I’m not getting childcare this summer. Last summer, when childcare wasn’t even an option because of COVID, my job at my local newspaper doubled in work. In addition to my regular responsibilities as a columnist, I had the idea to create a kids page when our sports pages were shuttered by the pandemic. And so, I became a de facto kids page editor. I was also preparing for my second book to be published and co-parenting two kids.
On the days my kids were at my house, I would wake up at 4am, work until 10am. Crawl out of my office and play with them until about noon. Then, I’d work until about 2pm. We established a rhythm. They helped me with the crafts for kids page and learned to make their own breakfast and lunch. And I learned how to let them go semi-feral. When they were at their dad’s house, I’d catch up on work, but rarely ever sleep. By the end of the summer, I was exhausted and begging my boss to hand the kids page off to someone else.
I had two weeks of rest and then my town was leveled by what was the equivalent of a category 4, in-land hurricane, called a derecho. In a few hours, what little grip I felt like I had on life was blown away. My own house sustained damage and I worked and parented without power or internet for a month, going back and forth between hotels and my home. I remember a moment where my kids were playing in the neighbor’s yard, and I was on the phone with a source for a story, while scrubbing my underwear in a plastic tub.
Unlike many other states, Iowa opened its schools in the fall. And we were able to return to a routine. Not many other parents were that lucky.
Despite all of that, this summer, I’ve decided to keep my kids home. After all the trauma of the past year, I’m not quite ready to let them go. And they are old enough to fend for themselves. Plus the rigors of co-parenting mean I get more breaks than other parents. This again means, the juggle of work is happening at odd hours. But without family, good options for childcare — fewer since the pandemic, and children who are not yet vaccinated, I feel stuck in a childcare limbo.
Last week, parents on Twitter shared with me that they are cobbling together camps and family members, to string together a Rube Goldbergian contraption of childcare.
The pandemic revealed the deep, deep problems with childcare in America and despite the fact that we are a year post shut-down, and solutions seem readily available, American mothers are still cobbling together imperfect solutions. And others are still juggling the burdens of caregiving. Steph Auteri, writing for Rewire, reported that one in five Millennials are caring for a family member.
They are 10 and soon to be 8. Kind of the perfect age for just winging it. I might regret this. But idk, I loved my time with them last summer. What is everyone else doing?— Lyz Lenz (@lyzl) June 1, 2021
Of course there is also the endless negotiation of screen time limits. (In my house screen time ends at 10am, but my kids can “earn” more by reading. One book equals 30 more minutes of screens.)
Despite all of that, something I learned last year is that, I don’t hate that we have had this time together. I’ve gotten to spend more time with them and they’ve become more self-sufficient. The unattended hours they’ve had outside of camps and structured activities, means they’ve spent time building tents and reading books. What my mother (a woman who homeschooled 8 kids), calls “the beauty of unattended moments.”
I also love that they see me working. My work has always been intangible to them. Just words in the air. Now I tell them about pitching and editing and they can hold my books in their hands and pop in on zoom events. It’s frustrating, but I also want them to see me work. I want them to not be sheltered from the realities of our life together.
These benefits are a sliding scale of course. My kids aren’t teens who need the space with friends for independence and identity formation, they are also not toddlers, who left alone might lick a light socket.
But in an imperfect world, we have only the resources we have, to make beauty from. I, of course, may regret all of this in August, but for now, I’m choosing to see the beauty in this chaos of togetherness.