The reality behind the smiling faces
The dog’s snores and the dishwasher’s quiet burble are the background music to my racing thoughts. My husband retreated to the bedroom after our passive aggressive, or possibly more aggressive than passive, monologue about the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on me. My anger is unreasonable, and I know it. But, it’s not so much seeing red as seeing green. My jealousy because he spends most of his days being called by his name and interacting with other adults is overwhelming.
What am I doing? Am I any good at this? Are the children ok? How is virtual learning going? Is my younger daughter getting enough Spanish in her day? Am I doing enough to help her learn to read, in English or Spanish? Am I doing enough to help my older daughter navigate fourth grade, looming pre-teen years, and all of the attendant changes that accompany it? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?
My privilege is evident with every step I take. We have a beautiful home, plenty of food to eat, clean water, in-home internet access, and our school has provided devices for virtual learning. My family, both immediate and extended, are healthy. But, pandemic life has my ADHD medication strained to its limits. Our worries are still abstract compared to so many others.
Two friends have lost their fathers. They were not able to be with them at the end because of the pandemic. I can’t be with them, to help ease their pain, for the same reason. I haven’t seen my own parents since February. Another friend is back to grinding her teeth from the stress, and another worries about how much longer she can run her own business and run virtual learning. I try to write.
Women at mid-life. Women on the edge.
We haven’t slept well since March. We try to catch a moment’s break, after making lunch, in between Zoom school sessions and our own work, but it slips through our fingers, a specter fading fast, as young voices ring out with questions and requests. Maybe later, with a glass of wine.
We march forward with determined happiness, look at the bright side, we can’t break down because there is too much to do. With a smile on our faces and in our voices, we help older children understand schoolwork, take little ones on nature walks, do homemade science experiments, and troubleshoot technology issues. But, don’t test us. Our patience for outside drama and/or willful ignorance is nonexistent.
Introspection is a thing of the past now. We’re in survival mode.
Within my friend groups, I know at least ten women who have left traditional careers to become their own bosses. We’ve launched businesses or started new careers that we do around the schedules of the other people in our lives, or when everyone else sleeps. We volunteer for non-profits, political campaigns, and march in the streets. We act as room parents. We’re mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. We do it all while wondering how much more we can handle. But, we do it because we want to and we know it’s helping other people. We send each other messages that use phrases like “I don’t want to bother you”, but know that commiserating with one another helps.
We need an escape, but reality constantly impinges on it. There’s no escape if your conscience whispers not-so-sweet nothings to remind you that your privilege is what makes the escape possible. Drink more water. Eat healthy food. Get more exercise; it will clear your head. Make time for yourself, but don’t put yourself first. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you. You’re doing great; no, not like that!
We’re ambitious and confident. And, we look at our lives with both intense love and more than a little trepidation. The refrain doesn’t change. Am I doing enough?
Women don’t have time for a mid-life crisis. We have too much to do.
*My thanks and apologies to William Faulkner for the title inspiration.