It’s been a week.
Things started to go downhill Saturday morning when my mother-in-law saw an unidentified substance smeared across my son’s lips and hands that turned out to be our dog’s feces. Not the sort of parenting moment one needs witnessed. Following that delightful moment, I spent Saturday evening organizing the garage, only to walk into it one last time, exhausted, at 10PM and see the biggest rat of my life (and I lived in NYC). Everyone told me I was exaggerating – until we caught it. And also discovered he was not a solo actor. While closing up holes and sealing access points on Monday, we discovered there was a raccoon in the roof. After getting the raccoon to leave and watching it run away, we sealed the rest of the access points. Late the next night, sitting alone in the dark finishing work, I heard what sounded distinctly like baby animal screams. As it turned out, 3 baby raccoons were now trapped away from their mother in our roof – it was simultaneously highly upsetting to think of babies separated from their mom and hugely disturbing to think of animals in our ceiling. No one slept that night (including our baby) as our dog barked, the raccoon paced on the roof, the baby raccoons cried and we stressed about what to do. Finally, we were able to locate and remove them and they’ve been reunited with their mom. I think (hope?!) we’re now wild life free – but the house is torn apart and I’m on high alert, thinking every sound I hear is an animal. During all of that, I also got a speeding ticket and our son hit a big milestone and turned 1. Top it all off with the fact that my pregnancy hormones are going nuts and I can’t even have a drink – and this has definitely been a week for a drink.
It’s been surreal to watch our son in the midst of all of this. He’s both fascinated and completely oblivious. We did pull it together to have a cake for his birthday (that I baked the morning of, terrified that if I made it the night before a rat might get it) and he’s seen the raccoon so many times now that if you ask him “where does the raccoon live?” he points to that area of the ceiling – so at least he’s learning? It seems crazy, but somehow fitting, that this all happened with the backdrop of chaos at large in our country right now. For any working parent, it’s also not altogether shocking that we somehow missed a raccoon moving in – things have been, to put it mildly, hectic. It’s been draining. Putting him to bed on his birthday, thinking of how much has happened in a year and remembering that a year ago I was sitting next to him in the NICU, unable to hold him, I cried.
It’s overwhelming to witness and experience what’s happening at global, national, and personal levels today. Yet, in a very clear way, our kids show us that despite that, time marches on. It’s a powerful and humbling reality, and one that really strikes home for working parents right now.
No matter what is happening in the outside world, our kids still need care and attention. For many of us, it’s become increasingly impossible to work and care for our families simultaneously and the saying “no one is coming, it’s up to us” suddenly feels too accurate. Yesterday, Deb Perelman wrote “In the Covid-19 economy, you’re allowed only a kid or a job.” Her op-ed resonated so deeply because it’s painfully true. As cases surge in many states, offices reopen inconsistently and without plans for caregivers, most daycares remain closed, and schools start to share opening plans that involve limited days in school, things look increasingly bleak. This is an integral, critical part of the crisis that must be solved on both local and federal levels. But it’s not being treated like that. It’s being treated like working parents are the annoying kid in the class asking the teacher for an extra assignment over a holiday weekend. We’re not. We’re actually the kid in the back of the class who is silently falling behind, struggling to get by, and being completely ignored. As another on-point article asked this week “Why is America prioritizing bars over schools?” It’s a fair question that stings for any parent.
When it comes to COVID-19 there is much we still don’t know. There is also quite a bit we do. We know that teachers – who were already underpaid and overworked – are performing small miracles to support kids right now. But they inherited a broken system, and distance learning has largely been a nightmare that has dramatically exacerbated existing racial and socio-economic achievement gaps, strained families financially, and placed unmeasurable burdens on parents – leading to career offramping, mental health issues, and family troubles. As discussed in previous newsletters, we also know that the strains of this pandemic are taking an outsize toll on caregivers, and mother’s are disproportionately paying the price – in everything from job loss to wage cuts and future earnings potential. Areas where we were already behind. For unemployed parents the struggle is far harder, and when expanded unemployment benefits expire, many will face insurmountable problems and unanswerable questions. It’s only getting worse.
What keeps being ignored is that this is not a parent problem. It is not a woman’s problem. It’s an American problem. Do you want things to ‘go back to normal’ (won’t happen, but that’s a different newsletter)? Do you want to get back to work and still have a company to work at? Good luck without working parents. Speaking of, do you know how many parents you work with every day? You don’t. I know you don’t because HR doesn’t know how many working parents are at the company; it’s not information that’s tracked. That’s because for too long, it hasn’t been seen as a segment of the workforce that needs to be identified, because it hasn’t been seen as a segment of the workforce that requires structures and support systems in order to succeed. Working parents have been carrying the extra load alone, crumbling from the weight but not saying anything. Well, now the few supports we use to prop ourselves up with have been ripped up, crushed, and broken overnight. We’re flat on the ground under the weight and so far no one is helping us lift it. As one working mom said to me this week “I feel like I’m screaming inside a 3 alarm fire and everyone is just shrugging and walking away.” As a country, we cannot shrug and walk away. Not only because it’s wrong, but because our economy cannot function without working parents (we’re way too much of the workforce, sorry), and working parents cannot function without childcare and schools.
Rats and raccoons in your home are a frustrating annoyance. The crisis facing our entire country as a result of the lack of action when it comes to schools, childcare, and caregivers is an all hands on deck emergency. Start acting like it.