The world shut down entirely in March 2020. It was so unexpected and so shocking and no one knew for how long, how it was going to pan out.
Regardless of this, there was a sense of collectivity in our isolation. We were socially distanced together #TogetherApart became a slogan coined to keep us all connected. Pople reacted differently to the new norm: some went on productivity overdrive and shamed those who were processing the shut down differently. Single people living alone felt the pandemic in a different way as all of their social supports were cut off - from the daily coffee run to interaction with the neighbour in the hall way to going for lunch or dinner with a friend.
Parents especially working parents felt it differently because we were thrown into working from home full time with kids around. The educational pressures weren't fully yet felt as most schools were waiting out the pandemic and we had no idea whether there would be a return to school physically or not.
Regardless of all this: we were all in the same storm even though we realized that the boats were different.
Fast forward to back to school and we are no longer in the same storm and neither are we in the same boat. Depending on how your city, province, state, country handled the first wave, back to school is a mishmash of: in school learning - in our case in Quebec schools are fully open with no option of homeschooling; virtual learning from home which some parents have opted to and in other cases there is no option - this is what children and parents have to do; homeschooling for those who don't have the option or for those who did choose to do so - while still juggling work. It is quite clear that we are so not experiencing the same impact of the pandemic.
Work has also picked up pace tremendously. Where employers were understanding and even merciful with their staff hoping to stay afloat, work culture is slowly shifting. The previous checks and balances of meetings have now disappeared. On any given week, my schedule involves meeting after meeting after meeting. Pre-pandemic, you had to find a meeting room and the physical limitation of this used to prevent a slew of back-to-back meetings. This has been replaced with limitless time-slots and on any given week we are clicking in and out of meeting after meeting after meeting. The strain of screens on our brains as well as engaging and having to look at multiple faces staring back at you including your own - is like talking both to yourself in the mirror and 10-15 other people simultaneously.
I am so privileged to be able to do this - a lot of people have lost their jobs, have had to close up a business and are not able to keep a float. That doesn't take away from the fact that the virtual world is much more demanding. What may be celebrated as success during a pandemic is leading to more and more expectations and ironically the empathy and emotional intelligence that was the focus of most work-related discussions seem to have been lost in this latter/second wave of the pandemic.
The fact that my kids are currently in school and daycare means that working from home looks quite differently. This is not the case for colleagues who are trying to balance virtual school for their children which is for the most part a disaster. Children are expected to stay engaged in front of screens for ALL DAY virtual school with little or no tech support. Teachers are now forced to be tech support to children while simultaneously trying to teach AND parent their own. Children have varying degrees of support from parents who still have to feed the insatiable appetite of this virtual working from home beast in a way that was never previously demanded of them.
So in this context, the talk of a second wave is not only looming it is frightening. In march we couldn't fathom that the entire world could shut down and we watched in disbelief as cases of covid19 increased, as borders shut, as work shifted 100% to a virtual mode. Everything we thought impossible happened. And then economies opened again and we had a semblance of normalcy as summer hit in Northern countries. If there is something that this pandemic is exposing it is that how child care is managed is a key factor in allowing women to participate in the global economy and to work. And as a second shut down of schools looms, the inadvertent impact on women's ability to keep working. Parents are exhausted, women are exhausted and this is just the beginning to a long looming winter. For now we can hope that employers don't forget that we are all still in a pandemic and our mental health still matters in fact now more than ever. We have to keep a close eye on our own mental health as we navigate working from home, daycare/school closures and increasing pressures on us with little or no support due to the second shut down that is imminent.
In this context, the thought of a return to where things were in March is triggering for a number of reasons.
1. We've been there we've done that and we're scared
Ignorance is no longer bliss. We know what it is like to have to get through teleconference after teleconference while yelling at the kids to keep it down knowing full well that they are also processing what is happening and they are grossly neglected. We know how draining it is to not have a break between work and home and parenting and caring and the thought of going back to it full time is daunting. For places that didn't open up, the hopelessness of having to run on empty for another stretch is not only discouraging it is deflating.
2. Was it all a waste of time?
What once felt like a control over the situation: curves flattened and cases managed, now feels like an unravelling and undoing of progress and good achieved. For those of us who social distanced, and haven't been to the movies or to a restaurant since March 2020, the looming risk feels like all that deprivation was in vain.
3. The risk of COVID19 is more real than ever
While we were collectively watching the daily updates and the number of cases, we were united in processing the pandemic. As curves began to flatten and cases reduced including daily deaths, we have began to release a slow and collective sigh of relief. Although we have all tried for the most part to maintain the public health measures, theres been this sense that the direct risk of COVID19 has been handled. The creeping up of the new cases and the high levels of daily cases are now taking us back to that risk: that COVID19 is not only here it is menacing again which is worrisome especially for us with kids at school/daycare.
4. It's a catch 22
For those who have kids at physically at school, working from home is much more manageable. What isn't manageable is the constant worry that the children are exposed and their safety is not assured. Not only that but there is also the managing of symptoms: every time your child has a runny nose, you have to keep them home and while many provinces are updating the regulations to exclude runny noses, the fact is that children are going to be sent home alot more often for falling sick. Kids at school and daycare share all sorts of viruses on a regular basis. Factor in covid19 and that puts a new and undue pressure to keep kids and in other cases siblings home whenever one has the slightest hint of a cough. For me this is like having a snow day every time it snows: snow will happen over winter and so will colds and runny noses. On the other hand, for parents with kids at home, it is increasingly clear that it is not sustainable for both parents in the case of two parent homes to keep working and simultaneously teach children with or without virtual support.
5. Women are bearing the brunt of this
Working women are feeling this the most. While there are a lot of engaged husbands and partners in the equation, the reality is that many more women are impacted by the pandemic. Early on in March/April, there was talk of the pandemic forcing more women out of the work place. In this current back to school context, it is even more of a reality particularly where home school/virtual school is required. For those who are fortunate to tag team between partners, there is still an undue burden on the women to do the mental workload around planning for homeschooling AND maintaining house AND the household chores/duties.
6. First time parents are having a rough time
Giving birth is scary - giving birth during a pandemic with little or no support is even harder. Sending kids to daycare for the first time is hard, having to do that in a pandemic is harder. There is that extra layer of worry and uncertainty when you factor in covid19. Having the option for grandparents to help is available for some but during the pandemic this extra support is not available.
7. Let us go to the throne of grace
I am finding that as my worry level is increasing that I am going into the presence of God more and more - for grace, for encouragement for comfort, for a picker upper. I am in my Word so much more because I need encouragement now more than ever. I am praying over myself my children, my family those in the circle. Let us depend on God once again to help us get through this season: for wisdom to know what to choose; for protection over our most precious loved ones; for joy and strength which is hard to come by when you look at the grim reality of things.
Let us try to draw upon the positives from the last few months which is that we are now using a lot of the tools available to us such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp video calling to be closer to those who previously felt much further. If I can be honest about something: I am so glad I don't have to commute anymore and the reduction of stress because we are not rush rush rushing to work to daycare to pick kids up to make dinner to put kids to bed. Let us also not lose sight of the greater context. While learning is important, our mental health is much more important and let us not sacrifice one for the other neither for our selves nor for our children. They will NOT remember what they did or didn't learn in this season but they will remember that we did the best that we could with what we could. And that's more than enough.
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