Pandemic parenting

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I imagine it is quite like what Noah’s voyage on the ark would have been like, had all the animals been awake and loose for the duration.


By L.E. Nizhnikov

Shockingly vivid dreams are a symptom of motherhood. They begin in the third trimester of pregnancy and extend through the sleepless nights of the first year. Some of us are able to go back to normal nights of sleep while others, like myself, have them forever. I will give you an example of a terror inducing dream I had the other night. I wake up in the morning to news of a global plague, spreading indiscriminately, aided by ease of travel and government mishandling. My children are cavorting around the breakfast table, half-dressed wild things, gleefully informing me that school, after school activities, and playdates are cancelled for the rest of the year. We are to live lives of complete isolation and the entire word has run out of toilet paper.

This would be the part where I wake up in a cold sweat, bedsheets twisted around my thrashing legs, sweat pouring from my body. But nope.

It’s just Tuesday.

I’ve been asked to write an article about what it’s like to be a parent at a time when all the world is shuddering in the flux and panic that seems to define our days. I can only assume my readership are those who are not parenting at the moment, since those who are will have no time to even pick up a newspaper, let alone read one. I, myself, am writing this piece, hunkered down on my bathroom floor in the dead of night.

So allow me if you will to paint you the picture of what my life has become since the standard pinch that, for time immemorial, has awakened us from nightmares stopped being an option.

I imagine it is quite like what Noah’s voyage on the ark would have been like, had all the animals been awake and loose for the duration.

The large predators are at each other’s throats, regardless of the fact that they have plenty of food and space between them. The gentle prey animals cower and scream incessantly while the monkeys and birds cause a riot of noise and confusion. Mealtimes are an absolute disaster that extend from when everyone awakens until they all fall asleep, exhausted from wreaking havoc. The boat rocks continuously from side to side, harried by unknown currents and terrifying noises.

And there is no toilet paper in here, either.

As the Noah of this Ark, I plod the decks and plug the holes as the waters gush down, doing my best to keep us all afloat, worrying anew when I see through my spyglass that some of my friends are sinking. Some of them have already drowned. I know in the back of my mind that these four walls are all I have to keep my family safe…but without knowing how long this will last, who will rescue us from each other?

My life has become the repetitive cycle of a washing machine; I am being slammed and spun around and around until all that’s left of the vestiges of my life before pandemic parenting have washed away. I went from being a stay-at-home mom who worked part time and had finally found time to pursue her passion for writing, to a full time cruise director, teaching assistant, lunch lady, and tech support professional overnight.

The brilliant, inspirational heroes that I now recognize as my children’s teachers have pulled together to give us all a semblance of normalcy by sending school home. The meetings they lead and the work they assign have managed to structure most of the children’s days enough to keep them busy and prevent wholesale slaughter. But the children cannot do it alone. At least not in this Ark.

For the most, part our way is probably smoother than most. I have a type A personality, a penchant for planning ahead, and a master’s degree in elementary education. One could say I am uniquely situated to deal with this type of crisis on the homefront; yet even with these advantages, I find myself completely overwhelmed.

With five children aged 10 and younger, including a toddler and a preschooler, even the “fun” activities cause so much stress and planning I find myself wishing at least once a minute that I could just plug my entire family into The Matrix and be done with it, letting them all waste away in mindless “Wall-E-esque” oblivion for the rest of our confinement.

Of course I won’t, because as every responsible director knows, the show must go on. I tell myself that I cannot succumb to panic or hopelessness because the moment I show weakness it will be seen and documented by the eyes and minds of the creatures I vowed to protect. So, the schedule goes up on the fridge and we do our best to follow it. I awaken my children in the morning and insist they get dressed (even if I’ve been in the same outfit since last Thursday), because even if this is our new normal, it needs to be normal.

I spend my day shifting between “mom,’”and “ma’am,” as often as needed. The mornings are a blur of glitching tablets and attempts to bend technology to our needs. The afternoons are a short respite of “free” screen-time so I can breathe for an hour or two while the baby naps. The nights are endless pits of darkness where I lay awake staring at my bedroom ceiling wondering what the world will look like if we ever reemerge; wondering if when I fall asleep the world will go back to the way it used to be before I realized this wasn’t all a bad dream.

So I walk through my home… the place that has become our entire world overnight… dumping buckets of water to put out all the fires, cooking and cleaning up after 30 meals a day, and taking this all one day at a time.

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