From one mom to another mom, the bare minimum is enough
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
I have what my husband likes to call a “rom-com” life. You know, like the movies where there’s a career-driven woman as the lead character. She’s busy and hard-working and has a fast-paced job in some fabulous place like a magazine or a tech start-up and then she gets swept off her feet by someone she never expected. That’s how my husband describes me. I’m the ambitious one with the “cool” job (I started my career in TV news, then moved to a radio station and now I work at a digital marketing agency where we can bring our dogs to work and come to the office in yoga pants) and he’s the laid-back, dreamy musician. If rom-coms have taught us anything, it’s that opposites attract.
Now imagine our leading lady being forced to stay home in a months-long quarantine thanks to a global pandemic … oh and by the way, those movies are coming. I expect to see “A Christmas Quarantine” coming to the Hallmark Channel in the near future, but let’s get back to our strong female lead ... she’s not going to handle that well. She’s not used to slowing down, being out of control or being told she can’t do anything. She’s going to have an existential crisis, and that’s where I found myself recently. Great movie plot line, not so great to live out.
At first, the idea of it was kind of fun. The Coronavirus wasn’t anywhere near where I lived (at the time) so I wasn’t scared. Plus, some extra time with my boys, snuggled up on the couch watching movies sounded like a much-needed break. An excuse to relax. I can handle that. At 11 and 9, my little guys are getting not so little anymore. So, I thought, this will be a great opportunity to get some quality time. My kids were thrilled at the news. No school for two weeks was the best news they had gotten since back to back snow days earlier this year. As TP started flying off the shelves, I went to the store too. But I wasn’t panic-buying, I wasn’t even really preparing at all. I bought puzzles and popcorn and everything we needed to bake chocolate chip cookies. Our corona-cation was set to begin.
But what was lurking around the corner was anything but a peaceful time to reset. Like many parents, I was suddenly thrust into being a homeschool teacher, and not a very good one. I found myself juggling conference calls and client deadlines all while trying to help two kids understand their schoolwork, uploading homework assignments and making sure we had all the supplies we needed to keep our home running smoothly. It’s a lot, but I can do this, I thought. After all, this is the only thing I can control right now, and control is my comfort zone.
My quarantine day one Instagram story included photos of the puzzle the boys and I started (Pro-tip: 1,000 pieces was a mistake for rookie puzzlers) and a clip of us all cuddled on the couch watching “Up.” Day 2 is when our homeschooling started. I made the color-coded daily schedule, customized for my family (not one of those generic ones from Pinterest) and we were set to do this thing. Don’t worry Instagram followers, we got outside to ride scooters, we did an online drawing lesson and played “Just Dance”. Imagine the following being said in my best Instagram influencer voice, “A lot of you guys have been asking how I’m doing with this virtual learning thing...let me tell you, I’m crushing it.” I was proud of us.
The kids went to bed and I opened Facebook for the millionth time that day. It had become a reflex. I didn’t even think, my finger just navigated to the app on my phone as if it had a mind of its own. I needed to see the latest COVID-19 news and couldn’t get enough of the virus-related memes. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and just couldn’t stop. Live virtual tours of the local aquarium, zoos from across the country and museums all over the world — I thought, I should do that with the kids tomorrow. My boys love to do hands-on activities, so I read about 15 articles with ideas for science experiments to do at home with your kids and saw a free online baking class — definitely adding those to the list. Oh, there’s a story time with my son’s favorite author, don’t want to miss that! Just got an email from my gym with online cardio, yoga and kids fitness classes, I must add that to the daily routine. And you know those painting classes you can do for a fun night out? Well guess what, they’re showing you how to do the painting right in your own home!!! My list of things I had to make sure to squeeze into our new socially distancing lives was getting longer and longer and I hadn’t even really processed what was happening. Just keep going, that’s what I knew how to do.
Day three hit me hard. A total sucker punch. I didn’t see it coming. I thought things were going well...why didn’t I want to get out of bed? I scrolled and scrolled from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, constantly giving myself a meaningless five-minute warning to get up and get moving. My motivation was zapped, and I was mad at myself for not trying harder. I still have this under control, I thought.
