No School, No Camp. It’s Like I’m Taking Care of Toddlers All Over Again

Taking Care of Toddlers

I woke up this morning, the thick humid air already covering me like a blanket. I’d missed the window to get out for a short run before it got too hot. I’d missed the window to escape for a few brief moments with my own thoughts, the fantasy of a productive day twinkling before me like a desert oasis.

Because BOOM! Run or no run this day will look like all the ones in the months before it and all the ones to come for as far as I can see. It’s a never-ending loop of cooking, cleaning, nagging, nagging, nagging. We have fun too, sure, but it’s not like the kind of fun you really relish as a break from a solid week of hard work and accomplishments.

As school years end and virtual grad celebrations wrap up, you may be hoping for some relief from the homeschooling grind. I was, but I haven’t found it. Even though my kids are old enough that I don’t need to hover over them to keep them from falling down the stairs or pulling down shelves, they still seem to need some sort of structure imposed on them by someone else. And that someone else has to be me right now.

Sure, I can barricade myself away to work, but every time I do my children turn into zombies. I’ll walk through a room and there’s one of them slouched over, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed in the glow of some screen or another. I honestly suspect that one of them hasn’t changed their clothes for over 48 hours. I’ll bark at them to turn off the screens only to have them gravitate to a different screen a few minutes later.

And I’m not any better if I’m being honest. I’m getting the bare minimum of work done, mostly lolling about in a daze with my phone in hand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started and stopped writing this very essay, for example. I’m annoyed with my kids and annoyed with myself. On weekends I get to add my husband to the mix.

Of course, it’s not so helpless as I make it out to be. I’ve even put together half-baked plans to give the kids projects and assignments to keep them busy. But it’s a lot of work to figure out how to structure their days and then to keep them on task! We have entire school systems and seasonal camps that are set up to do that. And I do try to kick them out of the house every day for exercise but it’s hot during the day and all the pools and playgrounds have been off-limits. So if I don’t plan creative socially distance-appropriate outings on a daily basis they wind up back on the couch before long.

And I just don’t want to work that hard, to be frank. I shouldn’t have to do this again. I’ve already done this! I put in my time!

I’m sorry. I know it’s selfish to complain. We are so fortunate to have health and financial stability right now when others are barely holding on. But it truly is a mind trip to feel catapulted back in time. Just when I’d found a daily rhythm that included time for my kids and myself (time for marriage and friends and family, even!), I’ve been dumped back into a round-the-clock existence that revolves around household drudgery and keeping the kids engaged.

I have worked from home as a writer since my kids were babies. I put in years of fighting against the limits of a mortal day, desperate to carve out time for myself. And in those days “time for myself” wasn’t going for a mani-pedi or having brunch with a friend. I would steal an hour or two a day to write. Some things I wrote for money, others for a sense of community, but all of it was essential to my existential well-being. It helped me cling to a sense of self.

Other than those couple hours, those days were full of mess and chaos. To a large extent, I was the kids’ entire world and they were mine. It was exhausting. But I also embraced that life and revelled in it because taking care of those snot-nosed trouble makers was important and rewarding and I’d given those years over to it.

But that is not how life is supposed to be anymore. We’re going into grades 4, 7 and 9 next year. High school! My kids don’t want me to be their whole world anymore. And I sure as hell don’t want to be theirs.

Still, we’re healthy, safe and secure. We have access to books and games and movies and (praise be) unlimited internet. We’ll all get through this and maybe one day I’ll even miss it. I mean, probably not, but who knows.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start planning our week of summer vacation during which we will stop spending all our waking hours together at home and pay money to be even closer together in a backwoods cabin somewhere instead.

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