***WARNING: The following blog post was written by an exhausted mother of three who has been locked in her home for the past nine weeks.***
This essay is basically my brain exploding on paper. Do not read if you’re looking for parenting advice or a glimmer of hope. Let’s begin.
At first these words were synonymous with family time, relaxation, catching up, Zoom happy hours, sweatpants, in-home workouts, and binge-watching. Now they are synonymous with HOUSE ARREST. And not the cute, tongue-in-cheek Lindsay Lohan kind, but the lonely, soul-sucking, get-me-out-of-here-I’m-going-
What’s that you said? Oh… you’re doing fine? As a matter of fact, you’re actually enjoying this time? Really making the best of it… is that right? Exploring new hobbies? [Insert smoke-coming-out-of-nostrils emoji.] I’m gonna be direct: if you’re one of these people, I can’t talk to you right now. We are no longer friends: my brain will either explode with envy or shrivel from misdirected frustration into a disgusting remnant of discarded week-old food (need a visual? Just look in any highchair, I have several).
Let me lay this out for you. I have three kids: ages 3 1/2 , 23 months, and 23 months. For many of you, this might be ‘nuff said— but for those who don’t get it, let me elaborate:
I forgot what silence sounds like. My kids scream non-stop. They can’t verbally communicate well, even though cognitively they know what they want. And my house doesn’t have carpet—so there is nothing to muffle the sounds as they reverberate off every wall. There is nowhere to hide from the constant screaming. Not even the bathroom is safe. Try to pee in silence, let alone listen to yourself think…never mind, don’t waste your precious energy.
Let me be clear, I love my home. It’s new, beautiful and spacious. I am lucky to live here and to have a small enclosed patio. But like many American urbanites, I don’t have a yard. There is no enclosed, outdoor space for my kids to run and play and burn off some of that toddler energy. And I’m going crazy. So yes, I am incredibly fortunate… but I’m still going nuts. Because I’m still a mom: a working mom. I’m going through a divorce: a messy, public divorce. And I have three small children: one of whom has a disability. This is my personal experience and, well, it’s really hard.
As many of you know, one of my twins has PVL. PVL is a brain injury diagnosis that is often a precursor to a Cerebral Palsy. Everyone is different, but for Hart, PVL mainly affects his motor skills (he struggles with balance); his proprioception (he struggles to know where his body is in space, causing him to trip and fall often—so next time you see a scratch on his face, please refer to this sentence as explanation); his language (his tongue has difficulty making the proper movements to communicate the words his brain already knows); and his attitude (he screams out of frustration very, very often and also hits and bites). To address these issues, Hart participates in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy several times per week. But for me to try to takeover these therapies at home as a single-parent – it’s impossible. Between trying to get my own work completed and fighting for Hart’s focus (while also keeping the other two kids occupied), it just doesn’t happen. Therefore…
I feel guilty. All the time.
Around February, before the stay-at-home order went into effect, I’d already noticed that Hart had plateaued in therapy—and nothing the therapists or I did seemed to help him progress to the next step. It was the first time I’d experienced a therapeutic plateau, and I felt very alone. Even special needs mamas don’t talk about these plateaus… so I was completely blindsided by this demoralizing development.
But that demoralization was months ago. February. Now we are in May. And Hart has regressed.
That’s right, Hart’s current status is below the level of that depressing plateau I just told you about. His balance is much worse than it was at the end of 2019.
And I feel terrible for not being able to devote more time to him. So to make myself feel better, I’ll list my quarantine excuses here:
- I work full time. (Maybe I should change this to “I worked once upon a time.”) I have a podcast, I’m working on two big secret projects, I produce advertisements, I write this blog, I straddle residences 1,800 miles apart, and I’m a full time mom.
