Wednesday, June 24, 2020

If I'm home all the time, why can't I get more done?

I've been a mom for almost 17 years now. I've weathered the traumatic birth of my first child, juggled a full-time job and parenthood and successfully pulled off eleventy billion things to keep my kids healthy, educated, entertained, socialized and All The Good Things. And then comes a pandemic that has me housebound and yet, for the first time in my life, I am finding it impossible to get things done at home.

My job, I'm on top of. Our babysitter has returned and on work days, I hole up in the office in our attic and go to it. (Ben has only run naked into office Zoom calls twice!) But other parts of life at home are not holding up as well. Back in April, I was so fired up: I power-washed everything in the backyard, organized the basement, and tackled the garage, too. But now, mail sits unopened, it takes me five days to put away clean laundry, I can't keep up with texts from friends and when oh when am I going to get around to having the loose boards on our deck fixed? For months, Dave has been asking about putting up a photo of Ben among the family photos that line our stairwell. Still no pic of Ben. The days go by—Monday, Tuesday, Blursday, Blursday—and once again, I am left wondering where the time has gone.

I am one of those people who likes to get stuff done, and not GSD-ing makes me feel unsettled. One reason for this (er, besides three children) is that I've been going to sleep earlier, whereas BC (Before Coronavirus) I'd stay up late to plow through chores and paperwork, talk with Dave, and sit on the couch and write this blog. I'm not so much physically exhausted as I am emotionally fatigued and anxiety-ridden, and crawling under the covers is more appealing than ever.

The other thing that's happening is that I am utterly and totally burned out about picking up after everyone in my family. SO. BURNED. OUT. A few years ago, I wrote a post that went viral about all the itty-bitty stuff I handle in our household. (It was called "I am the person who notices we are running out of toilet paper and I rock"—who could have imagined that a shortfall of t.p. would be no joke?!) With everyone at home so much, our place gets extra-dirty and extra-cluttered. Routines have fallen by the wayside, and people aren't doing their fare share of chores. That leaves me Dustbusting the crumbs under the kitchen table, picking up wet towels off the bathroom floor, and the person in the backyard at twilight dumping water out of the plastic pool so it doesn't become mosquito larvae bait.

Could I care less about an organized existence? For sure. There are definitely days when I've stopped giving a damn. But at the same time, having a (somewhat) clean and (somewhat) neat home gives me peace of mind and a much-needed sense that life is under control even when our world is not. So I decided to put in a call to our company's Employee Assistance program, and snagged a few sessions with a therapist. I am glad to openly discuss this: There is no shame about seeking help you need and there should be no stigma around seeing a therapist, these days more than ever. Moms of children with special needs are juggling a whole lot, especially ones whose children can't do virtual learning or virtual therapy or who need hands-on care but aren't getting their usual help.

It may come as no surprise that data from an ongoing study funded by NORC at the University of Chicago finds that Americans are the most unhappy they've been in 50 years. (So far, no study has shown the percentage of moms emptying out pools in their backyard at twilight, although I suspect the number is high.) While good mental health is obviously important for everyone, parents owe it to their kids. As tired as I am of that oxygen mask metaphor about putting the mask on yourself before you share it with your children, the message is essentially true. If parents are feeling burned out, it filters down to our family.

These days, it's easier than ever to do therapy because many shrinks have gone virtual—no having to haul yourself to an office. Just grab a computer, find a hideout, log on and you're done. And if you don't have access to a therapist or this isn't the time to be paying for one (definitely check your benefits), weekly Zooms with friends can help. My other form of therapy takes place on Saturday night Zoom sessions with my two besties, where we group gripe, group freak out about the pandemic and the future, and group laugh.

Margie and I had a good session this week. I needed practical suggestions, and the best one I got was having a weekly family meeting to discuss both delegation of chores and fun things our family can do. My plan is to also get into what keeps every one of us feeling content and calm during these trying times, and how we can all help each other. (Max will for sure bring up his dream of moving to Los Angeles—maybe it's time to get him another L.A. t-shirt.) We'll be doing our family meetings Sunday night, complete with tasty snacks. And afterward, someone other than me will be Dustbusting the crumbs from the potato chips.

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