responds with a “kol hakavod” and hearts and rainbows and unicorns.
I want to respond with a different emoji.
I pretend that my diet has not converted to candy and diet coke and raw vegetables eaten in between deadlines, and at 11 p.m. at night when I get home from the office with full knowledge that I will have to rise up, push play and repeat again tomorrow.
I reminisce about the days that I hung menus on the fridge on Sunday and put warm meals in the crock pot each morning before I left for work. Now, some nights we take out bags of frozen nuggets and cut up tomatoes and cucumbers and call that dinner.
Reports show that mothers are carrying out an average two-thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men. In contrast to these statistics, my husband is a god, and without him, none of us would survive.
He has single-handedly taken on educating my four-year-old. His good humor and hugs re-center me each night when I ask, “Can it get any harder?”
A report by the UK’s Office for National Statistics showed that parents were nearly twice as likely to be furloughed (13.6%) than those without children (7.2%).
There are around a million people out of work in Israel and I am so grateful to have not only a job, but a profession that I love. My work is creative and covering coronavirus is important.
Every other day, there is an article about the “Zoom generation,” the kids that we are losing to the pandemic through their computer screens and smartphones.
My 5th and 7th graders have been out of school almost all year. The other day, my 7th grader told me she is not even sure that she wants to go back: Learning in her pajamas is kind of fun.
We are also losing a generation of parents, drowning in expectations – real or imagined.
Our employers expect us to perform. Our children expect us to teach them.
And we expect ourselves to be who we were before this crisis, but really just hope to make it through the day.
The government met again on Tuesday night to decide which children will go back to school and how. After an entire year, there is still no solid plan for opening classrooms safely and extensively.
The question has been how to prevent a rising number of COVID-19 cases, particularly serious ones.
But while they debate real matters of life and death, working parents are drowning in a sea of rising expectations that are impossibly hard to meet.•