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Caregiving in the Time of Coronavirus

boy at computer

Let’s be real. Caregiving has never been easy, and caregiving while teaching PWR even less so. But taking care of loved ones full time while teaching PWR during a global pandemic amid sociopolitical unrest? File that under “impossible.”

Last weekend I was watching a football game on my parents’ television, which has pretty poor resolution. Usually on the score graphic there is a little football to the left of the score of the team that currently has possession of the ball. But on their TV, instead it looked like that team had a score of -20. A negative score halfway through the game. That’s how caregiving feels right now. Like you are expected to win the game, and win it decisively, but first have to fight just to get to zero.

There is a lot of encouragement going around that aims to alleviate the distress of that task. Instagram posts remind us not to feel guilty when we “fail” at parenting and yell at our stir-crazy toddler, to be gentle to ourselves and our kids when they melt down for the third time in front of their laptops, to find small ways to cope and even smile at whatever impossible surprises each day might hold. We try to laugh with our blessedly kind and forgiving students when our little people barge into the room as we talk about the rhetorical situation. We try gardening, baking, and painting like everyone else, but only if it can double as educational entertainment for our children.

For almost a year now we’ve been doing the impossible. And for some of us, doing the impossible has meant taking reduced workloads (and paychecks) and leaves of absence so we can be teachers, therapists, chefs, nurses, art instructors, and living room PE teachers.

Below I highlight some of those experiences, shared with us by fellow PWR Lecturers who gave up some of those precious minutes to give us a peek into their corona-times:

What are a couple of major ways life has changed for you as a PWR parent/caregiver since lockdown began?

One of the major changes is that I'm now a preschool and elementary teacher in addition to being a PWR lecturer. I also went from having 40+ hours of childcare a week to having about 20. (Jenne Stonaker)

As parents, we had finally hit the golden marker--two kids in grade school at the same school-when the pandemic hit. So, our youngest didn't finish kinder. My life has changed as all parents' lives have in that we're together ALL THE TIME but also now daily I pull out my rusty reading teacher tools, and force them on an unwilling patient. My days are packed from morning until night with set-up of Zooms, printing of asynch activities, oversight of asynch activities, reminders to panopticon my older daughter to stop her searching the internet for cute panda pics, and a constant stream of interruptions in every moment (except my Zoom teaching time--for which I have care). I have to set myself reminders to do my own work--because I'm so busy doing everyone else's. I work on Saturdays, my husband works on Sundays, and we both work after the kids are in bed. We never relax, we never have time for television or reading for pleasure, and we're both frazzled to our wits end. Not to put too fine a point on it…  (Kath Rothschild)

I feel like the day begins at 6:30 am and ends at midnight but I have often only walked across two rooms in the process! The time-space continuum and private-public separation has markedly shrunk. I love the extra hugs I am able to sneak in with my son but feel like cavewoman or teacher-zombie most of the time. (Sangeeta Mediratta)


What are some of the particular challenges you have been facing as a parent/caregiver these past few months?

Time. Time. Time. In the Pasttimes, I had 8:30-4 M-F to work. Now I have 1-4 Wednesday and Friday when we have a babysitter. An expensive babysitter. Also, my youngest talks constantly so that makes me want to brain myself. (Kath Rothschild)

I miss having uninterrupted blocks of time to get work done! I think that is the biggest challenge for me. I used to love working from home, especially when I needed to finish grading essays, but it isn't the same with everyone in the house! (Jenne Stonaker)

There are really no breaks. We lost our childcare because of the pandemic, so I have to be on my game, full 150% mode pretty much from sunrise to bedtime. My mom has helped with our toddler during teaching times and some conferences, which is the only way I have been able to work. I still have to pop out during breakout groups to check on my older son’s online school. (Angela Becerra Vidergar)


Would you like to share any challenges the loved ones you care for have been facing these past few months?

We are all together in the same house but everyone is off in their own school/ office/ classroom zoom world. It's very strange! My son dislikes online school and isn't very independent about most things so it's hard for him when I tell him I can't help him with something. (Sangeeta Mediratta)

My daughters are missing their friends and having social time--particularly my oldest, who is much older than her younger sister. And my youngest is really tough about reading with me, so we've decided to hire a $100/hour former Kinder teacher (my daughter's former teacher who is wonderful and we're grateful, but broke) to teach her to read. (Kath Rothschild)

My girls miss their friends and teachers, but have mostly been doing ok. One challenge for my 7 year old has been having to learn how to type to finish her school work. I've heard this from several friends with elementary aged kids too -- their teachers didn't seem to consider the fact that they don't know how to type, and it takes them such a long time to write anything out on the computer. (Jenne Stonaker)

Predictably, my sons have struggled with being around each other constantly, without the usually school buffer. My older son is mostly okay with online school, but freezes up and can’t answer when the teacher asks him questions on Zoom. I hate seeing him feel panicked and defeated when that happens. It makes me more empathetic towards my students, though. (Angela Becerra Vidergar)


What are you proud of? How have you been able to keep going, to manage, to find light during these past months?

