Published on May 19th, 2020 | by Tara Dorabji0
Ask A Mutha: Mothering in a Pandemic
Everyone is Stay at Home Something
By Lisa Factora-Borchers
My doctor said to wait four days after the COVID-19 test for results. In that interim, my daughter turned five years old. I remember it was just two weeks before that I told my sister that five is the magical number: Five is when kids emotionally mature. Independence flourishes. Full day Kindergarten was not only a milestone for the student, but for the parent. Looking forward to school full time meant that my work hours would stabilize with their routines. Mornings and early afternoons would be mine to spend in the library, with a writing group, or just relish being alone.
I was sick early on in the quarantine and in the chaos of COVID testing, I never received results or confirmation if my test was ever processed. As I recovered and regained full health, my energy flowed into the necessities of home making and basics of cooking, bathing, and keeping my children’s minds and bodies in motion. As the macro structures of civic life remain uncertain— childcare, school, summer programs, and parks—and the children are tethered close, I have learned to quell the panicked ire caused by This President. His state-led approach to tackling a global pandemic as a poor gimmick to hide his incompetent leadership acts as a systematic disempowerment that thickens the brain fog.
I never did well in isolation.
Time away, please.
But isolation is something different, an errant cousin—a forced state of scarcity. The sudden imbalanced amount of time with my kids stripped of amenities, childcare, school, and playgrounds thrust me out of the carousel of roles I inhabit and cemented me into one role: domestic caretaker of the house. A laptop replaced with a stove, poetry chapbooks replaced with distance learning materials. It was like a strange return to the infancy stage again, some sort of parental regression. The expectations and needs were constant. Feed me, hold me, listen to me, look at me, watch me, can you get me this, can you reach that, do you know where my blue hoodie is, can you help me shower, my teacher said you need to sign this.
I don’t mind the world shrinking. I mind the relentless demands that feel like a fever. COVID spread and shut down every pipeline that I relied on to be a balanced working mother. A thick fog settled in my brain. Fog accompanied by the old rainstorm of guilt. I recognized it from the past.
Maternal guilt is an elegiac wasteland. It’s useless. It has only pushed me to further bludgeon myself into doing more as a caretaker in hopes the guilt will go away when the real antidote is to heal the self-neglect buried underneath.
The isolation brought back the old war. The internal war that raged in the early years when I realized being a fulltime mother working in the home was not going to fulfill me. That realization surprised and upset me as a new mom. I had always thought being at home with my kids would be more than enough. It took years before I accepted it. I came from a tradition and culture that prized a certain kind of maternal identity where fulfillment would never be in conflict with children’s needs. I resented both the expectations and the fact that I didn’t fit that mold.
The demands for writing and editorial work requires exposing myself to new writers, studying experimental forms, and engaging with writing communities. I didn’t want to admit dual ambition—to be a loving mother and prolific writer— because I didn’t see a clear path. It was more than adjusting time management and saying no to car pools, standing sideline at soccer or softball, or volunteering in the lunchroom. I resented who I perceived myself to be: a selfish mother and a lazy writer. The pandemic is a relapse in self-distortion.
I spent the first parts of the quarantine lost in the hard labor of landscaping, expelling my energy in clearing thickets of overgrown trees, vines, and bushels. I spent hours lifting heavy rocks and shoveling mounds of dirts. I went to bed exhausted in hopes as a preemptive strike to avoid guilt, anxiety, or old battles that may resurface when my head hit the pillow.
After nearly six weeks of sun-drenched labor, I woke one morning in wonder. The guilt dissipated. And with it, the brain fog has disappeared.
Lisa Factora-Borchers is a Filipinx American writer and senior features editor at The Rumpus.
Scoop It Out
By Meg Thompson
“We all, myself included, need to learn to live through something we’ve never dealt with before,”
—Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Health
What I would give to be wrong, that this isn’t a big deal, that it is just another craze, something hyped up and exploited, meant to terrify me. I can’t tell you how much I would love to be wrong. I dream about it. And during the day, I long for it.
