By: EJ DeBrun
Reading about the Wuhan City quarantine against the devastating effects of the COVID-19 virus last January 2020, my first thoughts went directly to the all the parents of children who were now forced to stay confined inside their homes with said children because difficult as these kind of measures are for all adult households, such strict levels of confinement are exponentially more difficult when you’re sharing a space with people too young to handle their vegetables touching their rice on their plate let alone understand why they can’t go outside to get as dirty as possible in five minutes. I should know: I have two such children in that difficult age group, a pair of boys aged six and four.
Both are good and sweet kids and of course I love them, but as with all children their age they require around the clock attention and care and providing that attention and care is a lot of work. In fact, it is a full time job in it of itself, and like many writers who also double as the primary caretakers of their children, I used a combination of school, preschool and grandparents to help balance my obligation to my children so I could fulfill my obligation to my work.
This balance isn’t limited to the labor itself because being creative isn’t a trait I can simply turn on and off at will. It’s something that defines me to the point that the stories and words are always running in the background of my mind until they eventually need to get out onto the page, be it while the kids are in school or in bed or out playing with their dad. So the more I read the reports about the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy and the subsequent shut down of schools and businesses as the Italian government wrangled desperately to contain the virus, the more I dreaded the day when the pandemic would inevitably force the United States to take similar actions.
And then it did. On March 13, 2020 (so appropriately also Friday the 13th) I received notice from my older son’s elementary school that they would be suspending classes indefinitely in response to COVID-19. My younger son’s preschool held out a little bit longer; they didn’t close completely until the following Tuesday when the six Bay Area counties enacted their “shelter in place” order. Two days later, the “shelter in place” order was expanded across the entire state with no end date in sight.
And from the wider national, global, point of view this is a good thing. More than that, it is a necessary thing because without taking such extreme actions, thousands, if not tens of thousands, will not only succumb to this illness, but many also die of it. For that reason alone, it has never once crossed my mind to defy or resent the California government for making this incredibly difficult decision and I will do my part not just for me, my family, and everyone else in my community but especially for the front line workers out there putting their lives on the line so the rest of us can live through this crisis.
On a personal level though, I have to admit that this has absolutely upended the system I created to balance my work as a writer versus my work as a parent. Between the stresses of staying at home and managing the household (My husband is still working. With deadlines no less.) as well as the children, the energy that I used to spend on my writing has gone into keeping our family fed and our household environment stable. It has gone into searching the stores for food and supplies, come up with ways to sanitize myself after every shopping trip, finding places where it’s still safe to take a walk, learning the elementary school’s new system of online teaching, figuring out how to do the lessons with my older son while keeping my younger one occupied, handling the everyday stress as the daily news of the situation gets worse and worse, and all the while, that drive to create, to write, hasn’t stopped running even if my ability to produce quality work has.
The results? Creative frustration and, if I’m really honest, a bit of resentment because other creatives are able to stay home and work during this crisis without small people constantly tugging on their elbows for water or food or TV or wiping their butts after using the toilet.
Neither of those emotions are useful so to resolve them, I have decided to do what I did when my eldest was born with a heart condition that threw me my first parenting curve ball: I am taking a step back and making the adjustments I need to balance myself under these difficult times. This means reminding myself that writing is a long game. It means channeling my limited mental energy to editing older chapters instead of writing new ones. It means recognizing that writing after a long day of dedicated teaching and childcare isn’t viable and shifting my work time to the early morning hours. It means communicating with my husband so that we can work out a system so that he can ease some of the burden off my shoulders.
It means enjoying my children and this time we have together even if their constant squabbles and interruptions mean that simple tasks take three times longer than they should.
It means taking breaks and finding ways to relieve the constant stress, either through exercise, reading, talking to friends, games, or watching TV.
It means forgiving myself for the inevitable evenings after the kids are in bed that I simply won’t be able to muster the energy to do anything more than curl up on the couch and veg.
It means taking each day one at a time until we get through this.
We will get through this.