Portrait of a Family 2020

Does any generation escape unscathed?

Kristi writes at Medium and JugglingNormal. This article first appeared here, and is reproduced in full with permission.

School’s out for summer

I don’t know about you, but May is my month. Well, it used to be.

When May rolls around when you are a kid, it signals the home stretch of school. All the work you’ve put in, a culmination, a payoff, and an end in sight. If you can just push through the final mile, there will be two and a half months of freedom on the other side.

Summer awaits. Summer. Full of sunshine and popsicles, bathing suits and Banana Boat, long days, hot nights, freedom, and boredom. Imagine the nerve of a kid to be bored during the stretched-out glory days of summer.

Available at Pottery Barn

Speaking of kids, we are failing as parents right now.

That’s hard for me to admit. I pride myself on being an incredible mom — I am an incredible mom. I am relentlessly committed and full of love.

I do all the things, all the Pinterest projects, capture all the memories, plan the trips, teach valuable lessons, cook the right meals, model the right behaviors, push when they need a push, and provide a soft landing when they fall. I rearranged our lives to be home for them. And for me. For us.

But what started as fear, mixed with curiosity and intention at the start of the quarantine, has morphed into Groundhog Day and defeat. I love having my children close, but I can’t supervise them 24/7 and make progress on anything else. I’m exhausted, and there’s no spontaneity, frivolity, or fun.

Do this worksheet, this assignment. Ok, now this one. And now another. And another. Read for 20 minutes, then watch this video. Now login to your apps, and check the rest of your assignments on Google Classroom too.

Mama has a call and a webinar during your zooms, ok? I need you to do your first zoom, then switch at half past the hour. I set a reminder on Alexa. When she beeps, switch. I’ll do my calls and then walk the dog. Then we will have lunch, play outside for a bit, and do some more homework, ok?

I know you don’t feel like it; do it anyway. It’s homework or clean up — your choice.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

We all go to separate rooms to stare at different devices for at least two hours, while the dog deep sighs because she realizes her walk is getting postponed again. “What is with people and screens?” the dog wonders.

I used to grumble about the morning hustle.

You know what I’m talking about, Mama. The alarm goes off at 4:45 am, and it’s off to the races. You laid out your workout clothes the previous night so you can dress in the dark. Wake. Contacts. Bathroom. Dress. From asleep to on a bike in less than 30 minutes. Sweat it out for 45.

Now, fully awake, watch the sunrise on the quick drive back home. Sneak into a dark and silent house, say a silent prayer of gratitude, and officially begin the day. Start a pot of coffee; let the dog out. Get breakfast going, check email, post links, glance at social, confirm your calendar, anticipate a great day.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Wake Hubby, wake Kiddos. Kiss each one and tell them you love them. Snuggle for a sec if they ask — they are impossibly warm and sleepy sweet. Invite them downstairs to breakfast. Pack lunches, snack bags, and backpacks while they dress.

Urge them along. Speed up the process. Shoo hubby out the door, and then pick up the pace:

Everyone in the car. Find your shoes! No, those are the wrong jackets. Yes, you need shoes. Did you grab your homework? What do you mean I didn’t sign it? Did you brush your hair? Did you brush your teeth? Guys! We brush every morning and every night. No excuses. Don’t be gross. It’s time to go! If we don’t leave now, we’re going to get a tardy (again).

Where’s the dog? Where’s the leash? Where are your shoes?!

Drop off #1 and #2. Squeeze in a 30-minute dog walk. Drop off #3. How much can I accomplish in 2 1/2 hours?

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

It turns out, quite a lot: Straighten the house, run the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry, return three calls, post on two platforms, edit my latest piece, coach one client, listen to a podcast, and plan dinner for the week.

During the quarantine, we’ve cut out an hour of prep time and an hour of commuting Monday-Friday, and CycleBar is closed, so why are we still playing catch-up? Why are we making up assignments over the weekend? Why haven’t we reclaimed the found time? And why is the dog always getting the short end of the stick?

We are drowning in busy work, home projects, and STUFF.

So much stuff. Clothes, toys, stuffies, blankets. Little pieces of games, materials for science experiments, and craft supplies that are lost, forgotten, or half complete. Saved cards and pictures, bits of nostalgia, and collected treasures are everywhere. Don’t throw it away, Mama! I’ll keep it picked up. Pinky swear.

We all say we won’t be those parents. You know the ones who let their kids eat in the car, who have to pack a trunkful of everything to go anywhere, and have one of everything, for every kid, at every stage, plus a backup. Always have a backup plan. But when we had kids, who we thought we were was offset by reality.

If one twin had a blowout in the basement and the changing station was two floors away, that was a real problem. So, we bought two pack-n-plays and made changing stations on three levels, and that was that. Lifestyle creep set in. We try to keep it in check, but we had three children in two years, so there have been consequences: so many babies, so many implications, so much stuff.

And all three are tired of the quarantine and Groundhog Day, of logging on, and spending their days prescribed by parents and teachers. So, if mom and dad are working or walking the dog, if we shift our attention for even a moment, they drift away from homework or cleanup toward the sunshine. Out to the backyard to play, or to the kitchen to eat, or to their rooms to read. Can you blame them?

