I texted a friend this afternoon, I’m hiding in the bathroom while my kids fight. She texted back, Hope you have chocolate. The whole “mom hiding in the bathroom while kids fight” thing is a cliche because it’s true. First, the bathroom is the only room in our house with doors that lock. Second, we recently had our bathrooms redone (though the vanities were damaged during shipping, so while we have lovely showers and toilets, we don’t have vanities, sinks, or counters. It was very 2020, in a “100% first world problem” sort of way), and our bathroom is now the nicest room in the house. I sat making a plan for the endless afternoon hours as I gazed at our turquoise shower tile.
I have made a point to start my mornings, which are my favorite part of the day, sipping coffee and pouring incoherent thoughts into my journal. Then, I either walk with a friend as the sun rises, or hop on our spin bike. Each morning in the shower, I vow to be even and calm, though by 8:27am, when both girls are still in their pajamas and complaining about their breakfasts, I’m saying through clenched teeth, “I’m wondering if you’ll make it to morning meeting with clothes on and teeth brushed (I know, who cares if they brush teeth) in the next three minutes.” My kindergartner, who was the happiest she’s ever been during the 7 weeks she went to school in-person this fall, has decided she hates home learning. If I’m not sitting right with her, she turns her camera off and puts her head down. It’s heartbreaking. Today, at her teacher’s suggestion, we made a checklist of the five things she needed to complete, and decided that she could earn iPad time if she did them all (thankfully, she didn’t connect that I usually give her iPad time anyway. See: burnout) and she begrudgingly did her work, to varying degrees of completion, with me sitting right next to her dangling the iPad carrot. By this afternoon, when my 9 year old stomped into the living room complaining about her writing assignment, I was fried. Hence, hiding in the bathroom.
When the friend who’d thoughtfully texted that she hoped I had chocolate wrote back a few minutes later to tell me that a few moms and kids were meeting at our school playground, I typed a quick “yes!” and gathered the girls and our warm gear. It was 4pm, already getting a little dark, with that raw cold that comes before snow. As we walked down the small hill to the play structure and I saw my friends, bundled and masked, and the kids running around, I felt a swell of relief.
I spent the first year or so of my older daughter’s elementary school experience finding my place with the other moms. When she started Kindergarten, I had a few negative interactions with moms who commented on my body, and these experiences left me deeply insecure. Through this lens, it felt as though all of the other moms already had friends, or wouldn’t want to be my friend. I resigned myself to small talk at pickup and drop off as I guarded each word I said and wondered if whomever I was chatting with would make a comment about my body. As school went on, though, my friendships with a few moms took root and grew, and I have spent the past couple of years feeling happier socially. Pre-pandemic, we’d alternate taking each other’s daughters to gymnastics, or meet for Friday drop-in art time with our preschoolers at our local studio. During Covid, these friendships have deepened, and a couple of new friendships have developed. Early morning walks and hikes together, constant texting, and play dates at playgrounds have been my lifeline. My friends have undoubtedly helped me stay afloat these past nine months, and while almost all of 2020 has been a bust, my friendships have been a bright spot.
As the girls and I drove the short half mile home tonight, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” came on the radio. The impromptu dance party carried us home. When we pulled up in front of our house, light from inside illuminated the window, and I thought about how warm our home looked from the street, where I could just see the yellow glow from indoors, and none of the mess. I felt grateful for our quick, chilly playground trip- just enough to shift our energy- and for the cozy, albeit cluttered, home we were returning to.
Sometimes my efforts at self care feels pointless. I’ll catch myself thinking, “Oh my god, this exercise/ writing/ reflection/ latte isn’t even helping.” I constantly feel like I’m just barely holding it together. Last night, at bedtime, I literally bit my tongue to keep myself from snapping. My exhaustion felt so all-consuming that the thought of sharing the highs and lows of my day with my husband and daughters felt impossible. But the longer the pandemic continues, the more convinced I am that I’m not doing something wrong– it’s just this hard. My friendships remind me of this; of the way we are sharing the same frustrations, the same exhaustions, and also, a few moments of the same joy.