This mother of six needs a little social (media) distancing

The writer's green spring desert. (Amanda Borschel-Dan)

Being a mother of six is, at the best of times, similar to the job of airport traffic control. But between my very full-time work, the kids’ school, sports, scouts, their doctors and dentists appointments — and my twice-weekly yoga classes — I generally manage just fine.

And then came the coronavirus.

I counted the other day and I’m in 11 different WhatsApp groups for the kids’ judo alone. Yesterday, the instructor sent 30 video clips of exercises. I have five different scouts groups, each of whose troop leader is constantly sending messages of love and support. There are neighborhood groups (“Anyone have a puzzle?”), and one for the synagogue I sometimes go to (on the high holy days at least) and one for the one I don’t, each of which are conducting virtual prayer sessions and Torah lessons.

And there are of course an assortment of different family groups, from Twinlets (which is me and, well, the 14-year-old twins), up through to a massive group, filled mostly with forwarded jokes, but also questions for the one doctor in the group, which includes most my Israeli husbands’ aunts, uncles, cousins, and his siblings.

All this social (media) distancing is a little overwhelming.

Last week, schools across Israel were closed and our kids, ages 7-16, are at home. Besides constantly eating, they are meant to continue studying. And actually, after years of distance learning drills — Israel is always on almost-war footing — the kids all have some kind of schoolwork to do.

But remote learning requires swarms of WhatsApp messages: My second grader’s gym teacher assigned jumping rope, whereas the fifth grader’s math teach sent pages of math sheets (we don’t have a printer) and the fourth grader’s English teacher explained what exactly to read from three different books.

There are too many blips on my radar to keep track.

Most of the day in our new normal, the three teens sit in front of their computers in classes taught by frazzled teachers, sometimes holding babies, sometimes on spotty internet. Last week, for the first several days, the three youngest spent much of their time visiting friends and playing outside.

But slowly our circles are closing in. Friend visits are no longer allowed. My yoga classes are canceled, but I can still walk the dog and admire our desert home’s beauty.

As we navigate these uncertain days, I’m happy my chicks are all in my nest. Ironically, I was supposed to have flown to the United States right now and to visit my almost 95-year-old grandmother. Now, I really don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, a thought I have each time I leave her.

My Israeli-born husband is accustomed to seeing his mother several times a week — but since last Friday she is on lockdown in her sheltered living facility in Jerusalem. For her part, she claims she’s happy not to prepare her lavish Friday night meals, and glad for the vacation from minding the grandkids. But he is going through withdrawal and phones her several times a day.

It’s natural to desire a closer connection to humanity in times of crisis. But personally, I guess because I am anti-social, I don’t really miss meeting people and breathing the same air.

My solo immigration to Israel over 20 years ago gave me the distance learning drills I need to be able to physically keep away from my family and friends, but maintain strong relationships with them — even if through forwarding jokes.

A version of this blog appeared on the People of the Pod podcast, which can be heard here.

About the Author
Amanda Borschel-Dan lives in Israel, where she and her husband are raising their six always hungry children. She is The Times of Israel's Jewish World editor.
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