Parenting Quirky Kids During A Pandemic

Last night, I leaned against the counter in our hall bathroom with my arms crossed, watching my 11-year-old brush his teeth.

I choose to watch him mostly because if left to his own devices, he only cleans the right side of his mouth, completely forgetting about the left. Kids on the spectrum — who also have ADHD — are like that. It took me a long time to understand and accept this behavior as something other than carelessness.

As he brushed, I noticed that his height likely surpasses 5 feet and made a mental note to measure him. He’s all arms and legs; even though he’s one of the youngest in his class, he will never be the smallest.

Out of nowhere, he blurted, “Sadness is going up, isn’t it?”

I wanted to make sure I’d heard him right, since he was talking with a mouthful of toothpaste, so I asked him to repeat the question.

“Sadness. It’s going up, huh? Because of the virus.”

That is when my child looked at me with genuine concern and asked if the rate of suicide will increase because of what is happening. Because of the number of businesses closing their doors. Because people are losing their homes and their livelihoods and their loved ones.

Oh.

I had to answer him honestly. I told him yes, he’s right, a lot of people are sad and a lot of them are ending their lives. I think I tacked on some stuff about the importance of mental health and how there is ALWAYS a better way out, that there is ALWAYS hope, even if it feels like there isn’t, but I’m sure I bungled that part up because of what I’m going to go over with you in a moment.

So, he’s not the kind of kid who blissfully be-bops through life, and he’s also not the kind of person who is willing to accept what you tell him at face value. He’s going to sniff out a lie — or even a glossed over, watered down version of the truth — like nobody’s business, and if he thinks you’re not telling him the whole truth? HE WILL NEVER LET IT GO.

I don’t even try to skirt issues anymore; I address them directly and to the best of my ability. Maverick just knows things, no matter how much I try to wish away his level of awareness. He notices every slight change in my mood, even when it’s imperceptible to others. All that hyper awareness is exhausting — I should know, because I’m the same way.

Before the pandemic suicide rate discussion took place, we’d survived a typical evening at home.

The first time I typed out that sentence, I’d used the word “enjoyed” instead of “survived.” That was a lie, so I changed it.

My husband arrived from work around 7 p.m. I was hanging by the very last shred of my sanity after helping our 8-year-old assemble his Nintendo Labo. I peaced out for a walk to clear my head, slash, talk myself out of running away from home for good, during which I discovered one of our neighbors (an elderly man wearing sweatpants) playing bagpipes on the sidewalk.

The music was so hauntingly beautiful that I captured it with my phone, although I stayed far enough away so that he wouldn’t be in the video clearly enough for people to know who it was because I’m polite like that.

When I got home, our 6-year-old was insisting in her screechy-screech voice that we all participate in something I can only describe as Hobbs Masterpiece Theater — she wrote a script, we all had lines, and there was singing and dancing involved.

Then there were baths and pajamas for the two younger kids, the usual reading/playing/screaming for no reason combo that our children love so much, an episode of our favorite show, cuddling with Robbie, and at the end of all of that, exhausted, was when I stood in the bathroom with my oldest.

The discussion with my son happened at the end of a very long day of pandemic parenting. And this is why all of us are so beyond over this shit.

Not our kids. We love our kids. But the confinement, the isolation, the “distance learning,” “crisis schooling,” mask-making, scary news bullshit? DONE. WITH. IT.

None of us are doing great. I mean, maybe some people are, but I don’t know those people. Every parent I know well enough to have an honest conversation with is slowly dying inside from the agony that is modern day parenting and working whilst isolating because there is a pandemic out there.

So, if you are wondering if you’re the only person out there who is struggling … you aren’t. (Insert something uplifting here, like “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!”)

Deep breath.

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Can We Really Do This? Pandemic Edition

Remember back when 2019 was a little intense and all of us looked forward to 2020? We had no idea what was coming, bless our little privileged hearts.

But it’s fine. Really. Everything is absolutely fine.

Remember when I almost relapsed last summer on diet pills because I was so stressed, and I swore I would never again stay home full time with the kids? I had no clue that was just a teeny, tiny preview into what was awaiting me: full time isolation with my three children, without access to the things that I grew to depend on for my sanity and well being, WITH NO END IN SIGHT.

Making the best of it!

