This is not sustainable, I proclaim.
It is March, and my son sprawls in front of the TV, fingers crossed, hoping for a break from school. He’s been struggling, and his teacher doesn’t get him, so this is welcome news for him. My daughter scowls at him. She’s desperate for this to blow over fast. It’s long past the scheduled time for the announcement, and he’s leaping off the floor in his underwear, dancing gleefully while she’s furiously texting friends. It feels like a snow day, but it’s time for bed. We are weary and uncertain and wondering what this all means.
There are butterflies playing tag on my nervous system, and he can feel them. I am drowning in a wave of guilt as he deflates and starts to think. He cautiously asks if this will last until his birthday, and we are quick, too quick, to reassure him because he was born in September, so obviously, this is not a reality we have to prepare for.
She’s stalking around in angst thinking about the performance they’re working on. She wants to know how they will practice, and I am not a prophet, so I cannot tell her it won’t really matter even as I recognize a growing pit somewhere deep in me.
Hello, Dread. I haven’t seen you around for some time; I almost thought you were just a dream.
This is not sustainable, I think, as I push my desk into the corner of my bedroom and begin to suffocate my creativity. This is my cubicle now, and I will start to decay. But the door opens, and my husband is back at home because the bus didn’t show up and we don’t have a car. Stay-at-Home-Dad is the wrong size on him. Teacher is a trigger. He cannot be both. He will rise up to the challenge as hard as the nightly fall that breaks him. He will look around at the mess he cleaned already and see the dishes and laundry and food and whirlwind of emotions tidal waving over him. He will cry and tell me he is sorry he never really understood when I said I was breaking, but I will already have turned cold and indifferent.
This is not sustainable, I scream as we fill in form after form for compensation that mocks my husband’s choice to work with his hands and wait for things to die down while death parades around the world, killing arrogance and empathy all at once.
And then the world starts spinning so fast that we cannot keep up.
My desk is in another corner, and they found a way to get my husband to work, and now I am Work-from-Home and Stay-at-Home and Teacher at once, and it is not sustainable.
I write this after a day I barely have the energy to describe, but I will try because you deserve to know.
I write this with aches in my soul and a sinking heart as I tuck my child into bed and watch his jaws unclench.
I write this while I agonize over the prescription I will reluctantly fill tomorrow, as I reschedule my work for the early morning hours and late into the night, as I choose a chunk of time, way too much time, where I will allow screens to step in for me and give me a working afternoon.
I write this as my son asks if he’ll have to do it again tomorrow because now he can’t sleep.
I write this knowing that you will think you’ve risen up to where he is.
Do you know where he is?
He sat in your classroom day after day, trying to understand you. He ate his breakfast like a good little boy, packed his bag like a good little boy, and swallowed his pill like a good little boy so that he could sit in your classroom and you would not have to adjust.
Do you know what we did every day when he came home?
He melted, and I could not stop myself from the puddle that made me become.
Because there was more to do, more to sit and hurt his head over, more to fear.
You didn’t do anything wrong.
He just needed you to do something right.
And you didn’t because you didn’t have to.
Because like a good little boy, he swallowed his pill and couldn’t eat the whole day and melted in the afternoon and spent his night wracked with anxious thoughts of what you might think.
And you didn’t, did you? Think of him…
I know you didn’t because you told me he’s just fine… a sweetheart…
You are right. He is a sweetheart — a sensitive, anxious, scared sweetheart who doesn’t speak loud enough on Zoom and is afraid to tell you that he can’t hear you when you stick your nose into the camera and yell at everyone to mute their mics.
And he’s panicking about learning on his own and all the expectations you put on him while you check in for 15 minutes and call them all sweethearts from your home and your full pay and your assumptions that we have enough computers and a strong enough internet connection and your refusal to ADJUST.
Do you know now where he is?
My little boy accepted this reality like a champion.
My anxious child bent his mind to accommodate something bigger than all of us.
My warrior sacrificed everything! No resistance. No self-serving concessions. He gave up his world, and all he asks is that I hold him when it feels like it’s too much.
I wipe his tears. I tell him how proud I am. I applaud him and all the children we have forced to adjust.
He’s risen higher than you could ever imagine.
And then you send another message, and I read another line…
Here is the schedule… make them sit again… make them adjust again… but don’t you dare take anything from me…
And so, dear Teacher, after all this time you have finally taught him something……that children can be bent and broken, children can be scarred, while you smile and refuse to adjust.
