‘Pandemic fatigue,’ ‘quarantine brain,’ ‘parental burnout’ —just do an online search and without a question, the struggle is real for us parents and guardians during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the pandemic’s mental health impact is especially dangerous for new moms—especially black moms. And suicide is on the rise for Millennials, my generation. In my life, mental health has never been so covered in the news and openly talked about as it is right now.

And for that reason I feel like a broken record typing this, but honestly how did parents since the beginning of time handle extreme times like these? I digress…The point of this series Coronavirus Chronicles is to document mom life right now, so here’s how parenting during COVID-19 feels like right now.

What Parenting During COVID-19 Feels Like

Kristen McMenamy as “the mermaid” in Tim Walker’s The Muse (2014) short film.

When I was a small child my dad used to say comedically to m, “don’t drive me up the wall” when I was driving him up a wall. He was learning English at the time and it was a new phrase he learned that very much resonated with him. I’m so very much in his shoes now and boy do I feel his pain. But there is one big difference between our two parenting experiences: I’m parenting during an unusual time: a pandemic.

Being a mom to a 2-year-old during a pandemic began to feel like drowning for me last month (July), when the famous terrible-twos stage really began setting in. And the undercurrent of COVID-19 safety restrictions is making it even harder to come up for air after every “incident” (toddler tantrum, toddler destruction—you know how it is parents).

TV Broke By Toddler
A day that will live in infamy: July 29, 2020.

The worst of the terrible twos I think is over…We don’t have a TV anymore, but then again I remember thinking that April was the worst of it— when she locked herself in her room. Boy was I wrong! I’m still on track to have a head of completely white hair, but wow is it going to be a wild ride getting to that point.

It could be argued that our daughter would’ve knocked down our 65″ TV beyond repair even if there weren’t a pandemic restricting her activities. She used to tire herself out playing with other kids back when she could go anywhere, but as with what-ifs, you’ll never know.

The worst part about a day like the one when the TV died is that there weren’t any breaks for me. And to top it all off, Eileah kicked me in the eye at the end of the day, while we were all in bed watching something on my iPad. I started to cry. Mommy felt broken. I had had one too many stress hits and I needed some space; some quiet; some time to do nothing.

Geoff talked with Eileah in her room and a few minutes later we resumed family time with lots of hugs—we were back having fun together and laughing. Reassuringly, from what I’m hearing from other moms, this is a typical end to a day in the life of a parent during the current pandemic.

What Advice Would A Parent’s Inner Child Give?

I’ve heard that a person’s inner child is supposed to be their original or true self. Kids definitely do re-teach you how to enjoy life. So I ask myself, how would little Stephanie advise big Stephanie on the extra stress I’m dealing with?

I have no idea, but I remember some things that used to make me feel better:

  • Playing with my Barbie dolls.
  • Consuming a lot of something I liked.
  • Talking with someone on the phone.
  • Being outside.
  • Doing something arty like drawing.
  • Watching TV.
  • Taking a nap.

Probably the best thing we can do for ourselves as parents is sleep.

Of all the self-care activities experts write about, hands down sleep hygiene is the most cited and emphasized oned. It makes sense —sleep is one of the essential needs of all living beings. And yet, I’ve recently learned some scary things about lack of sleep in my research. For example, I learned that not getting enough good sleep and rest can lead to psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. And if you go too long not getting enough sleep (especially restful sleep), it can be life threatening if you let it go on too long, especially if you have a preexisting condition like PTSD, depression, bipolar, etc.

Desperatly Seeking Parental Sanctuary

Sometimes you have to do something off the wall when you’re being driven up a wall. Aside from the usual coping mechanisms in the imaginary parent toolkit, I recently had a psychic phone reading. Not suprisingly, the spiritual sector has been experiencing quite a boom in businesses for the last 10 years. I spoke with Katarina from the Astrology Boutique in Orland Park (alternatively she goes by (Orland Park Psychic), oh and she’s the daughter of Tinley Park Psychic Bianca). I was skeptical about it because I assume that a psychic can only read you if you are physically in the same room, but I did feel better having talked to another young mom like myself. I just wanted a short phone reading with someone who could give me an outside perspective and facilitate that kind of privacy you get from seeing a therapist. I don’t know what it is, but even though I already had an intuition about the things I was asking Katarina, and didn’t really need her to confirm them, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than someone you know. Why? I don’t really know, but one theory I have is that maybe it’s because a stranger sees us the way we are, with no previous history or experience with us. And not as they wish us to be.

We can’t exactly go to a church confession box right now. And there really isn’t a place to escape to so we can steal a few winks. Right now parental sanctuary is wherever you can find the time and the help, but again, COVID-19 safety restrictions limit outside daycare options. My in-laws live very close to us, but they still work full-time and retirement is a few short years away. So my husband and I are at the mercy of our daughter right now. Maybe I’ve been watching too much kid programming during this pandemic, but I can’t help but think of how Quasimodo must have felt not being able to leave Notre Dame. OH yeah, and there’s that scene in Disney’s version of The Hunchback and Notre Dame where Esmeralda shouts “Sanctuary!” so Monseigneur Claude Frollo can’t emprison her.

People dying before their time is always sad, but there’s always that undercurrent of a reminder of how fragile our own lives can be. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

New Phase, Still Feels Like Groundhog Days

Even though we are in Phase 4 of the pandemic reopening plan for Illinois, daily life isn’t back to normal. I feel like our homehas become like my old dorm room back at UIC, during that historic snowfall when the university shut down all the campuses ( February 2011), which only ever happened one other time in the school’s entire history! I miss going to places with my daughter and being able to hang out with people our respective ages. Our big thrill now is going to McDonalds to get fay-fay (a.k.a French fries) after we explore a forest preserve or park with our dog Samantha in tow. For me, my thrill is driving to get our mail with Eileah in Geoffrey’s old battery powered fire truck. It takes longer to get to the mailbox, but by golly it’s things like that that you need to keep the days from feeling like Groundhog Day. Variety really is the spice of life, and Geoff and I are trying our damndest to keep coming up with new things to do, make, and learn with Eileah.

On top of the pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty and unpleasant things going on in the outside world that we need to distract ourselves from (ie.e. Beirut bomb 8/4/20, etc.). Coping with parenting during this pandemic is definitely one for the books. But the thing that always helps hope float no matter what is remembering how blessed you are to be with your loved ones through this time. Take two hugs and call me in the morning.

Shout out to kristenfan10109 for this amazing fanart that captures the way many parent feel at the end of the day, these days.

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