Pandemic Shame Hierarchy: How Not to Be a Mom-Shamer

I am someone who spends a large majority of my energy trying to control the outcomes of the moments in my life. I am person who has back-up clothes for the back-up clothes for my kids in the trunks of each car. I am the person who tries to think of the “perfect” day for our family at the zoo and studies the map and reads reviews to figure out timing, the right snacks, and change out the back-up-back-up clothes to the right season (pants or shorts?) depending on the predicted weather of the day. I am the person who organizes my grocery list by aisle, since I’ve spent so many hours walking up and down each one over the years that I now know how to “perfectly” shop for groceries.

Which is all to say that this year has kicked my ass.

For someone who loves the illusion of control and all of the comfort that the illusion brings, 2020 knocked me down and then kicked dirt in my face until I was literally crying at my kitchen table wondering if I needed to quit my job to make it through remote learning this Fall. Which is curious since, if I’d been paying attention, I would’ve long-ago realized that my control over the control in my life has been an illusion for forever and I regularly spend large chunks of time not nailing it, even with the best-laid plans.

Because I’m also the person whose zoo plans (pre-pandemic) quickly dissolved when the weather prediction was wrong and it was actually 100 degrees on a spring day and our toddler was still potty training and my husband ended up holding her over a bush behind the giraffe exhibit because the travel potty I always had with me was actually still in the stroller I used when walking them home from daycare the day earlier and the bathroom lines were too long for a two and a half-year-old’s bladder. I was also the person whose kid was inexplicably pants-less and barefoot in a public zoo and sweating so much that they hadn’t seen any animals because the entire family spent the afternoon going from shady spot to shady spot and buying $20 waters to hydrate.

So I’m not sure why I was so surprised when I got my ass kicked by reality during this pandemic. I should’ve expected us to all end up sweating and barefoot, barely being able to take in any of the beauty around us because we were all too tired to care.

On my most generous days, I’ve been able to appreciate the fact that this time home with my family was a moment in our lives that we’ll look back on as a huge blessing. I have spent 7 months without any air travel for work, without having to leave my family for days at a time. I’ve been able to spend every morning, afternoon, and evening with three of the people I love most in this world. We’ve created family favorites such as “the tickle-monster game,” “the statue game,” and “the kissing game” all out of sheer boredom and monotony, and they still bring us giggling joy. I’ve saved money and time on not having to commute to the office and have gotten closer with my colleagues as our family and home lives blend with our work ones. Quite literally, I’ve had more time with my husband and kids than we ever have, and likely ever will, again.

On my less-than-generous days, I’ve felt the weight of having no space between my family and work lives, becoming a Zoom “video on/video off” expert with the click of my finger as my daughter streaks by without any clothes on while I’m on a video conference with my boss’s boss. I’ve felt the weight of deciding between virtual schooling or private, in-person school for my kids and what that means for our health (both mentally and physically) and our jobs (and whether we can do them semi-productively or not). I’ve felt the weight of spending so much time with my kids that it loses it’s magic some days (most days?) and letting them watch more tv than is probably healthy has been a staple of my sanity – and probably theirs. And we’ve felt the weight that so many families have of being furloughed, looking for work, and getting unemployment to make any logical sense, for the love of God.

And what I know for sure is that I’m not alone. Because, as I said on the very first day, in my very first post: you sneaky bitches divulge your true feelings and fears to me when nobody is looking.

Which I appreciate. I also appreciate all of the memes over the last several months that encourage us to support one another and realize that we’re all struggling on any given day to just figure out what “new normal” even means (spoiler alert: nothing is normal and that’s ok. Or it’s not, but that’s what Netflix and DoorDash are for.) But what I don’t appreciate is this nonsense I’ve been seeing and hearing – both online and in real life – about shaming each other for not doing the pandemic right.

Let’s be very clear: if you are a no-masker, I’m not interested in your feedback. I do not agree with your tantrums and faux patriotism and I don’t find your YouTube meltdowns worthy of viewing. You are definitely not doing the pandemic right.

But for the rest of us, the shaming I’m talking about is the Pandemic Shame Hierarchy: Mom Edition - and what I’ve referred to previously as mom-on-mom crime. The not-so-subtle insinuations that your decision to send your kids to school (if that’s even an option) or keep them home for all-virtual learning is somehow inferior to whatever decision this mom-shamer has made about the same thing. Which is interesting, since in my very small sample size of mom-friends that I talk to regularly (about 6-7), not one has the same situation presented to us.

One of us thought we’d be hybrid-learning until a few days before school started and we realized that wasn’t an option anymore and we’d be going all-virtual. One of us had to do full virtual for several weeks and now is able to send all of her kids to school in person, every day. One of us has our kids in school, in person, twice a week while home the rest of the time, and only every other week. One of us has both teenagers virtually learning for God-knows-how-long and one of us is paying for private school to send our kids in-person so that nobody has to quit their job or get fired. Some of us have family nearby that are able and willing to help; some of us don’t. Some of us live in areas where the virus seems to be under control enough to feel safe sending our kids to school; some of us don’t. Some of us have two working parents trying to juggle this and some of us don’t earn money for the work we do. Some of us are essential workers and/or educators and some of us have corporate jobs that may or may not be too understanding about the chaos of our lives at the moment (I’m one of the lucky ones here, and I know this.)

All of us want our families to be safe.

We all know that anger comes from fear, and this year has been chock full of both, for a variety of very warranted reasons. We are all feeling a bit afraid, we are all feeling pandemic fatigue, and we are all just trying to do our best. And sometimes we’re not. Sometimes we’re just trying to get through the day, which is our version of the best, alright? Now quiet, I’m watching “Cobra Kai” in the dark.

I don’t have control over the virus. I don’t have control over rabid social media haters. I don’t have control over when our public school will be safe to go inside again. And so, I’ll continue to organize my grocery list by aisle, feeling righteous and dignified as I glide through each aisle with ease, mask on, shoulders back, head held high.

Until I realize that I forgot to get out of my pajama bottoms before leaving the house to shop perfectly for the groceries today, and then all will be right with the world again and all of its laughable, uncontrollable chaos.


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