A Coronavirus Grows in Brooklyn

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I have never been a journal person. To me it felt like a self-indulgent way to spend my time. (I have an inner voice that is super harsh in that way.)

Shockingly, I have decided to start one, because yesterday I realized that this whole thing might be a really momentous, formative time in my little gremlins’ lives. At that same moment I also realized that I couldn’t remember anything from the past two days. So that was weird.

I have read a few things like this saying that keeping a journal can be good for your mental health. On the one hand, the phrase “self care” makes me nauseous. But on the other, if an astronaut tells me it is good for me, I guess I will listen. This pandemic thing is hard, and I will do absolutely anything I can to keep my mind healthy. A healthy mind really helps you cope when your kids are sad over things you can’t fix. They miss their friends, they’re worried, and they are getting tired of doing the same puzzles over and over again. I mean, I can “fix” these things to some degree, but I can’t fix them, you know? Sadly I am not an epidemiologist.

So for what it’s worth, here is one mom’s very honest, unfiltered journal of simultaneously being a full-time stay at home parent, an artist trying to keep her dreams alive, and a sudden home-schooler. I am posting it here, because I don’t know… maybe it will make someone out there feel less alone today.

Starring:

Gremlin 1: Lovely seven-year-old human girl-child.

Gremlin 2: “Spirited” four-year-old hobgoblin

Spots: Very sweet cat, but not too bright as cats go

Here we go:

Day 1: Can’t remember much, but I know I took Gremlin 2 to the dentist to have his broken tooth checked. I may have gotten emotional while thanking everyone there for coming in to the office that day. I think we were the only patients.

Day 2: C & H & kids came over, thank GOD. Kids played, parents vented, BBQ feast, Guinness for St. Patrick’s, and lots of laughs. (Play dates are one of many things being hotly debated right now. But we are keeping it contained in the extreme – just two pandemic partner families, down to one as of Day 5, none on Day 12.)

Day 3: Mo Willems and lots of backyard play. I love Mo Willems so much. He is the Mr. Rogers of our children’s generation. Scooter trip to the sewage treatment facility. Gremlin 1 had her first virtual art after school class and loved it. Gremlin 2 said: “I think the statues in the museum are alive right now.” He thinks that when there are no people in museums, the statues come to life. Good day.

Day 4: Not as good. Frozen Two and donuts.

Day 5: Tickle monster tag has become a daily routine. Surprise Facetime with R & baby L. B & L are leaving the city. E & M already left. Almost cried for the first time but didn’t. Had one last pizza movie night with B & L. 

Day 6: Gremlin 2 said: “Basically, Mom, our cat has a big butt. Almost his whole back is his butt. He has the biggest butt in this whole family.” Hungover. Our building is empty – everyone has left. Started a drawing club on Instagram: @melancholics_anon

Day 7: Getting into disco. Gremlin 2 had an epic tantrum because it’s too many days until Christmas. Gremlin 1: “Blackbird pooping in the dead of niiiiiiight.” Spots sat on my feet while I was doing the dishes. Sweet kitty. We finished a puzzle and he sat on that too.

Day 8: Makeovers. Gremlin 2 now has blue-black fingernails and toenails, and since he is dressed in all black most of the time, he looks like a teeny-tiny Goth. Gave Gremlin 1 a haircut because her hair was turning into on giant knot on the back of her head. We also listened to kind of a lot of Phil Collins. I really don’t even know why. Things are getting weird.

Day 9: I don’t remember this one so well, and it’s not even over yet.

Day 10: I just have to whisper this into the Internet: I am getting really tired of playing trucks with Gremlin 2. I don’t like trucks, and he always makes me be the smaller, slower truck and I lose all of the races. I’m not even allowed to talk – he tells me what my truck says.

Day 11: Sunny day, got outside a lot. We biked around the block and it was pretty stressful. I think people don’t like seeing kids outside. They are probably worried the little germ demons will get within 5 feet of them. From what I have read it is incredibly unlikely, like impossible, to catch the virus from someone walking past you outdoors. But whatever. I guess it’s understandable if people are anxious. I am anxious too, but about different things, like playing trucks for 2-3 hours a day everyday for months. So anyhow I shouted at the kids to stay six feet away from people the whole time, but it seemed like they still had fun. J&L visited outside the window. I’m so glad they are staying here.