When I was 29, I was told I had melanoma. It was a relatively simple outpatient procedure, considering it was for the most deadly form of skin cancer. They just go in and scoop it out, a beloved friend told me. Like I was a pint of vanilla. Ok cool. I imagined an ice cream scoop, running across my chest, shoulder to shoulder. I clung to her words, and she was right. They just scooped it out. I haven’t had any skin cancer in the 9 years since, but I also haven’t been the same person.
You aren’t supposed to get melanoma in your 20s, one dermatologist told me. Another told me I should have been born in England, like the Norse. But my favorite was when a dermatologist opened the door to my examine room and saw me sitting there in my gown.
“Oh God,” she groaned. “A redhead.”
I did a grocery pick up in early March when I first started to sense that something wasn’t right. With two kids at home, one in diapers, I do grocery pick ups all the time — at least twice a week, but something told me: prepare. I didn’t go to any extremes, just ordered a few more essentials than I normally might: extra bottle of children’s Tylenol, extra box of tea, extra bag of coffee. Just to be on the safe side, I ordered a bottle of Lysol, two extra bars of hand soap, and some vitamin C.
I got everything in my order. Nothing was out of stock. That is what set off my alarm bells.
No one is worried enough, I thought. We are not taking this seriously.
Wait. Am I crazy?
On my first day of kindergarten, I got on the bus, found two girls to sit down next to, and instantly started questioning them like we were speed dating. What are your names? Where do you live? How old are you? What class are you in? I don’t have any memory of this, but they told me about it, years later, doubled over in laughter.
I delete Facebook from my phone and think about my brother, a pharmacist, and his daughter, a five-year-old with special needs. I think about my sister who volunteers at libraries, my sister that works at a grocery store, my sister that is a nurse. I think about my cousin who has stage 4 cancer. I think about my husband’s aunt that has cancer and her two daughters that live in Seattle. I think about my best friend growing up that had to have open heart surgery in the midst of a pandemic. I think about my roommate from college, who studied microbiology with what I can only describe as zeal, who went on to become a doctor, but I still remember as the girl that hauled a trash can from one of the dorms to our apartment so we could fill it with ice for a keg. I think about my dad. “I fit all of the categories,” he says. “But I don’t think I’m frail.” I think about my mother, a sheep farmer, who, at 69, could toss me down a flight of stairs, go a week without eating, and then compete in a triathlon. She is pretty much the only person I am not worried about.
I am a proud, anxious person. With anxiety comes a depth of awareness. In another life, when I used to teach full time, my students would sometimes raise their hands and ask “What are you staring at?” It’s not always good, not always bad, but I am an easy mark when people need someone to gently rib and in doing so mask their own fears and insecurities. The summer after my melanoma surgery, I walked around like I was a celebrity trying not to be noticed. In sunglasses and a hat, long sleeves and pants, even in the heat of July, I lived in fear of the sun. A week after the surgery, covered head to toe in my usual garb, a man walked past me at an outdoor music festival and snorted, you cold? The Dermabond was still adhered to the scar on my chest.
I am a mother. I am a redhead that grew up on a farm. My body is etched in dull scars from two c-sections and countless moles I’ve had removed. When people tell me how laid back they are, I nod along, but on the inside I think: you sit on a throne of lies. People who are legitimately laid back don’t spend time telling people how laid back they are. I want to say that our culture has developed a trend in anxiety-shaming. It’s easier to mock anxious people instead of dealing with our own internal quirks. It’s easy to make fun of Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, for the restrictions he is enacting. It’s easy because it doesn’t take any thought. It doesn’t take any skill. It’s easy to tell people they are being outlandish. It’s easy to trick yourself into believing that America is a dreamland where nothing bad happens, and all you have to do lie down, relax, play a game on your thousand dollar phone. If I have ever been laid-back, it was a solid decade ago, before I interrogated every growth on my body, contorting myself in front of the mirror to get a better look. It was before I had two children look up at me every morning and ask me what we were going to do.