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Imbalancing Act: 'We’re Doing It, We’ll Get It Done, But It’s Not Going to Come Without Its Price'

Lacey with her wife and daughter.
Lacey with her wife and daughter.
Photo: Kim Ebbets
Imbalancing ActImbalancing ActMothering during the covid-19 pandemic

Lacey Vorrasi-Banis, 41, an entertainment journalist, lives with her wife in Los Angeles. They are working full-time while splitting care for their daughter, whose preschool is closed due to covid-19.

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My daughter is four-and-a-half and will be like, “Mommy look at this, Mama look at that,” it’s just every thought that is unfiltered from their tiny little brains. So, we trade-off being the point parent. Our schedules keep fluctuating because my wife will have meetings or I’ll have meetings. Sometimes I unexpectedly have to pop on a call. We talk the night before or in the morning before the day starts about the meetings we have, we’ll swap notes. We’ll tell her, “Mommy has this to do, so go to Mama if you need anything.” This week is especially going to be hard because we’re closing the issue at the magazine where I work. This is going to be my busy time. My wife emailed her boss last night to let him know she may be out of touch a little more than usual for that reason.

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We are continuing to work full-time, and even more so. There’s no clocking out. In magazines and media, there’s no time that you’re not working, but there is a technical start and end time, especially if you work in an office. When you’re at home with the kid, though, your start time is when you open your eyes and your end time is whenever you close them, because, especially with having to trade off childcare and perhaps not giving as much time to work as you normally would during the day, we make up for that at night after she goes to bed. I’m anticipating a lot of burnout from parents. Parents are used to it, this is what we do, but now there is less definition and fewer boundaries. We’re doing it, we’ll get it done, but it’s not going to come without its price, and I don’t know where we’re going to cash that in. That’s the biggest concern for me.

I’ve started doing lessons with my daughter this week. Every morning at her school they do circle time and learn a lesson on whatever topic, each week has a theme. I’m not that organized, but I pick topics that I know she’s interested in. Today we learned about pandas: I pulled some facts about pandas, we watched the San Diego Zoo and Smithsonian Zoo panda webcams. She saw what the newborn pandas look like, but you can’t really tell how small they are from a video or a picture. So, I filled up a little plastic bag with four ounces of water so she could feel what that felt like. We learned about bamboo, I cut out some coloring pages with pandas on them, and we made a panda mask. I have a few other lessons planned out for this week so that she’s still learning something.

We have tons of Play-Doh kits and I got a ton of puzzles. We bought brown paper bags and we’ve now made a football team’s worth of puppets. We have a ton of magazines, so she can cut out those. We have stickers. We have all of her paints. [“I want finger paint,” her daughter chimes in from the background.] I was a summer camp counselor when I was a teenager, so I really like coming up with those kinds of projects. Those are my strengths and my wife is more of the patient caregiver. She’s handling all of our meals. We speak to our strengths in that way. It works out pretty evenly. Then we divide up housework.

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We try to get outside once a day. I take my daughter to my wife’s work parking lot to ride her scooter, because it’s not crowded, it’s covered in case it’s raining, and she really enjoys going down the hills. For our nature walks, we’ve started doing scavenger hunts. We pick a random assortment of things that we think we’re going to see on the walk and have to look for them as we walk. We took her over the weekend to one of the more wealthy neighborhoods with the larger streets. I figure their yards are big enough that people are staying in their houses. We went over to Beverly Hills, where they have really large sidewalks and she went scooting. It’s been very trying of our creativity to think of ways to still get outside, still have fun, and not be around people.

My daughter’s smart, she sees the store shelves. We’ve told her about the virus, she calls it “the sickness.” We wash her hands consistently. We’ve told her that it’s called covid-19 and it’s making people very sick around the world and we have to do our part and stay inside. We were on the walk and people were coming down the street and she was like, “Six feet!” There’s a kid in her school who, months ago, was going around telling the other kids, “You’ve gotta wash your hands or you’re gonna die!” She’s not worried, she’ll just have random questions here and there.

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If I think about this all for too long, I will personally just be like, “No, I don’t want to do it.” If I find myself thinking about it, I just focus on my daughter in that moment. In the end, she’s the thing that is most important to me. Everything that I’m doing is for her. I feel overwhelmed, but I can only take it an hour at a time, at the most. If I get beyond that, for me, personally, it’s too daunting. It’s way too Sisyphean to think about how long this is going to go on for. The scariest point is that we don’t have an idea when this is going to end, because we don’t have any faith in the leadership in the White House to do the right thing or see us through. That’s terrifying for us as parents, as people. At this moment, though, what can I control? I can control what I’m doing at work. I can control what my child is doing, relatively. I can piece those hours together one day at a time and, for the foreseeable future, not worry about next week.

Before this, I would always make a point to spend the mornings at my daughter’s school, because I didn’t have to be in the office until 10 a.m. She gets to school really early and I would stay with her almost every day and just hang out and help the school, just so I could be around her to make up for the time that I miss at night. Young children go to bed early, so if I stay at work until 9 or 10 at night, I miss her bedtime. If I stay at work until 7, by the time I get home, I maybe get 5 minutes with her. It’s always weighed very heavily on me. Now, with this, I don’t have to get up every morning and wonder, “Am I going to get any quality time today?” In that way, I hate to say this, but it’s been a blessing—not that I wish this, not that this is the way I wanted it to happen, at all.

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As taxed as I make myself seem on Twitter for having to entertain a four-and-a-half-year-old all day, I would say that this would be the best thing to come of this: I get that quality time. You almost start to take it for granted and I’m trying to be cognizant of that every morning when I wake up or in the difficult times, because this is what I’ve wanted for so long. I keep trying to focus on that. I’m tired and I’m exhausted and I cannot hear another inane thing about some random thing that she drew that I still can’t identify no matter how much she explains it to me. But, hey, know what, I don’t have to rush home, I don’t have to bring a book to work or read to her over FaceTime just to see her at night. I get to put her to bed at night. I get to see here through all the meals now.

We’re two weeks in, so let’s talk in two more weeks, but for now, my goal is to keep that in mind every single day.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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