Day 12: [WARNING: NOT FUNNY] Finally cried. My husband got annoyed with me. I’m trying so hard but he’s annoyed by me. I’m not even sure why or what I did but I apologized anyhow, just trying to make it better, but I think I made it even worse somehow. It’s a hard day for me and I guess I let it show. I’m not sleeping much because Gremlin 2 is waking up 2-3 times per night, and I read something this morning about how this is going to go on not for weeks, or months, but probably at least a year. I am sad for my kids. This is their childhood. They only get one childhood. I am really trying to make this time at least okay for them, and I think I am failing. I’m sorry this journal was supposed to be funny. I don’t feel very funny today. Well I definitely feel funny, but not haha funny. Did yoga, while crying. I guess that is self-care. Also, C&H are leaving too. So… almost all of our friends are neighbors are gone.

Day 13: Better than Day 12. I started a drawing club on Instagram, and a few people are doing it, so that’s better than no people doing it I guess. (Please join! @melancholics_anon) The kids watched about 6 hours of TV today. I’m not proud, but at least I got some creative work done.

Day 14: Two weeks down. How many to go?

Day 15: Started strong, pancakes for breakfast. Another scooter trip to the Sewage Treatment Facility. Had to go to the pharmacy for allergy meds. Everyone in masks. Forgot my mask at home. (Typical!) All very weird.

Day 16: Just barely muddled through, more Phil Collins while vacuuming. The volume of teacher emails that I wake up to every morning is causing a daily panic attack.

Day 17: Gremlin 1 found a bird skull in the yard. So cool. We did clay for family art project. Gremlin 1 made a pinch pot, I made a little clay dude, and Gremlin 2 made a very impressive surrealist bird skull. Feeling completely overwhelmed by school work for Gremlin 1. Think I should say something to her teachers, but I don’t know how. I’m fine with prioritizing our mental health over academics right now, but they are hounding me for missing assignments. Unreal. I appreciate what they are doing, but can’t they understand that 3 hours of academics are completely impossible for some right now? And really, some families are at a huge advantage if those are the expectations. 1 hour? That would be achievable for almost all. Fuming.

Days 18-43: So hard. On the whole, NYers are angry and touchy. Taking the kids out, once per week, masked and SFA and constantly SHOUTING 6 FEET AWAY, is incredibly stressful. But going more than 3-4 days without going for an “adventure” outside makes them crazy. My birthday happened somewhere in there. Bright moments are Facetime/google meets with old friends and gifts in the mail. Friends and family have sent us homemade facemasks, flour, books. It means the world.

I am now playing trucks 3-4 hours per day but it feels like 30-40 hours and I am sometimes daytime drinking, because it’s really hard to play trucks 3-4 hours per day while also trying to prepare ~sixteen snacks and meals per day and do laundry and clean the bathroom etc. and check 10 websites for toilet paper and groceries and take out trash and recycling while washing my hands 20 times and home-schooling and remembering to feed and water the cat all while being screamed at to PLAY TRUCKS. I made Gremlin 1 a library (Thank you, Leo, for the awesome books!!) and she’s really happy about it. So I did at least one good thing for her in between truck sessions. Poor Gremlin 1 is now officially raising herself. Thank goodness she can read. Also she really likes tracing things with the tracing paper we scored via our local “Buy Nothing” group #buynothing #thankyou !!!

More screen time than ever before. It’s not enough screen time for me to feel okay, but it is enough to make me feel horribly guilty. There is no way to succeed at this. I succeeded for about three weeks, but I can’t succeed for three months, or 1-3 years… Not without family nearby who can help and/or huge amounts of money. I have given up on my career for now. Before this happened it was just taking off. I’m sad. I miss art and thoughts. And while I didn’t make a whole lot of money ages 22-30, I did invest ALL OF MY WAKING HOURS in my brain and my PhD, thinking it would pay off once I wrote that next YA Twilight series. Not so much. I had kids, and without a pandemic, I could have still contributed to society at the very LEAST with a vampire YA series, probably something better although still undervalued by society, monetarily.