Last summer seems like a breeze compared to this. What the hell even is this? I honestly can’t decide, because my thoughts and feelings shift minute by minute. Sometimes it feels like a gift, a blessing, something divinely orchestrated to open my eyes to the simple joys that I spent so many years drowning out before I got sober. Other times it feels like a dystopian nightmare, like we’re on the verge of societal collapse and there is no way any of us can do this if this virus doesn’t kill us first.

Can we really do this? Or are we, the American people, too soft, too spoiled rotten? Someone said that an Amazon employee tested positive for the virus, and now people are freaking out that Amazon might stop delivering things like bike helmets and creamy peanut butter to our doorsteps.

You fools took all the creamy peanut butter in my town and all that is left is extra crunchy. Peanut butter manufacturers should know by now that nobody likes that extra crunchy shit, you could just as well buy a can of peanuts and smear them on bread, because that’s exactly what it tastes like. The same people who are buying up all the good peanut butter are more than likely the ones hoarding toilet paper, because greedy people are like that. It’s cool, though, because I bought up all the fiber supplements, so the joke’s on you, motherfuckers.

No one knows when — or if — school will resume for the 2019-2020 academic year. None of us were aware, when the kids climbed into school buses or cars at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13, that they wouldn’t be returning the following Monday. We can’t tell our kids for certain when (if?) they will be able to see their friends or teachers again, let alone when libraries and parks will reopen.

I’ve started focusing on reminding them that their friends are safe in their homes — just like we are! — because my kids are only friends with people who come from intelligent homes. And what I mean by intelligent is that the adults in the household can comprehend basic instructions and aren’t out shopping together as a family and then crowding around a food truck afterwards, touching everything.

That’s just stupid.

We are all doing impossible things all day long, trudging a minimum of 6 feet away from each other up a slippery hill. And YES, it is all too much. Way, way too much. I don’t have the answers, people. I am only here to validate our immense and bottomless angst.

Via @happyasamother on Instagram!

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A Homeschooler I Am Not

Ok, look. I’m going to level with you: the past few weeks have been harder than anything I’ve gone through in my life, and that’s saying a lot.

After writing my previous blog post, I basically had a 48-hour meltdown wherein I cried, stamped my feet, and felt sorry for myself. My body felt like it was filled with lead. I had the overwhelm, big time, and my kids were even more anxious (read: hyperactive, emotional, excitable, awful) because their mother couldn’t seem to get it together.

Eventually, I got ahold of myself. I mean, this pandemic isn’t going away. I have no control over an invisible virus. So I’m going to focus on what I can control: living through a pandemic while in recovery for alcoholism, in isolation with my three children, for an unknown period of time. Because WOW.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, slash, writer, for almost 8 years now. To go from what used to be our normal life, to 24/7 parenting without access to libraries, parks, other children, zoos, the swimming pool, or anything other than our own home and yard, is CRAZY DISORIENTING. I mean … you know. We all know. I don’t have to explain to any of you how hard all of this is, because you are already there.

Part of me feels ashamed to complain, because I’m aware that millions of people don’t have it as good as we do right now. My husband is in the car business, and right now vehicles are considered a “necessity” along with hospitals and groceries, so his work load isn’t slowing down anytime soon. And as much as I worry about him going out there into the wild where the viruses live, and as bitter as I sometimes feel because he gets to leave for work and I do not, I’m thankful that we don’t have to worry about our livelihood (at least, not yet).

For 12 hours a day, and it’s just me and the kids.

At first, I tried to homeschool them. It sounded like a good idea. Routine is always good for kids — how hard could it be to carry on what their teachers were doing with them before schools unexpectedly closed down?

WRONG.

It turns out that stressed mothers are terrible teachers. I was stressing myself out as well as my children, so we just … well, we stopped. There was no big announcement, no dramatic throwing in of the towel, I just fucking quit doing it.

And guess what? Nothing horrible happened. My kids didn’t become dumb overnight. They’re still learning, just in a different way. Today we went to a pond and threw out food for the turtles. We’re cooking, cleaning, and learning how to work together under duress. I’m trying really, really hard not to yell.

It’s a work in progress.

My greatest challenge is that I am trapped with my kids during a time that I would absolutely LOVE to numb out, maintaining my sobriety without access to the 12-step meetings that have been such an integral part of my recovery, and surrounded (virtually, not literally) by people who are conditioned to cope with Bad Things by drinking. This is Louisiana. We are famous for our ability to roll with the punches and do it with good cheer, because we’re loaded all the time.

