One question that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront of our societal conversations is, Who are the essential workers?
The first professions that immediately spring to mind are obvious: doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers. However, the pandemic has proven that there are additional tiers and classes of essential workers, including grocery store employees, delivery drivers, warehouse employees, non-frontline healthcare employees, and teachers.
My wife and I are in these last two categories.
The economy has ground to a halt in many sectors so we’re very fortunate to still be receiving paychecks, but with that said, the expectations from our employers have risen to unrealistic levels.
For me, it means working seven days a week for seven consecutive weeks (and counting), pulling at least twelve hours a day on weekdays (two of which I still have to go into the office), and being tasked with handling all of the important data related to the virus and all of the pressure that goes along with that.
It’s even more difficult for my wife.
She’s a second grade teacher that has to teach a live lesson at least twice a day in addition to creating all of the lesson plans and projects, not to mention acting as one of the IT help desk operators for each student and their parents. And she’ll be the first to tell you she doesn’t have it nearly as bad as plenty of other teachers.
All of that would be hard enough on its own, but we also belong to another category of essential workers: parents. We have two daughters — a soon-to-be 8-year-old and an 18-month-old — so multiply the difficulty by about a trillion.
Teacher. Healthcare employee. Mother. Father. Four essential jobs being performed by two people.
Adam Pally, the man who hosted the greatest hour of television history, recently penned an essay that gave everyone a rundown of his daily routine as a parent in isolation. It’s great and honest, but here’s the thing: Pally doesn’t have an essential day job that he needs to maintain while doing all of the parenting things he so colorfully describes (he admits as much towards the end of the essay).
For those of us that do it’s been a constant struggle to juggle everything. I am regularly bombarded with requests and demands. The emails, calls, and texts begin at 6 a.m. and don’t stop until almost midnight. I have meetings about calls and calls about meetings.
When working from home, I never get to use the bathroom in silence or actually sit for more than thirty seconds before being asked to get something, fix something, cook something, or pretend something.
I have a toddler that is constantly asking to be fed even though she just finished eating, enjoys climbing on the dining room table and sitting in the middle like a centerpiece, demands repeated readings of The Itsy Bitsy Bunny or Happy Halloween, Daniel Tiger!, and slaps the keyboard constantly (I’ve had to retype this sentence three times because of her attempts at collaborating on this essay). I have an older daughter that needs help reading, writing, and submitting work or wants to make her own lunch and ends up just making an enormous mess.
It’s difficult to put a child in time-out while hosting a meeting or put a toddler down for a nap when you’re on a video call and few things are more nerve-wracking than being in the middle of changing a dirty diaper, your phone rings, and the name on the screen is your boss (or your boss’s boss).
As I’m typing this, I’m answering emails, texts, and phone calls for work, and submitting data to the state and federal government while simultaneously making grilled cheese for lunch, making preparations for dinner, folding laundry, and preventing my younger child from drawing on the furniture or sending an email full of gibberish to the CFO while also trying to help my older one with her math homework.
Everyone has a job to do and some things cannot wait, but the expectations put on working parents of young children during this time have been outrageous and have led to heartbreaking moments like my older daughter being forced to wait over an hour for help with her schoolwork while the younger one is crying because she’s overdue for her nap but neither of us can leave our respective virtual meetings.
We’re not alone. One New York City parent summed it up perfectly: “To teach them and to do my work is fucking insane. I’ve worked from home before, but I never had to teach them.”
In (previous) normal times, I was mobbed from the moment I came home. Every time I walked through the door was like the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life.
On the days I’m forced to go into work, I text my wife when I pull into the driveway so that I can come inside without touching anything. I run down to the basement, strip down, and throw everything but my underwear in the washing machine. I then I bound up the stairs and race past my children — calling out, reaching, crying — like an adult Casper (same complexion and body type) up the stairs to take a shower.
And I have it easy those days because for the majority of the day I’m solely an employee. My wife has to pull double parenting duty on those days while also trying to keep up with constantly increasing requirements and demands in addition to her normal role of teaching a cadre of seven and eight-year-olds.
Much of the pressure to reopen schools seems to be coming from parents that need their time and concentration back in order to do their work because they use school as de facto daycare centers. Teachers are some of the most important people in society, yet far too many minimize them to the point where they want to treat them like nannies.
But when teachers are the ones that you rely on to babysit your kids, what happens when the teachers need childcare?
The difficulty teachers are currently facing was eloquently addressed in Kelsey LaMar’s Facebook post:
“Somewhere, there’s a teacher locking her door so that she can get some work done. Her kids stand on the other side banging and crying for her. They slip her a note under the door that says, ‘Mommy, I miss you. Can you play with me?’ She sits silently weeping.”
Yesterday, my wife asked what day it was; a few hours later, I was texting with a friend of mine who is a clinical pharmacist and he said he had to ask someone what day it was.
Every day is so chaotic and stressful that we’re even more exhausted than usual. Once the children are in bed, we barely have energy to turn on the TV. I normally devour books, both for improvement and pleasure, but lately I’ve been so mentally fried that I can’t even get through a page before I pass out.
While there are some that are using this time as a paid sabbatical to catch up on their Netflix queue, there are others of us that have never been busier — at work or at home.
Regardless of when or how this ends, this pandemic has proven that the people that care for and teach our children every day are every bit as essential as any others.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.