The last two hours were nice. My husband and I chatted about the books we were reading as I watched our daughter do handstands repeatedly and my son play in his cardboard house, something he had crafted from a leftover Christmas gift.
This was my first time “hanging out” (outside, absurdly distanced) in nearly three days because I, too, have gotten a latent Christmas present: omicron. An anonymous family member brought it along with their potluck dish; a special version of Secret Santa.
We are still waiting for the rest of my family’s results, so I have been quarantining by myself. As I head back to my personal cave (our bedroom), I check one more time to see if their results are in. I have been checking every few hours, not quite sure what I am hoping for.
On the one hand, I want their results to be negative for obvious reasons. (I don’t want the rest of my family getting this virus!) On the other hand, if they are positive, then we’d get this over with. After two years of running from COVID-19, I am utterly exhausted.
But … there’s another thought lurking in the shadows. A shameful, embarrassing one. A thought my insides, tightened up and turned away, are begging me not to admit: If the rest of the family’s results are positive, then I don’t have to quarantine anymore. And I like it in here.
This is the closest thing to the solitary cabin in the woods I have only dreamed of these past two years. Two years filled with homeschool and off-and-on virtual school. Two years of kids climbing the walls in boredom, of my husband and I climbing the walls with insanity; two years of “togetherness”; two years of managing the kids and the house while my husband works in the background of whatever room he can find; two years of trying to create normal scenarios (like birthday parties and holidays) in a very abnormal situation; two years of regular responsibilities like remembering to schedule doctor’s appointments and pick up groceries; and two years of putting my working self on a shelf in order to wear the hats of stay-at-home mom, teacher, housewife, house manager and personal assistant (hats I had no interest in wearing).
“It’s been three days of mild-to-moderate cold-like symptoms, and I have done nothing but read, sleep, write, and lie staring out the window in silence.”
The fact that I am able to step back from the workforce without our household financially collapsing is not lost on me. While I am only one of the 1.8 million women who left the workforce during the pandemic (1.8 million women!), many of them experienced significant financial hardship as a result. And for many moms, leaving was never an option. I am one of the lucky ones.
And, as I watch my working mom friends juggle it all, I feel incredibly grateful to have one less hat to wear. But this is precisely the problem — moms, regardless of work status, are still wearing all of the hats!
This isn’t a slight against dads; in particular, my kids’ dad. He is whole-heartedly in the trenches with me, sharing in the bedtimes, middle-of-the-nights, neverending piles of laundry, and refereeing. But the invisible duties of parenting — the vast world of doctor’s appointments, school emails, teacher gifts, birthday party invitations, social calendars, vacation planning, summer camps, pet medications, Band-Aids, etc. — fall on me. They do now and they did pre-pandemic when I worked a full-time job outside of the house. Talking with other moms, I realize this is the norm, not the exception.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard an exasperated mom say something like “The toilet paper doesn’t just magically appear in the house!” Someone has to make sure there is toilet paper and, nine times out of 10, it’s a mom. This invisible work isn’t just physical. There is a mental load that accompanies it, with all the planning, remembering and holding space for these things. It impacts our well-being, and it is exhausting. The pandemic took all of that and put it on steroids.
Suddenly there were more meals, more dishes, more things to manage (thanks to home learning), with the added bonus of a near 24-7 schedule that included no breaks or outside child care.
So when I found myself suddenly quarantined with COVID-19 — after a good cry, some brief shame, and a little guilt — I felt relief. For the first time in two years, I was getting a break. Not just a few hours here and there, but a real, solid break (something I am aware I couldn’t have if I was a single mom or an essential worker dependent on my salary).
For the next five days (according to the new CDC guidelines), there would be no fights to referee, meals to plan, laundry to do or errands to run. The 748 cries of “Mom” I typically hear throughout the day would have to be put on hold. Their dad would have to do everything, and, in my exhaustion, that felt like relief.
It’s been three days of mild-to-moderate cold-like symptoms, and I have done nothing but read, sleep, write, and lie staring out the window in silence. I have barely watched TV because I don’t want to waste this precious, albeit sick, time passively.
My fear in sharing this with you is two-fold: The first fear is that you will judge me as a wife and a mom. There is nothing I want more than to be a good mom. It is something I painstakingly work at every day. But how we define “good” for moms is incredibly problematic.
Take this well-intentioned text from a family member upon learning I tested positive:
“Love to you all. Let us know if you need anything. Love to Lori who took it for her team. Good mom.”
This story — that a good mom sacrifices herself for her family — is one we need to stop telling. I sacrificed my body — in what seems like unending ways — for my kids, and I would do it again without question. But that doesn’t mean I want to be a sacrificial lamb in perpetuity. We don’t put that expectation on dads, just as we rarely describe a man as “selfless.” This double standard is, at best, absurd, and at worst, dangerous.
“Despite easily dishing out trite sayings like ‘moms have the hardest job in the world,’ we aren’t the least bit interested in making that labor any easier or valuing it in a meaningful way.”
My second fear in sharing this is that you will mistake my joy in solitude for finding pleasure in a virus that has caused so much pain. Like many of you, I have taken painstaking measures to avoid this at all costs. I have watched as it has destroyed people, families, systems and hope. It has taken a toll on all of us, especially the people who have lost loved ones and those working the front lines. AND, as has been well-documented, it has taken a toll on women, most notably, moms. This is the place from which I am sharing.
Just as the pandemic has shone a light onto the darker shadows of our society, so, too, has it highlighted the ways in which we fail parents. I’ve read as moms and dads scream their pain, only to have it fall on deaf ears (just read some of the comments on this essay). But while the pandemic has pummeled most parents, it’s been hardest on moms. And research shows it’s been that way long before the pandemic.
Despite easily dishing out trite sayings like “moms have the hardest job in the world,” we aren’t the least bit interested in making that labor any easier or valuing it in a meaningful way.
We say it takes a village, but few in our society are willing to make up that village, let alone vote and pay for that village. We have politicians that continually scream “family values” but provide no support in the way of birth control, health care, paid parental leave, affordable childcare, parenting support, or even adequately funded public education. Because, in reality, the proverbial village is not just a collection of individuals, but rather a combination of people and systems designed to support the collective.
So as I get off my soapbox and back into my bed, I lie here thinking about how lucky I am to have relatively mild symptoms. I am grateful that I have a separate space to safely quarantine in, and a partner who can work from home and take care of the kids (not to mention a job that pays sick leave, should he need it).
I listen to the silence and marvel at how much I needed this. I am enjoying this break, as messed up as that sounds. Because in this current climate, getting COVID-19 seems to be the only way a mom can get one … if she’s lucky. And that’s the messed-up part.
As I lie here in the stillness of this room, my mind continually drifts to all the moms out there who don’t have this option. The ones who don’t get a break because they don’t have a place to quarantine, someone to watch their kids, paid sick leave, and/or access to affordable health care. They deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this.