99 Problems

Published on July 17th, 2020 | by Meghann Haldeman


Waiting for Snacks

It’s during the early days of the pandemic when the seed kit arrives. My husband, who was raised on a farm, made the purchase. You must be patient and wise to germinate seeds and currently, I am neither. With a resolve that makes me feel like a lazy 15 year old, he calmly sits on our patio and carefully plants 72 tiny pots. Then he follows the instructions for assembling the mini-greenhouse and he germinates those suckers. The next day he builds garden boxes so we can transplant when the time comes.  

While he tends to his starters and makes a detailed list of each type of plant on a grid-thingy, I’m on Instacart, buying the one type of frozen pizza my younger daughter will eat. The pizza is intended for her, but we all fall prey to its advertised ‘rising’ crust and salty who-knows-what-type-of-carcass pepperoni. Here I am, growing food and defrosting it. Using my smartphone to request delivery of bags of food that will arrive within two hours (probably) and feed us for a week while also waiting for the first tomato, just one, that will take in total four months to arrive. I tell the girls to water the greenhouse tray and then preheat the oven. What will they take from this time? Will they reminisce over test-tube pizza or the home garden?

When life is confusing and strange, I turn to books. Lolita guided me through a bad relationship with an older man. I read Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell when I became a mother.  While I’m struggling with what it means to be a white, American, cis-gendered mother during a pandemic and social revolution, I’ve found myself drawn to Waiting for Godot.

When I first read the play in college, I was a former ’90s child sitcom actress and had gone to high-school on paper only; I had more experience rehearsing my eye-rolls, filming, and wearing mid-drift shirts than I did reading seminal literary works. As a freshman, I was an academic fish-out-of-water and Beckett seemed like a crotchety old uncle with a great head of hair but no sense of humor. I memorized the appropriate terms: post-war, absurd, existential. But really, I didn’t understand a fucking thing.

Now, as I find myself absurdly growing my own food while simultaneously ordering it from my phone, I wouldn’t mind hanging out with this guy. I might even bum one of his cigarettes. Or two. Or ten. More than novels or TV, the convention of a play feels most like the circumstances of quarantine: we have only a few physical spaces in which to be and we talk a lot.  Like Waiting for Godot’shapless main characters, Gogo and Didi, we spend our days clock-watching for salvation and the only meager comfort we find is in one another.

My children and I run our lines every day: When will this be over? How do you know we won’t get it? How do you know Grammy and Pop-pop won’t get it? Why do you keep feeding me the same thing EVERY DAY? When will things go back to normal?

Godot is a metaphor for so many things; God, yes, but also a vaccine, the election, snacks, the next Amazon package. During the course of a day while we chat, despair, and putter around, nothing happens and everything happens.

This time at home has been one of dematerialization. Less stuff, fewer places, fewer ritualized events that give our lives shape. We float freer. Reading Beckett reminds me that I am not the first person to live in limbo, nor in a society struggling with fascism.

Beckett lived in bombed-out France after World War II, and the atrocities he witnessed play out between the other set of characters in Godot: Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo whips, humiliates, and dominates Lucky: He is power and moral corruption incarnate. As witnesses, Gogo and Didi have flashes of compassion but are mostly indifferent, sometimes even taking part in the abuse. Beckett joined in the French Resistance and fought against the Nazis. What am I doing with my white/cisgender privilege, as another antifacist movement arises? Learning and getting involved, but also sometimes longing for higher guidance on that, too. Last week I took my girls for a drive-through COVID-treat in historically black Inglewood, only to realize after a quick Google search––glazed twist already in hand––that we were eating gentrification donuts.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Like a shitty ex-boyfriend, Depression lurks during the pandemic. I’m experienced enough to know when I’m at risk of returning the late-night texts from Depression, saying he just wants to “talk.” I know how to block the number with therapy and meds and, during week five––when I hit my low––put my depression plan in place. I still have many feelings of sadness and futility, but they are contained. Beckett was deeply enmeshed with his own misery; he was never able, or never wanted to break-up with Depression.

And this is where I roll my eyes at Beckett and his precious genius. He’s not a mother. I quit my full-time job last year to write and care for the kids. I’m incredibly privileged in that choice, but during the pandemic that privilege also means the domestic work falls along traditional gender lines. It might as well be 1952, the year Beckett wrote Godot, as I find myself playing the role of cook, housekeeper, teacher, and emotional punching bag for two cranky kids. Beckett didn’t have to pause pen-stroke to assemble snacks or legos. He didn’t have to brush anyone’s teeth but his own. In fact, Beckett deigned to undertake very little mundane labor, Waiting For Godot was published because his partner and later wife, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesmil acted as his agent, physically delivering manuscripts to publishers in Paris. She was a pianist, but her recordings (if there are any) aren’t a part of any cannon. But without her, most agree Beckett would have died unpublished and constipated (he was known for his troublesome bowels). I wonder what Suzanne’s thoughts were while she nurtured that grumbling genius, did her devotion to him stifle her own ambition or give her a sense of purpose?

At this moment, mothers have to both remake the world while simultaneously raising children sane enough to be its steward. It’s their future we’re all waiting on.

I survey the current scene: girls screaming at one another, house a mess, no healthy food in sight, a world on fire, and a fug of garlic that I’m pretty sure is coming from me. Beckett is waving for me to come and chill in his angsty void where I can play the role of depressed martyr-mom but I resist. Instead, I do the thing I’ve become spectacular at during the quarantine: I lower my expectations.  

We have this thing we do now. Each night we watch “family TV” while we eat. We’ve been together all day, what more is there to say? Top choice is Survivor. I never watched before the quarantine but now I’m hooked. I care about Sandra and Boston Rob and can have a pretty serious conversation about who rules as the bigger badass (Sandra). Family life is inherently goofy; our play isn’t a drama but more of a drama-dy and the more time I spend in our new normal the more I am certain it is my job to bow into these moments of lightness. By the second half of the episode, we’ve finished our food and now pile atop one another. It’s sweet. Grievances are forgotten as I scratch backs and give cuddles. My ten year old seems younger as she gathers her changeling body into my lap. We are in limbo, yes, but we float together, tethered to one another by love. 

Feature photo (matryoshka) by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

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About the Author

Meghann Haldeman grew up acting on television and in movies, all of which starred people who went on to become famous. She went on to study at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and then quit acting.  After college, she worked with her mother to open a new-parent resource center in Los Angeles and then later as an elementary school teacher. You can find her work on Scary Mommy as well as on her blog, mothersucked.com. When not writing about parenting, she is working on a pilot about motherhood with her screenwriter sister, Molly. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Los Angeles.

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