It’s not that they are undisciplined, it’s that they have the discipline of seven-year-olds.

They don’t know they are in the homestretch because their days are blending together and there’s nothing to anticipate.

Events and milestones, big and small, like birthday parties, hugs from a teacher, field days, and spirit week themes are forgotten. Who they sit next to in the classroom and play with at recess matters when you’re seven and five (or any other age).

They haven’t played with their friends in 7-ish weeks, and their days are now structured not like the days of little kids, but like adults who overbook their calendar and never leave their offices.

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

I heard them talking about us in the backyard. Mom and dad seem so grumpy. All they do is boss us about homework and cleaning our rooms. They don’t take us anywhere or want to do anything fun anymore.

And they’re right. We are grumps. We do sound like broken records. We don’t leave the house. We canceled our trips, sweat the economy, and freak out when one of them displays symptoms. We are bossy, uptight, and boring.

There are five of us, six with the 100-lb dog, on top of each other all day every day, so no one’s needs are adequately met.

We used to cook as a family for fun, but now that we’ve stopped going to the store or eating out, we prepare every meal together, sometimes for fun, sometimes for survival.

And we save money by not going out, but we pay a premium for Instacart — there’s no comparison shopping or clipping coupons, plus delivery and tip. I suppose that’s offset though by saving time and avoiding the stress and decision fatigue of the store, so maybe it’s a wash.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

By the way, I think our days of grocery shopping are over.

I don’t miss it one bit, and neither does my family. I don’t mind trying the brands I end up with, not getting some things I ordered, or figuring out how to substitute ingredients. Brand loyalty seems to be a thing of the past, too, a silly little luxury before everything changed.

I don’t even miss mindlessly browsing Target and TJ Maxx, which used to be a top-ranked pastime. It turns out the thrill of the find is overrated, and that does not bode well for retail. Plus, when did we ever have time to shop for fun? Can you imagine what we could have been doing instead?

Look, I know how we sound: Privileged. White. Middle class. Viruses, layoffs, and food insecurity affect us all eventually; the timing is just different. It all catches up. We bought a chest freezer, but with three under 8, we eat all day. Yes, I shop at Costco, because the kids go through 5 lbs of apples, 4 lbs of trail mix, and three loaves of bread each week.

If the supply chain breaks down, we suffer too. Our prep just buys us a little longer of a reprieve. So, I stock up and do the math. Does my family notice that I’m rationing food right now? Of course, they do. They’re bright kids. They may not understand it, but consciously or subconsciously, it affects them. And it’s going to leave a mark.

Tonight, I read The Atlantic piece about the small business death march. As a small business owner, I knew the odds were already against me, but now I feel terrified. I can’t imagine how the minority-owned small business owner is feeling.

Although the government is not collecting or releasing data on the racial makeup of SBA-aid recipients — the Center for Responsible Lending has estimated that 95 percent of black-owned businesses, 91 percent of Latino-owned businesses, and 75 percent of Asian-owned businesses have “close to no chance” of getting an emergency loan through a mainstream financial institution.

Yet everywhere I turn, all the entrepreneurs I follow are saying the same things: Keep going, stay the course, people are still buying, don’t discount, show up, it will happen, you’ll be fine. They are reporting record-breaking years and on pace to blah, blah, blah, totally selling the dream. If I hear one more female entrepreneur say “six-figures,” “seven-figures,” or “I retired my husband,” I’ll scream.

If it was about the money, take a corporate job for goodness sake — it’s so much easier.

It’s not about the money.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

For the first time, I looked around at the people I follow: Marie Forleo, Amy Porterfield, James Wedmore, Tim Ferris, Gary Vee, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, Sara Blakely, and others. I could go on, but I’ve already proven my point. Yep, all white. Is that who rebounds and thrives? Those who started young, gorgeous, single, or white? I wonder, are they married with children now, successful, but also failing at parenting?

It’s so hard to know what’s real, if success is how it looks, or to truly identify with other’s lives. Our world has become so personalized, on-demand, that we can’t fathom how others live, even as social media makes everyone, and everyone’s lifestyle, feel so much more accessible.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

It’s not just the richsuper-rich, or stupid rich that live dramatically differently either. I have about as much in common with Kanye as I do with my friends who aren’t parents who post things like “I’m so bored” or “thinking about a coronavirus herd immunity party.” Individual immunity is not yet proven, much less herd immunity.

Come on, guys, let’s be on the same team.

Please. If you play that out, in a family of five, like ours, you’ll see how dangerous it can be. I guess it’s one thing if you’re single and you want to take a chance. It’s another if you pass coronavirus to someone not willing to risk it, with compromised immunity, or a family member.

If one of us gets it, we are all likely to get it, and how it presents in any given person seems to vary dramatically. Even if it doesn’t reach the hospitalization stage, kids touch everything, they need Mama and daddy snuggles to heal, and it’s practically impossible to quarantine any one of the five.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

If a parent is sick, an income is lost, and it falls on the other parent to pick up the slack, both at work and on the home front. If a child is sick, we have to try and isolate one while taking care of the other two, plus work. And choosing which parent gets the hard job of doing everything, and which parent gets the even more difficult task of caring for a sick little one is no picnic either. Especially since inevitably, the kids will want the other parent at some point.

