Desperate times call for . . . better options

There are so many things I’ve wanted to write lately. Since my last post, I’ve joined not one — but *two* — writing circles and have written exactly . . . nothing . . . for either one.

I’ve written some brilliant posts in my head: one about “both/and” thinking when it comes to tough issues, and another one about the absolutely mind-blowing lesson that I learned from my therapist about the difference between shame and guilt. [FN1: If this is not a familiar distinction to you, the basic idea is that shame is a totally unhelpful emotion (“I am a bad person”) and guilt is a much more helpful emotion (“I made a mistake and I feel bad about it”) — one can’t really do much about who they are as a person, but one can do a lot to fix mistakes. As someone whose upbringing and previous marriage were filled with shame-based interactions, it has been extremely freeing to finally recognize the distinction.]

So there are all sorts of things that I’ve been tossing around in my head, but to the extent that life was already crazy before The COVID . . . things have just gone completely off the rails. I don’t have anything terribly profound to say about any of it, except to say that what is going on now is a crisis of epic proportions, and — to the extent that it’s miserable for me — there are so, so many people in equally (more) desperate situations and the future just looks . . . bleak.

The biggest issue that is consuming my time and attention (aside from finding myself a job, which is consuming more of my actual time, but seems to be less of an emotional investment) is the fact that our local school district has announced that it will not be opening for in-person classes at the start of the school year, and that if/when it is “safe” for the schools to open, any individual student will only be attending two days of in-person schooling per week for the duration of the academic year.

I recognize the challenges associated with opening schools, particularly in a major college town like the one that I live in (which is expecting an influx of tens of thousands of students from around the world at the start of the semester), so I am sympathetic to the impossible trade-offs that a school district needs to make. But I am less sympathetic to the fact that the announcements about the plans for the school year have been completely silent about the fact that full-time, or even part-time, virtual schooling Is. Not. Possible. for a non-negligible number of families in the district.

I have the weird privilege (I guess?) of existing in two completely separate universes — one is the universe of the neighborhood that I live in (because, and only because, my parents have been subsidizing my life while I finish out the commitment that I made to a non-profit fellowship program before my divorce happened and my life imploded), and the other is the universe of the reality of low-income single parents.

In my (wealthy, highly-educated, almost exclusively dual-income two-parent family) neighborhood — families are irritated about all of the hassles of COVID, but they have, for the most part, paid their way out of the problems. The majority of my kids’ friends have had full-time in-home caregivers since the schools shut down in March. Work has continued, more-or-less, uninterrupted — and (unlike all of the public pools in the city) even the neighborhood swim and tennis club has opened. As my kids’ peers’ families are preparing for the fall, they are expanding from employing in-home caregivers to employing in-home teachers . . . and they are carrying on.

My single parent friends are doing no such thing(s). We are doing some combination of panicking, advocating to every school board member and state legislator who will listen, pretending that everything is somehow going to magically get better, and collapsing in a heap. There are many others who are writing eloquently about the various ways in which the burdens of COVID are inequitably distributed (this one and this follow-up are the best I’ve seen related to education) — and I can assure you that the reality on the ground is at least as bleak as described.

I don’t have much more to say about any of it, except to point out that there is really nothing new about any of this. It’s more acute, perhaps, but the isolation and the challenges are just more of the same for most of the single parents that I know. What gives me hope is that I feel *seen* in this isolation and struggle for the first time — and while I genuinely have no idea how the upcoming year is going to work, I am clinging to the idea that whatever “we” (as a society) settle back into, it will be something that does more generally recognize the ongoing impossible task that many face trying to juggle the basic responsibilities of work and parenthood.

But for now, it’s a mess. And I want better options. So I’m signing off to write to my local school board and my state legislators with some concrete requests about the need for flexibility in the district’s learning plans and the need for funding and other measures (like provisional licensing) to address the child care shortage. And if you have the time, I’d encourage you to do the same.