It’s another morning in our studio apartment, and my 6-year-old son and I fight for my laptop. He has a drawing class ― the only online class I could find where he can talk to other kids ― and I annoy the teacher by banging pans as I try to cook something we are not sick of eating. (I fail.)
I am antsy to finish writing an article for a client, so as I wash the dreaded dishes, I scribble an outline. I finally get the computer back, and my son tries to squeeze in next to me on my chair and nags me to draw a cobra. I snap at him, which I’ve been doing a lot more in the recent months, and he patiently goes on to draw the battle of Titanoboa and Tyrannosaurus Rex while blasting “Animal I Have Become” by Three Days Grace.
I try to work some more. We eat, he begs to go outside ― which we do, but we alternate days ― one for errands like doctors and food shopping, and one to do something he wants. We come home; I teach English online. The day is suddenly over, and at midnight, he will fall asleep, and I will debate whether to watch an Amazon show or to catch up on sleep. (I will never catch up on sleep.)
Then we get up the next day and do it all over again. I rise at 6 a.m. for a part-time job interview. My son gets up too, and accidentally drops the monster truck next to me right in the middle of a question. Fuck! The interviewer now knows I am a mom. I never get a callback. I cry, because I spent three days, unpaid, preparing for that interview.
If that weren’t enough, my head is exploding with decisions I must make on my own: Do we move, and can I afford it? When can I work full-time again? Will schools ever be safe? How will I take care of my child if I get sick? I cry some more. My son hugs me. I feel even guiltier, so I get my act together.
I cannot afford to not work. Because it’s just the two of us, I also cannot afford to get sick, and much less, die. I cry often, mostly because I feel guilty: I am either working or looking for work most days, and my son has been left to his other parent ― my cell phone. I check my history and see videos about the observable universe, the tallest skyscrapers in the world, a documentary on baby harp seals (watched 117 times) and the fights of Indominus Rex with other dinosaurs. Not the worst of the internet, I figure. Then again, yesterday I found my kid watching “how to survive a grenade blast.”
“I cannot afford to not work. Because it’s just the two of us, I also cannot afford to get sick, and much less, die. I cry often, mostly because I feel guilty: I am either working or looking for work most days, and my son has been left to his other parent ― my cell phone.”
Every other week, I pay a psychologist to listen to me. He’s not particularly good, but he’s cheap. I think of him as my only friend to whom I can honestly say: I am not OK. I am far from OK.
“I’m so glad the pandemic is basically over,” a single friend says to me. Like other friends without kids, he has found a way to go back to almost-normal, with the mask and gel. These friends are taking holidays, having caught up on their reading list, mastered another language or a musical instrument during confinement. I sigh as he says this. My own pandemic experience began in March and is still going full-force and won’t come to an end in the coming months. I haven’t even mastered survival.
So I google. The one article I can find for single parents suggests I focus on “finding time for yourself” (when?) and allowing more screen time (as if I ever had the luxury of banning it). I’m not convinced it was written by a single parent.
The pandemic has been a different experience for those with kids. For most (myself included), our kids are still at home, testing our sanity day in and day out. Many parents have found a way to manage this new normality ― couples describe having to work in shifts as the other parent watches the kids. Many are still having a hard time ― another friend complains about her lack of alone time: just an hour a day, she says, while her husband takes their child for a walk in their suburbia. (It’s an ugly truth to admit, but I’ll say it ― I envy her.) I see articles about this generation of parents worrying about falling behind in their careers and listicles of how to manage psychologically. They make my right eye tick, as does the question, “What do you do in your free time?”
Day after day, I see news stories and features about moms doing a disproportionate share of the housework and childcare. In reading this conversation ― whether among friends on Facebook or in the media ― a Norman Rockwell-esque picture of a family emerges. Just as I thought we’ve taken a step forward as a society, finally starting to include in our conversation parents who are multiracial or LGTBQ+, parents who fare differently economically, parents who are ... different from the “norm” ― we seem to be doing a lot of backtracking during the pandemic. Coronavirus has put the spotlight back on the struggles of a white family of cisgender parents and their 2.4 children.
Somehow, the stories that acknowledge the fact that different families both exist and may have other challenges in coping are few and far between.
So what about the other families? What about those who are standing in line at the food bank, risking exposure? Those who have been or still are sick and therefore unable to work? Those who are being evicted or fired from their jobs? And, forgive me for being selfish ― but what about me?
I am invisible in this pandemic. As a solo parent ― one is solely responsible for the well-being of a child, one who carries the full burden of the financial, custodial and emotional responsibility ― I feel as if I am excluded for the solutions our governments give us.
For example, on March 14, the Spanish government confined us to our tiny apartments, fully and completely, without the ability to go for walks or to exercise outside. Kids were not allowed to be outside at all. But then, as a solo parent, how was I to do the shopping? Somehow, society did not figure me into their equation.
I solved that problem by staying up until midnight to get a delivery slot from Amazon, then getting up at 5 am to get a slot from another supermarket. Deliveries often took two weeks and came only partially filled. We had to make do without flour and pasta and some basic goods. Leaving him alone to go to a physical store seemed too dangerous ― and potentially illegal.
I dipped into my savings (and I do recognize the privilege of even having a savings) and I paid double to get the food we need. Others had it worse: A friend I met later had to rely on a local church for food, and as a condition of receiving aid, you had to send it a photo of your family, standing over the food, smiling, as if everything is OK when it’s not.
“A group of married women I’m in touch with share in our Whatsapp group chat that they are planning to take the kids to the countryside as their husbands work in the city. They ask, 'Do you want to come?' 'Let the husbands work in peace,' one laughs. 'Can’t, sorry.' I type. 'I am the husband.'”
At some point during our quarantine, the 1-kilometer rule came into effect in Spain: Children could go for walks within 1 kilometer of their house. Adults, on the other hand, could go anywhere. That day, quarantine ended for couples: One parent would stay with the kids as the other would travel wherever they pleased. We, a family of two, one of whom is a child, stayed on a leash. Again, we felt invisible, outside the norm and outside the rules.
I snooze friends on Facebook who post the projects they are doing with their kids as their partner works. A group of married women I’m in touch with share in our Whatsapp group chat that they are planning to take the kids to the countryside as their husbands work in the city. They ask, “Do you want to come?” “Let the husbands work in peace,” one laughs. “Can’t, sorry.” I type. “I am the husband.” The conversation ends there.
We were all wrong, expecting this pandemic to end a lot sooner. I now have to stretch the little money I make to cover all the illnesses and school closures that will come ― if the schools open at all, that is. I joke that the day my son goes to school, I will sit in silence and stare at the wall. In truth, I probably won’t know what to do with the silence.
I do exist, whether society recognizes it or not. So I am raising my hand to say, hello, I’m here. We are here. My 6-year understands that families are different ― when it comes to size, sex, gender, race, economic status, etc. Why don’t grown-ups? Why can’t society recognize that families like mine ― and families like many others that do not fit the round hole of this square peg of a conversation ― still do exist and are struggling? And that we wouldn’t mind a little help, even if it comes in the form of acknowledgment. That would be the first step to having a conversation that is inclusive, and therefore, one worth having.
Kat Rossi is a writer who is inspired by human stories and big cities and an editor who is obsessed with all things grammar. She lives in Barcelona.