This is what I found myself writing to a woman who is 142 days sober and struggling with the isolation/motherhood problem:

Hi! Mom of an 11 year old boy with Asperger’s and ADHD, a 8 year old boy with ADD, and a 6 year old girl here. First of all, YOU ARE DOING GREAT. None of us are doing this perfectly or even that well, but if you are sober and your kids are loved and safe, then give yourself a huge pat on the back! You are demonstrating every single day what it looks like to love yourself so that you can truly love them.

Now, isolation and motherhood are both huge triggers for me, so this is what I’ve found helpful:

1. Telehealth sessions with my therapist (if you don’t have one, this is a GREAT TIME TO GET ONE). I’m scheduling them weekly. I know cost can be a problem — look for a counselor without all the fancy letters after their name. There are plenty and trust me, they’ve got mad availability right now.

2. Reaching out to all of my friends so I don’t feel alone. I use Zoom, WhatsApp, and Marco Polo, in addition to all the regular ways of communicating.

3. HARD exercise. Wear those kids out! Wear yourself out! Get the anxiety out of your body by doing something outside in the sun or even a Zumba video inside the house. Just move your body, sweat, and get the kids to move too. I cannot stress enough how crucial physical exercise is to my sanity/sobriety/mental health. Hard exercise is the only thing I’ve found to keep my anxiety at a manageable level right now.

4. Give your entire household grace because what we are doing is BATSHIT CRAZY and HARD AS FUCK, DO YOU HEAR ME? We are doing the impossible, and doing it sober. If someone would have told me this is what I’d be doing in 2020, I never would have believed them. But I am. We are.

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The Covid Diaries

Two weekends ago, Robbie and I took the kids to “Cat Video Fest 2020” which was basically just a feature-length compilation of cat videos shown in the classy theatre downtown, and it was there that I saw my friend Gwen.

Gwen reminds me of a hummingbird. Her petite frame and wide-eyed curiosity is almost ethereal, and she always hugs me hello and asks me about my writing. I’m not sure how old she is — maybe in her 50’s or 60’s — but I know she doesn’t have children and she likes to read the newspaper every morning.

Today I’m thinking about Gwen because two weekends ago when we sat in that theatre with the very close together seats, sneezing and coughing and leaning all over each other, none of us had quarantine or lockdown or viruses on the brain. We were thinking about cats hiding in brown paper bags and kittens in mittens, blissfully unaware that our lives were about to be TURNED THE FUCK OVER.

Arrogance, and possibly denial, kept us from considering the fact that a pandemic, Covid-19, would be here. Something about the way we live our lives keeps us from believing that whatever is happening over there could ever actually happen where we live.

Before the viral panic descended upon us, I was wrapped up in the politics of our local public school system. I was busy worrying about whether or not the locker rooms at the kid’s school had appropriate window coverings. I was focused on helping our new principal get the surveillance cameras fully functioning.

I was dealing with the individual challenges of my kids, which have recently become overwhelming. I ramped up my own therapy in response, trying hard to listen to my therapist when she said “Harmony, you need help.” She said it was time to hire someone, maybe a college kid, and I started looking.

But then schools shut down.

And now I am home with my three kids, indefinitely. No playdates. No gym. No library, no seeing grandparents, no playing at the park. Robbie is still going to work. There is no toilet paper to be found. I have a dip manicure that is over two weeks old and I’m not sure when I can go have it removed. My face is breaking out. The kids are anxious. I am anxious.

I’m trying to lean in. I am sober. I can think of this time as a gift. I can try to enjoy my home and my kids and be grateful that I don’t have to go anywhere. I can make gratitude lists, and try to make the best of it, and work on my spiritual growth.

BUT Y’ALL.

I’m in recovery for alcoholism — which 100% ramped up when I became a stay at home mom, even though I wanted to be a stay at home mom. One of my biggest triggers is being stuck at home with the kids because I had no idea how awful it is to be stuck at home with the kids.

Yesterday reminded me.

It is terrible.

I miss the gym. I miss everything I used to do to make myself feel sane. I feel like a whiny bratty baby for complaining, but one glance at social media reminds me that we are likely to be on lockdown soon because all of you idiots refuse to stay home. We are all in the same boat, fellow Americans, and half of you insist on poking holes in the sides because you don’t believe in science.

And so, my friends, I leave you with this. Because Pepper is ALL OF US.

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