But yeah, there was a pandemic. So now I make sandwiches and cut up uneaten fruit and eat that uneaten yellowed fruit five hours later and play trucks and scream “THERE WILL BE NO SHOWS UNTIL YOU STOP SCREAMING FOR SHOWS” all the live-long-day and WTF is happening I never thought I would be this person… And honestly I am lucky that I can scream internally, and my DH (Dear Husband, for the world-wide-web-uninitiated) makes enough at his soul-sucking career for the next month or so that we can survive on one income in a craptastic apartment for… the next month or so. [But also yeah, we have given our landlord notice and are planning to go squat at my parents’ un-rentable Air BnB for the next month? three months? Year??? At any rate, we are total and complete grownups supporting ourselves.

I am lucky. I am not hungry. My kids are… surviving…. though no doubt scarred by Mommy’s uneven moods. Mommy is doing the best she can, I hope?

I know that I am capable of more – and therein lies the rub I suppose – I am a SUPER FANTASTIC writing teacher – and with adequate public education for children who will someday be supporting the rest of us old geezers – starting at age five or so – I would be able to aid the massive failure in communication that is happening right now – or at least I could help prevent the next one. But thanks to Covid / the US’s / Trump’s craaaaaaazy denial approach to Covid… I am suddenly homeschooling or more accurately doing loads of busywork and laundry and dishes and still our bathtub is NEVER clean while shouting at my children to DO THEIR WORK so that they don’t fall behind their peers… and everyone is sad. I am not using those expensive – and very important – skills so much right now. Instead I SHOUT about things that I KNOW ARE NOT IMPORTANT but everyone else is doing it so why not me?

Days 43-????: I don’t know what day we are at anymore. It’s been like… 8 weeks? So day 56? Today I ducked into an empty neighbor’s apartment to work for ideally three hours, but it was more like two hours of online shopping for paper towels, TP, and just the right kind of mac and cheese, also scheduling zoom meetings… and one hour half-hour of artistic freedom that was squandered because I was exhausted and forgot what art was. Such is life. Just before I “went home” I checked our local Buy Nothing group, and OMG guys, I caught a post literally ONE MINUTE after it went up: A post for a freaking model train set!! My smaller gremlin is one of those special kids who gets obsessed with turtles for one year, then trucks for one year, then trains for one year, and from what I understand, it is usually outer space after that, followed by any number of esoteric one-year interests after that. But anyhow, he is at the height of train obsession right now and requests a model train set approximately five times per day. So I saw this post, and I was all like, “Naw, it’s too far away, I’m already too late…” but NO I caught it one minute after it went up, and it was only five blocks away. So I booked it home to grab a mask and RAN to look for this thing on the curb and at first I didn’t see it and I was SO SAD but then I DID see it and I hauled it home thinking: “It doesn’t work, I’m sure, but he can still play with it!” TDLR: Got it home, husband messed with it and set up the track and IT WORKS!!!!!! Gremlin 2 now says, five times per day: “We found a model train set! We had good luck today!” (Every day, regardless of what day it is. Now every day is a good luck model train set day.)

And… one week later, he gives literally zero shits about that model train set. Here’s a thing that I have noticed about kids isolated at home with no friends because of Covid: Nothing is exciting for more than 5 minutes, and then one needs the next, more exciting thing.

If one has no human friends and connections, one starts down a very unhealthy path to addiction.

It is very, very bad to start this unhealthy path under age seven.

But it is what is currently happening to all our children under age six.

I weep for this every night.

I see my children becoming numbing addicts, because the world is too sad, and I cry.

On the day that I got that model train for my son I wrote:

All of which is to say: For the first time in my life, I very slightly believe that there might be a divine power who intervenes in innocent little people’s lives? Because this was freaking amazing. Like my little gremlin has been so sad. And the ONLY thing that would make him happy was a miracle model train set. AND THE HOLY BEING DELIVERED?! Also the track fits in our teeny-tiny living room by like -.5 cm, like couldn’t be any closer in that respect. We have to nudge it a bit to get it around one bend, but IT FITS and it has become an integral part of our living room floor.

Two weeks later, I don’t believe that at all. No higher power. He has already ceased to care.

After two weeks he didn’t give a damn about that train. He wanted a new, bigger high… because he literally is experiencing nothing right now. There is nothing greater than a model train, so all he wants is… video games, constantly escalating in feeling.