Friends and family reached out. Texts saying, “How are you doing?” “I’m going out, do you need anything?” “How can I help you guys?” started to pour in from amazing people in my life. “I’m good,” I’d text back. “I think we have everything we need,” I told them and myself. But that wasn’t true. We needed groceries, dog food and basic household items (thankfully, not toilet paper) and with an immuno-compromised husband, all the shopping needed to be done by me. It’s all going to be fine, I’m not worried, I’m not scared. I said these things over and over to myself as I worked on the 1,000-piece puzzle … alone at my kitchen table. Have you ever heard stories of firefighters who find a person folding laundry or just sitting at the kitchen table while their house is on fire? That was me with this puzzle. I couldn’t handle what was happening around me, so I just focused on the puzzle.
A couple more days passed, and I sunk deeper into these feelings that I couldn’t understand or explain. I truly didn’t know what was going on with me. It was out of character. I’m a planner, a doer, a let’s-get-moving-and-not-waste-the-day kind of girl. Why all of a sudden could I not get myself to do anything? I pushed it all aside. There was no time to process emotions. Besides, I had my family, my home and a fridge full of food, I didn’t deserve to be moping around the house.
The governor’s press conference telling the state that we were going into a more restrictive “shelter in place” order sent me over the edge. Another week of no school for my kids. More businesses were being closed. My husband was laid off. We are only supposed to leave the house for groceries, gas or medical needs. My thoughts went from “everything is going to be fine” to “This.Is.Never.Going.To.End.” That’s when I snapped.
I wasn’t okay and after some tough questions from close friends and family, I was finally ready to admit it. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared and worried and completely overwhelmed. On top of an overall fear for our health and our finances, I had all this pressure to make this quarantine a magical time of memories for my kids. There was so much free content out there and if I didn’t consume it all, then I was just wasting the opportunity. On top of that, I felt like I needed to be the strong person for my kids, for my husband and for my team at work. I was trying to be a rock for so many others that I wasn’t allowing myself to figure out how I was feeling. When I finally opened up about what was going on in my own head, I came to a couple conclusions. My hope is, that if you’re feeling these same things, maybe this will help:
The bare minimum is enough. That is so hard for me to say. I’m not a bare minimum person (see all of the above). You don’t have to do all the things. If your kids don’t have breakfast with the hippos on Facebook Live and story time with a celebrity at bedtime, THAT’S OKAY! Right now, just being safe at home is enough. Don’t get me wrong, I think the content that is available to us right now is incredible and I love the creativity of how our world is finding ways to come together when we can’t be together physically, but if it makes you feel bad for not taking part in it, then it’s not worth it. Do the things that add joy for you and your kids, not the things that bring an added layer of pressure to be the best gosh-darn quarantine mom on the planet. Right now, it’s literally about keeping our families safe, not about competition and guilt.
Simplify. We always talk about being more present and being on our phones less. NOW IS THE TIME. Put the phone down. Stop the scroll. Play board games, take walks (keeping safety guidelines at the forefront) and talk. My kids are talking so much right now and making sure that I’m fully present and able to listen is of the utmost importance.
Accept the roller coaster of emotions. Ride the highs and expect the lows. Some advice I got from a brilliant co-worker was to take advantage of those times when you get a wave of productivity and then embrace those moments when you just aren’t feeling it. The highs and lows are more intense during this time, it seems. Accept both and take them as they come.
Redefine strength. I found myself not wanting to admit when I wasn’t feeling okay because I didn’t want to bum anyone else out. I didn’t want to bring them down. Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t be vulnerable and honest. Tell your people when you aren’t doing okay. Be honest with your friends and family about your feelings and make sure to give yourself time to process them yourself.
The simple fact is … these are crazy times we’re living in. Give yourself grace, love your family hard and stay safe.
Afton Spriggs is a working mom of two boys, Jude and Beckett. She and her husband, Ryan, are lifelong Metro-East residents. Afton spent most of her career working in digital content for traditional media companies (TV news, magazine and radio) and now works at a digital marketing agency in St. Louis. She loves sports, trying new recipes and traveling.