I have murdered no one. That is a point of pride.  Also we do laugh a lot. Like: "well, some parents say they missed out on their kids' younger years. Not us! We can never claim such a thing! We're here for EVERY SECOND!" (Kath Rothschild)

I don't know if this is something that I'm proud of, exactly, but I've been so impressed with my students in these online quarters. Their ability to navigate the switch to online learning is inspiring. Many are dealing with less than ideal circumstances too, but they are making it work. And they are always understanding when a small child pops up in their class or Hume session! (Jenne Stonaker)

I have found pockets of time at night to write poetry or draw comics that help me get out some of my thoughts. I have also poured my anxieties into a LOT of gardening, which my 3-year old ended up being really into! My 9-year old and I have gotten into bird photography (inspired by Raechel Lee, of course). (Angela Becerra Vidergar)

Doing yoga has helped! (Sangeeta Mediratta)


Have there been any surprising positives or silver linings to this situation as a parent/caregiver?

We have dinner together most nights, and started doing these question cards that are called Little Talk and it's nice. Sometimes. Sometimes I just want everyone to go to bed and let me cry in a corner though. So, you know.  (Kath Rothschild)

I love hearing my 3 year old do her online preschool class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings -- she gets so excited when the teacher calls on her or highlights her work -- and sometimes I get to wave hello (across Zoom!) to Angela [Becerra Vidergar] and her son, who is also in the class. (Jenne Stonaker)

Like Jenne, I get a kick out of being in “preschool” with my 3-year old. I also have to say that although it’s cramped and sometimes infuriating, part of me loves having all my immediate family close at hand - especially when things around us are so scary and uncertain. Admittedly, one of the biggest silver linings is my growing collection of comfy yoga pants. (Angela Becerra Vidergar)


Is there anything else you would like your PWR colleagues to know about your experience as a parent/caregiver during this time?

Thanks to Marvin, Adam, and Christine for listening to our concerns and doing their best to support the PWR caregivers during this time! It helps to know they are looking out for us. (Jenne Stonaker)

If they're as awesome as they seem, they know.  (Kath Rothschild)

Thank you for being with us even when you aren’t “with” us. I feel held up and supported knowing that I have a safety net of caring, talented, empathetic colleagues who routinely step out of themselves to be there for each other, even before this all happened. (Angela Becerra Vidergar)


Before I close, I extend sincere gratitude to the colleagues who have made themselves vulnerable in order to create a space of support and camaraderie, and most importantly to advocate for the resources we sorely need. We have talked about the exhaustion that comes with sharing, whether for this article or in the many other conversations around pandemic caregiving in our teaching community. You are seen, loved, and understood.

In closing, I leave you with some thoughts from the wonderful Wendy Goldberg, who of course knows just what to say and how to say it best:

[During this time] I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with my husband. I’m there with him all hours of the day; more importantly, I’m there whenever he needs me. I find comfort in this fact, and so, blessedly, does he. There’s an enhanced intimacy to our life. As we ride out the pandemic together—gazing endlessly through the living room window at the world beyond—I’m reminded of when we were at Semester at Sea and shared a cozy berth on our ship for the 4-month trip ‘round the world. Admittedly, I’m more tired now than I used to be. In part, that’s simply because I’m older and living through the phantasmagoria that is 2020. But it’s also a consequence of the fact that I feel the need to get the house and our lives in order each night before I turn off the lights. It had once been otherwise. . .; he took care of so many of these chores.  I thank my lucky stars that I can now do the honors, return the favor, and  make sure that he goes to sleep peacefully (the grey blanket arranged “just so”; he’s quite particular) feeling safe, at home, and loved.  I recognize how fortunate Jerry and I are to be together with a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.  And I’m equally aware of my great good fortune in being a part of this program—with all of you—where the teaching and tutoring I do daily is as profoundly restorative and revitalizing as it is deeply meaningful.

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Editor's Note: If you're a parent-caregiver and would like to join the PWR Parent-Caregiver email list, please contact Jennifer Stonaker. As always, the leadership team is available to talk to you about supporting you in your dual roles as teaching and caregiving, whether through in individual email (to Marvin, Adam, or Christine) or through the formal accommodation form, distributed before the beginning of each quarter.

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