I took this photo of myself earlier today. It was at 12:27pm to be exact. If I had to give this photo a title, perhaps it would be "Tearful and Temporarily Defeated 45-Year-Old Single Mom in Black and White." Not particularly poetic language, but descriptive. While I took this photo today, I could have grabbed the same image multiple times over the past five months.
Minutes before I took this photo and right before he ran upstairs, I was in an argument with my sixth grade son that went, on my end, something like "you are old enough that I shouldn't have to hover over you to make sure your school work gets done" and "why wasn't this done yesterday?" and "I don't want to be still asking you to get your work done at 9:00pm." We have had this argument before. It doesn't seem to become more fruitful with repeated efforts. But still I default to it more often than I should. And then I feel guilty and insufficient because my words are not helpful.
My son is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and his sister is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and I am home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. It's been this way the entire school year. And I'm frustrated because we still haven't figured out how to make it work. Surely by now I would craft us a nutritious breakfast while my children got online and checked on their classes and wrote a list of their assignments for the day. Then, I would sit at my desk and be an awesome paralegal all day and my kids would employ impressive time management and glide through their work and learn so many wonderful things. Nope.
Instead, three days a week, I nag my son about classwork located on multiple online platforms that I still haven't deciphered while worrying that he's playing too many video games even though that's a primary way that he talks with friends these days. He is struggling with the lack of structure and the isolation. And now we can add the onset of adolescence to layer one more piece of his life that seems out of control when he already has control over so little. And three days a week, I text his sister at noon with something like, "Hey, get out of bed and do some school work. It's noon!" She is struggling with essentially missing out on her first year of high school and wanting to socialize and be independent and taking honors courses while being taught only once a week. And I carry their struggles and that shows on this photo that I took at 12:27pm today.
Of course, though, that's not really all that I'm doing at home. In front of me, not pictured in this photograph I took at 12:27pm today, is my work laptop that is open at my kitchen table. And while I was yelling at my son just minutes before, I also had emails going back and forth about depositions in one case and I was trying to answer discovery in another. I feel disconnected from my office and the regular flow of a busy work day. I worry that important details are slipping through the cracks. I love what I do for a living - I'm good at it and I'm confident that I make our office better. But is this still true, really? Some of the tears today were borne of such fears.
But I looked at that photograph I took at 12:27pm and decided I was not going to stay in that headspace. I hugged my son as he whispered, "We've got this, Mom. We'll make it." I took a hot shower. I drank a lot of water. I texted my boss and asked for a meeting tomorrow to talk through some of our cases and get on the same page. Then I allowed myself fifteen minutes to sit outside and take deep breaths and read because we enjoyed unusually warm weather today.
I also took a few moments to do an inventory of the reasons I'm grateful, which always is helpful when I find myself in a condition like the one in which I landed at 12:27pm. I have a job that allows me to work from home as much as needed during the pandemic. Or, even more simply, I have a job. Multiple friends cannot say as much right now. My kids are older and, despite my nagging, really do not need my constant presence as they do school work. My hair is up and disheveled because this morning I got up and ran (kind of) for three miles (and then didn't bother to shower as I sat right down to work). So, I'm grateful for exercise.
That photograph taken at 12:27pm was just a snapshot. It's not where I stayed all day. But these moments of being overwhelmed and feeling anxious and convincing myself that I'm falling short on all fronts did not end when time expired on 2020. The new year did not change everything. In fact, it often seems the cumulative effect of all the days now behind us since March make these 12:27pm moments come more often. We are exhausted.
I will cry again. Probably this week. Because I don't have the skills needed to work and learn and live in a pandemic all figured out. Living this way, with screens and without hugs and touch and communal joy and grief, with loads of uncertainty and without the comforts of the same daily structures we have known for years, is not natural. And that makes me cry. It may not be at 12:27pm the next time. It could be at 6:14pm while I'm making dinner or at 10:10pm when my son still isn't asleep because he is worried about the condition of our world. My tears are part of inevitable snapshots of the times in which we are living. But if you had a camera on me all day, you also would get snapshots of laughter and peace and comfort and effort and love. And it's those moments to which I will return and from which I will gain strength when another 12:27pm moment inevitably comes.