Speaking of trading roles, today, I was going to send out my masterclass launch replays. Yes, I launched during the quarantine. Insert maniacal laugh here. I’ll write about that soon, as there were some incredible insights, but I dropped the ball. Why?

Because my husband was working, and the battery died in our minivan, which is apparently a thing right now. If you think you feel trapped because of quarantine, add the inability to trust your car to start in an emergency, to take your uneasiness to a whole other level.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The way it was explained to me, by both the dealer and AAA, is that if you’re driving very little, and have a relatively new automobile (with a push-button start, key fob, or sophisticated computer always running in the background), you need to drive for more than 45 minutes once a week to keep your battery fully charged.

Add it to the freaking list of s-h-i-t that could go wrong.

I have plenty of time for a road trip. Let me just pencil that in. Oh, and we have a woodpecker that is driving us crazy most mornings at 6 am sharp. My husband wants to crawl up on the roof and investigate. Really?

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Also, I’m in the middle of a big DIY landscaping project.

I didn’t hire it out because I enjoy the work (mostly) even if it’s kicking my ass right now. We are conserving money, and frankly, I needed the outlet.

As counterintuitive as it may seem to add something else to my plate and to-do list, I was desperately missing my cardio and needing some alone time, and landscaping fits the bill. I work out my uncertainty, stress, fear, and restlessness by lifting flagstones and pavers, digging turf, and figuring out the design elements as out as I go.

It offers that same physical zen, mental connection, full-body engagement that I get from spin class. And the rest of my family is staying far away from that project, so I’m mostly alone outdoors, save for the neighborhood looky-loos who might be HOA spies.

Where was I going with all this? Ah yes, May. May is usually my month. Except for this May, May of 2020, during which I turn 45. Holy smokes, 45. I know! It caught me by surprise too.

I had such high hopes for a milestone birthday celebration. We were thinking of Napa with college friends, or Europe in the fall with the kids. Both trips are off the books now.

I love historical fiction and narratives inspired by the world wars, and I share that random tidbit to say, I know how much worse it could be right now. Coronavirus sucks, and yet, we know how to manage against it. We were warned, as opposed to reeling from having a bomb dropped on us.

Still, I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom in the US.

It could get worse before it gets better, and recovery is going to vary wildly depending on your socioeconomic status, and that’s problematic on so many levels. The gap between the haves and have-nots widens again.

I’m not asking to be let off the hook or handing out hall passes either, but I do think there’s a weird dichotomy to balance right now. How do I recognize my privilege, choose in concert with the greater good, and stay alert, while not drowning in hopelessness, political vitriol, or get crushed by the sheer scale and complexity of the problems?

How do I take care of my family, run my business, and have any bandwidth left to do anything else?

Yes, something is off for me this May, and when we get out of alignment, that’s when the friction starts, unconsciousness seeps in, and our goals fade into the background. We yell at the children more, get the wine out earlier, and let deadlines slide. I’m paying attention because I don’t want to veer too far off course.

Maybe it’s the quarantine — I feel like I’m suffocating.
Maybe it’s Mother’s Day — this year, it’s just another day, without anywhere to go.
Maybe it’s 45 — have I peaked? I’ve never asked myself that before. Dear God, is this what the decent feels like?

I’m feeling sensitive and restless, and I don’t want to lose my drive or fail my children. I don’t want to absolve them from responsibilities or shield them from real life either. Does any generation escape unscathed?

Yes, no, probably not. For all of us, life is a mixed bag. Yet, what we fill our heads with creates our reality. Trippy and also accurate. We didn’t create coronavirus or the quarantine, but how we think about it and respond will shape our outcome.

So I’m going to reframe my situation right now, right here, so you can see the power of mindset.

Mindset is everything.

This May is different.

Maybe it’s the quarantine — I feel the preciousness of life.

We’ve nearly made it through another year of school. This summer is the perfect time to double down on what’s working in my business, to take some things off my plate, and to make room to dive deeply into motherhood. We only get 18 summers with our children, and that means 11 to go. 11!

I see ice cream, running through the sprinklers, reading Harry Potter together, and family doggie hikes in our future. I love being a mom and want to savor every moment.

Maybe it’s Mother’s Day — this year, we celebrate at home.

Just like we did when we had newborn twins or three under three, and were terrified of going to brunch. Too much effort. Did I mention how lucky I am to be a mama?

Maybe it’s 45 — look how far I’ve come.

I’m so grateful for the years, the lessons, and the blessings. I love doing life next to my hubby and friends and look forward to becoming even more during the next 45. I love life; it’s so, so good.

Photo by Sergei Solo on Unsplash

We aren’t failing our children; we are parenting in a pandemic.

And it’s challenging on many levels. We mess up, but when we do, we get up, dust ourselves off, and forgive each other. We look for the good, and we model resiliency, and we reset our compass.

We keep shifting our vantage point, our eye on our North Star until we feel optimistic and hopeful again. And then, we focus on love, and everything else falls into place.

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