Pandemic-Era Parenting

It was dinnertime on a Sunday, which means the countdown to bedtime had started a little early and was slightly more enthusiastic than normal. I had been craving cauliflower for a while, which isn’t something I’m particularly proud of, but here we were. My husband and two daughters looked on as I picked up the sheet pan of finely chopped cauliflower and opened the oven. Distracted and moving too quickly (which is the story of my life), I hit the pan with the oven door and it fell from my hands, spattering oil-soaked cauliflower pieces all over the kitchen floor. 

Nobody said a word. Even my one-year-old looked on in silent disbelief. The room waited for my reaction…I was waiting for my reaction. 

In a total plot twist, I started laughing. Laughing! My two-year-old, wearing plastic dress-up heels, started wading through the cauliflower, slipping in the olive oil and struggling to gain enough traction to stand up. It was a mess that movies are made of: vegetables, oil, and children, all strewn about the kitchen floor. 

When he noticed I wasn’t going to burn down our house in response to the cauliflower shower, my husband started photographing the event. I picked up my high-heel donned toddler and brushed the cauliflower pieces from her onesie pajamas, all the while wondering how in the world this Sunday evening mess didn’t break me. 

I, like many parents who have been quarantined with their young children, had several moments when I thought I might actually implode. Exhausted, frustrated, and stir-crazy, I thought I would fall over the edge when, after trying to discipline my two-year-old, she laughed in my face. “That’s it!” I would think. “The last straw. I can’t do it anymore.” 

But then, magic happened: I did do it. The next moment came, and then the next one, and I was still doing it. Whatever it was I thought would break me, didn’t.

If I’ve learned anything over the last year, it’s that I’m so much more resilient than I ever thought possible.

There were so many straws I assumed would be the last one, but the truth is I could carry the load. I didn’t always carry it with the utmost patience and serenity, and I certainly didn’t always carry it alone, but the chaos and trials of working and parenting in the midst of a pandemic didn’t break this mama’s back. 

I’m not interested in motherhood martyrdom. I don’t think any of us need to drown in the straws stacked upon our back, clawing our way towards some illusive, “I Didn’t Break!” badge of honor. And yet, would you look at us? Would you look at all we’re up against? Straws of responsibility stacking high upon us, each new one threatening to be the one that puts us over the edge into some dark abyss of camels and pandemic-era parents with broken backs and dead futures. Not us, though. We’re not flawless, but we’re not flimsy. The straw we think will break us may weigh us down, but then the next moment comes, and the next, and the next. The stack may be high, but here we are, still alive and breathing under the weight of it. 

My cauliflower-induced laughter reminded me that not all straws are created equal. Some are legitimately heavy, thick, and weighty. Others, however, don’t hold quite as much in them. They add to the pile, making it look bigger, but they don’t have to pull us down very far. While olive-oil-covered tiles are a pain to clean, it can be done without robbing me of a great deal of peace. I know that the straws will continue to stack, but I don’t have to sit lower and lower at the placement of each new one. While I trust that I can and will survive the weightiness of work and motherhood in this era (the next moment comes, and then the next one!), I get to choose how I view each straw proverbially placed on my back. I decided that a carpet of cauliflower wouldn’t weigh me down, and if anything, that made the clean-up far easier. 

Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies—she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.