This – whatever is happening right now – is creating addicts. Useless, sad, irredeemable addicts.

I am so sad for my kids.

Day…. I dunno? 57? 61? : We decided to move today. I am so incredibly sad. I can’t even write much of anything right now. Maybe five years from now I can. I love NYC more than life, and it is the only place that has felt like home in my long 38 years. But given the coronavirus sitch, it’s a terrible place for my kids to live. I don’t see that getting better within 2 years at the very least. We can’t survive two years of living like this. NYC is a horrible place to live if everything is closed and you have to live in 700 sq. ft. with two tiny gremlins and it’s very hard to buy anything that you need and you might get really sick any day now and you have no social contact with anyone. It’s impossible. I know we have to go. I know we did the right thing and stayed through the worst of it, when we might be contagious. We did the right thing as far as we were able. But we cannot stay. It is breaking us. (And to be honest, I don’t see life in NYC getting better, at all, for at least two years, possibly twenty or forever. Coronaviruses mutate.)

Also, Gremlin two is already sick of the divine-intervention train. Doesn’t give a damn at all. So what do I do next? Seriously!!?? Suggestions in comments please for the love of GOD.

Day 58 I think? Pretty sure? : We discovered that the cat is afraid of bubbles. The kids are playing kind of a lot of video games. As am I. Gremlin one ate an entire head of iceberg lettuce with/for dinner.

Day 59: The kids played nicely together today for approximately 30 minutes. Miraculous. Overheard Gremlin 2 say: “Hello Doctor? Come right away. Our baby got stepped on the head. Right away.” (Gremlin 1 screams for 10 minutes. Doctor came, baby’s stepped on head repaired.)

Day 69: Thanks to a friend’s Facebook post, I am aware that today was Day 69. Thank you, Jennie, because I – personally – have completely lost track.

Ha. I wrote A LOT more stuff here, but WordPress appears to have swallowed it. No time to figure that out.

A lot of friends of friends want our apartment, because it has a yard. I feel so guilty, but I can’t deal with other people’s problems right now. I can’t cope with my own family’s problems. We are broken. So I really can’t deal with showing our apartment to strangers. Our lease is up, we have paid our rent on time for ten years, we owe no one anything. And yet our apartment with its now priceless backyard has become this thing that I need to dole out wisely with great effort on my part (risking Covid during tours) while receiving nothing for our family in return.

I don’t know.

I want this to stop.

I am overwhelmed.

 Cumulative Notes to Self So Far:

  • Hahaaaaaa at day 69 in NYC, these notes are all complete GARBAGE. They got me through the first 2-3 weeks or so, so… I dunno, here we are at 9 weeks NYC-wise, maybe they’ll help someone in Missouri who has just decided that Covid is real? Laughing/crying emoji.
  • But to be clear: It becomes – clear, at 8 weeks or more – that no human being (with children) can be expected to withstand this. We need systemic change, a social safety net, a pandemic task-force, etc.
  • But heck, if you are only two weeks in to Covid in Missouri, here are some ideas that helped me 10 weeks ago when I thought all of this might be temporary:
  • I shouldn’t feel so bad about putting the TV on, but I should try to remember to make the little goblins earn it: cleaning, music practice, etc.
  • A lot of New Yorkers appear to riding bicycles for the first time.
  • Gremlins will eat almost anything if I cut it into tiny pieces and give them toothpicks to eat it with.
  • Writing letters to backyard fairies counts as “school.”
  • Just remember to say I love you, and then it counts as a good day.
  • Make pancakes sometimes.
  • More dance parties
  • UPDATES TWO MONTHS IN: Video games have become okay. Whoduvthunkit. The real world sucks in NYC right now, so I think it’s okay to let them escape reality for 1-2 hours per day. Reality BITES.

Ideas for new “activities:”

  • Photo shoot (dress up, take silly photos)
  • Paint rocks for the garden
  • Salt dough ornaments, decorate the tree out front

More tomorrow. Hope you are all okay out there. Oh! And please share your pandemic parenting tips in the comments 🙂

1 Comment

  1. I got 0 parental pandemic parenting tips, we’re just muddling through…til when? Total solidarity on being home with gremlins. Thanks for sharing. Pancakes usually make our days better too.

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