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'Just Like Treading Water': One Mom on the Stress of Managing Virtual School and Full-Time Work

Rebecca celebrating Willa’s birthday.
Rebecca celebrating Willa’s birthday.
Photo: Rebecca
Imbalancing ActImbalancing ActMothering during the covid-19 pandemic

Rebecca, 43, is raising her daughter in Oakland, California, with her longtime partner, while working full-time and overseeing virtual kindergarten. 

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My daughter Willa is 5-and-a-half and doing remote learning for kindergarten. We started the school year in early August with one half-hour Zoom class a day, which was just kind of to make sure kids knew how to use Zoom. In the beginning, she would hide from the Zoom. She did not like the idea that people could see her. That was a struggle in itself, just getting her to sit down and participate. Now she loves it. She loves raising her hand and participating. I just hope the whole school year doesn’t go by on the computer. She’s like, “When do I start kindergarten?” And I’m like, “Well, you started kindergarten. It’s just on your computer.”

Now she does three half-hour Zoom classes a day. There’s a math class, a reading group, and then there’s a huge community group where the whole kindergarten class is there. She’s still figuring out how to un-mute herself if the teacher calls on her. I’ll be working on my computer, hear her name called, and then I’ll have to put my computer down and help her out. A lot of times she won’t hear the teacher or there will be a tech issue that I have to troubleshoot or she’ll get kicked out of the Zoom meeting. I have so much paper that the school gave me and then the teacher will be like, “Show me your math packet homework,” and I have to find that for her. I’m like her little personal assistant sitting in the corner.

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The parents were instructed to log into four different platforms to access student daily activities and student homework and writing exercises. There were porch pickups for art activities and weekly lesson plans. It’s up to me and my partner Eric to go through these packets with her and do all this homework, which the kids actually share the next day in class, so there’s more pressure to do them. After the Zoom calls in the morning, she doesn’t want to do homework. I try to do a few pages with her in the later afternoon. My dad who is a retired schoolteacher tried doing schoolwork with her one day. She was supposed to trace the word “me” and write it ten times. It took him ten minutes just to get her to write the letter “m” one time. Then he kind of gave up.

I’m a reader and we read together a lot. I’m not a big math person, though. The teacher did a math assessment at the beginning of the year and Willa needed help with numbers. That’s the homework that kind of falls by the wayside. This morning she was writing her numbers backward and I can tell that she needs help—help that a teacher in a classroom would probably provide, but I’m not sitting there practicing her numbers with her every day and I feel bad. She’ll eventually get it, but she’s not where she would optimally be with a teacher’s attention.

One thing that adds to the stress is I have some friends, moms of kids who went to preschool with Willa, and their social media presence is picture-perfect: little desk, organization, kids doing homework. It all looks so perfect and easy. That’s really hard to deal with. I actually need to call up my best friends and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, is this as hard for you as it is for me?” and they’re like, “Oh my god, it’s a mess.” That makes me feel like I’m not the only one trying to hold it together. I try to not be on social media.

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Eric’s a woodworker, so he just leaves at noon and then he’s gone for the rest of the evening. I feel lucky that Eric’s stepped up and really wants to be involved with her school work. I would say we split overseeing the Zoom classes. I do most of the homework and organizational stuff with her, but having his help has been really valuable.

As a full-time lawyer, I’m getting emails every day with requests and questions. At work, it’s reactive, day to day, putting out fires instead of doing bigger projects that I really should be making progress on. If something comes up at work, I’ll put Willa on a screen, which doesn’t feel good. Luckily, we have an outdoor patio here, so she can play outside while I try to do work. We got a covid kitten, Chia, at the end of May. Willa spends time making Chia toys, playing with her, and that helps when I have work to do and can’t give her my full attention. I am trying to do the best I can, but it’s a lot on my plate. My boss had hinted at wanting to give me more projects. I could possibly, one day, be in line for a promotion, but it’s really hard to go that extra mile right now. I feel bad, like I’m not performing at my A-game.

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I’m feeling pretty depleted. I’m trying to take it day-by-day. The thought of doing this for another three months is just exhausting. I’m trying to carve out some more self-care, like taking walks by myself if I can get a break. Really leaning on my mom and dad to come over and play with Willa for two hours so I can have some space. I got a therapist two weeks ago, just to have someone that I can talk to about some of the stress. I’ve only had two sessions, but that’s felt good. It can be a little overwhelming, thinking that this will continue because it’s just like treading water.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

snide-o-mite
Snide-O-Mite

I feel lucky that Eric’s stepped up and really wants to be involved with her school work.

You shouldn’t though. I don’t want to be harsh here, but this is his child as much as yours. He’s doing his part. That is not luck; that's the bare minimum requirement.