And I am aware that many teachers across the globe have risen to this challenge and have adjusted, but I don’t have peripheral vision anymore because this is not sustainable.
And I mumble it to myself as the air gets too hot to inhale and the masks press against my face. My daughter falls into puberty alone in her room. My son follows me around because he developed separation anxiety, and summer stretches like lava across hope and burns us in places we only just discovered. I am not okay, but neither is anyone, so I cannot bear to write.
This is not sustainable, I hear in my head as I buy new desks and chairs and another laptop and send in my updated work schedule and try to breathe just like everyone else in the world, and I take pictures of them and post them as though this is normal.
I have so much to say
About #ADHD and #virtualschool
About #anxiety and #socialdistancing
About #parenting children in 2020
About #swivelchairs and #stressballs
About #ritalin and #adderall and the hilarious joke they are when structure is gone
About the big, giant feelings that come swarming through WhatsApp messages and emails and group texts that you barely understand and cannot keep track of
About working between the chaos and pretending it’s fine
About being fine
About not being fine
About everyone knowing what I mean
About no one knowing exactly what I mean
About feeling like I can’t breathe
About being thankful that I can breathe
I have so much to say
And nothing really to say
And then it’s not a joke anymore, and I cannot pretend, and it isn’t even as bad as it’s going to get, and I come clean to the world, and I expose my truth of the day.
I click post, and the picture looks hopeful, and my fears feel less real, so I pour them out willingly because I’ve got this.
But… the Zoom class is over, and it’s time to do the work, and we descend rapidly into a place that frightens me more than the hell I’ve walked through.
In this place, there is no time to snap a photo of the child huddled under the desk shooting angry words I am not strong enough to absorb, so they slip under my skin and pierce my heart.
There is no time to describe the way I lose it and how I don’t have anywhere to go to take a breath and count to fucking ten and how I raise my voice and charge at him with Power because
I’m your fucking parent, and that’s why you have to do it. I don’t care how much you hate me. All I’m asking you to do is look at the damn question and realize that yes, you do know this, and no, it’s not so fucking difficult because they are doing their best to make it simple. I’m doing my best, but you’re not even trying, and maybe I should have made you take your pill because I rearranged my schedule, no my LIFE, to be sitting here next to you and holding your hand through it, but you won’t even LET me…. and look at me – LOOK AT ME!!! Now we’re BOTH screaming and crying and how can we do this if it’s like this, how can we DO this if I’m like this and oh my baby, my sweet little boy, look at what I’ve become… please, I need a minute, I need a minute to find my way back to you…I’m so sorry, so sorry, I’m sorry look – you did it, you did it…I know it wasn’t so hard…let me wipe your tears… no sweetie, I’ll wipe my own, they are not your responsibility… I have to go to work now… we’re going to figure this out… I’m going to be better… no, sweetie, you are amazing, and you try so hard, and you needed me, and I lost myself and please forgive me, baby, I am so sorry, so very sorry… I love you so much… you do NOT love me more silly… okay, fine, you can think that if you want.. I love you, I love you, I love you.
And I am still and silent and trembling and empty and lost as the tears that have been filling my soul drown another part of me and wash it up for all to see.
I am ugly and bloated and wracked by waves I should have known how to ride.
Look at me… look at me and see how a mother must remain exposed for vultures she calls to feed
I will not bury the wretched in me.
Look at me… look at me and know that I have failed.
I draw this picture of me.
I draw the shame, and I mark myself guilty.
And I post.
Now we are here. He turned 10 in lockdown. She slipped into 13. Her silence is deafening. My husband and I are a unit. Some days we parent. Some days we love. Some days we get to work. Rarely do we sync, maybe we never did.
Somewhere along the way, this became sustainable because I am still here. I am still shaking my head and mumbling words I want to write, and there are still moments where life goes on, and the world has spun our lives into something we don’t know but have somehow learned to live, and I am undone.
I have held my thoughts in like the breath I don’t deserve. Who am I to write of pain? Who am I to highlight my struggle to the world when so many cannot inhale? Who am I to say this is unsustainable?
I do not know the ending to this. I don’t know how to paint the future we are meant to emerge in. But I do know that I am holding the brush, and my colors have blended together. Maybe that’s it. Maybe this is how it’s meant to end. Perhaps the shade of everything is the color to paint the sky.
But who is painting it with me?
Are you still reading? Are you here with me, alone in your chaos? Are we becoming pieces of a puzzle someone can solve? Or are we mismatched and broken, scattered in our isolation?