- I have a live-in nanny. Sounds amazing, right? Yep, it is. And she is a God-send. But it doesn’t free up as much time as you think (or as I wish). Aspen isn’t in school right now and she is a HANDFUL. Picture a heightened version of my extraordinary energy, then miniaturize it to an illogical and frustrated toddler. Keep in mind I have a plethora of opinions, and I seem to have passed this trait onto Aspen, whose top debates topics include why she should be able to wear an Elsa dresses on her bike, eat copious amounts of candy, or boss her brothers into doing ridiculously dangerous activities, like jumping off chairs.
- I’m worn out. In addition to the mental toll this crazy time has taken on all of us moms, the anxiety is taking a toll on my physical health. When I feel witchy enough to leave all three kids with my nanny to go on a run outside, I get worn out because I’m not used to that exertion.
Aspen sleeps in my bed. Don’t judge me yet…I’ll give you that opportunity in a second. I thought I was okay in justifying this concession by being empathetic for her basic toddler needs of extra comfort + security after her dad and I separated. Well that’s the altruistic excuse. Here’s the logical one: I have three bedrooms in my LA rental. The nanny takes one, the twins take another, and I take the third one… with Aspen. Prior to this bed-sharing situation, I had her sleeping in my walk-in closet, but inevitably I granted the permanent transition to co-sleeping.. It’s now been six months. (Please, thoughtfully use this moment to judge me before continuing on. Good job! Feels good to get that haughty judgement out, doesn’t it? ) Anyhoo, I have no personal space. The kids are all up in my grill during their waking hours, and after they all go down to sleep (between 6-7pm – that’s right! It’s still daylight hours! Have I redeemed myself? No? Whatever…) I still can’t claim my bedroom sanctuary for myself.
I can barely work. Once, I tried to record my podcast from home, and I couldn’t complete it… not only because I couldn’t be honest and transparent about talking about sex/sexy things IN FRONT OF my three toddlers (imagine that?!), but also because they are so LOUD it becomes impossible. I’ve tried locking my bedroom door but they scream, bang, and the echo chamber home in which I live wins the round yet again. As Murphy’s Law would dictate, my WiFi is terrible in my bedroom, so I end up having to record my podcast over cellular data with a delayed feed – not ideal for establishing a conversational flow that’s so essential in podcasting. Thankfully, I have a girlfriend who quarantined at her second home, and graciously allowed me to take several hours refuge in her empty home for recording purposes.
Emails? Deadlines? Forget about it. Emails and deadlines are hard to do on a normal day, but add in house-arrest with three toddlers, and enter the twilight zone of career purgatory. As I write this actual sentence I have AirPods in my ears with Ed Sheeran blasting his innocent, provocative lyrics but my kids are actually SCREAMING over the top volume my AirPods can muster. The instinctual mother in me is activated as my right thumb goes numb (residual herniated disc trauma triggered by the stress of a screaming child, I kid you not) and I try to logically tell my brain that many mothers work and this is A-OK. And I’m right! But someone try telling that to my now completely numb right thumb. Great, now I’m gonna have to do a release. The nerve paralysis is now traveling up my thumb to my elbow. This is happening in real time, people. I’ll continue to type with a numb thumb and elbow, Andy Grammer in my ear, and my spawn screaming outside my door. This moment could be useful for some inspired piece of literature at another time, but for now I’m simply going insane. .. Someone pour me a drink for the love of god. This is not a drill!
*** I warned you several hundred words ago that this wasn’t gonna be pretty. I went into diatribes about esoteric and unrelated personal woes.
Oh well. Quarantine is weird. Our experiences are weird. But I guess what I’m trying to say is I think we all need a space to let it all go – and not just the trauma we’ve collected over the last two months, but we need to process all of the manure confronting us every day. Without quarantine we can hide from our nagging insecurities, but during this time we’ve been forced to really look into that ugly mirror and see all the parts of ourselves and finally DEAL with it. I mean, I just gave you a close-up view of my “ugly.” Yours is different. Maybe uglier, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter because it’s not a contest. All we can do is use this time to let our ugly out.