The Agony of Pandemic Parenting

Ashley S. Crofoot
mom

This is my primal scream.

interposing voices

[SCREAMING]

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

mom

I just wanted to say — [SCREAMING]

michael barbaro

Several months ago, The Times opened up a phone line to ask americans what it’s really been like to parent during the pandemic.

mom 1

[SCREAMING] I have to hide in my closet to make this phone call, because there’s no peace. There’s no quiet. All I hear all the time is “Mom!”

child

Mom!

mom 1

Like that! They’re coming to get me. I can’t escape these kids. They eat all day long. There is way more laundry than when they were in school. And all their — all their pets. I have their dog, and I’ve got the three-legged hedgehog and I’ve got the talking parrot. And no one wants to feed them! I think I need to run away. All I can do is hide in this closet, and even this doesn’t last long enough.

child

Mom.

mom 1

Ugh. I have to go. I’m being called.

child

Mom.

mom 1

One more scream. [SCREAMING]

mom 2

Hello, New York Times. I’m calling you from the toilet. Because I literally just had to say to my kids, “I’m going to pee. Leave me alone.”

mom 3

My child just cleaned our faces with toilet water.

mom 4

I miss being able to crap in peace. I am sitting right now on the toilet, and my 13-month-old daughter is running around. Yup, now she’s in the bathroom. And she’s gonna — she’s going to try and steal the toilet paper.

child

[BABBLING]

mom 5

I Oh, I should add that I’m a single mother. So this is every day. There is no partner. I mean, my mom is here, but she don’t know. She’ll quote unquote “watch” the baby, but then I find the baby eating, like, lint out of the garbage can.

mom 6

The upstairs pillows are downstairs. The downstairs pillows are upstairs. And I didn’t think that upstairs pillows being downstairs and downstairs pillows being upstairs would bring me this level of anxiety, but here we are.

mom 7

I love my kids. But for [EXPLETIVE] sake, like, we are together all of the time. Somebody else rear my children, please.

mom 8

My kids are [EXPLETIVE].

mom 9

They are primates. They’re barely human.

mom 8

They think I’m a slave.

mom 9

They’re so messy. The cleaning and the cooking, that’s the hardest part. They just eat all the time and make messes. They don’t even care. They’ll just look at you and throw something on the floor.

I can’t believe there’s so many people on Earth when it’s this hard. Sex is not that good. And I didn’t even have sex. I did it through I.V.F. God, I just am amazed that the population is as big as it is. I really, truly am. It’s so much I’m sitting in the bathroom talking to no one. God help me. [CHUCKLING] At least I don’t have Covid, I don’t think.

michael barbaro

It’s Friday, April 16.

elizabeth halfhill

It’s the morning.

We are up and ready to go almost. I’m making French toast for Max. And I have to drink coffee, of course. My name’s Elizabeth Halfhill. I live in Spokane, Washington. I’m a full-time family law paralegal and a single mother of an 11-year-old kid named Max. Say hi.

max

Hello, New York Times News. My name is Max Noakes. I’m 11 years old. My mom is Elizabeth’s Halfhill. She’s 30 years old.

elizabeth halfhill

Max is very kind. He is very creative. So I just had to tell him to stop sawing cardboard in the background because he’s building something right now while I do this.

max

I like drawing, building LEGOs, a lot of forms of art, mainly clay and drawings. Sometimes I do a little painting.

elizabeth halfhill

So he’s creative. He’s kind. He’s really funny. He makes me laugh all of the time. I mean, I just — even if he wasn’t my kid, I love him as a person.

max

I have a drawing of a squirrel that I made.

elizabeth halfhill

You have other ones, too. I’ll grab one.

max

No. No, Mom.

elizabeth halfhill

Yes, yes, yes.

max

No, those are just doodles. Stop.

elizabeth halfhill

The weekend of March 13, I remember March 13 was the date that everything, like the state of emergency came down. It almost felt, I don’t want to say fun, but like exciting. Like, oh, school’s out for two weeks. And then we get two weeks off, and it’ll all go back to normal. And so that was the first moment. But the next moment was when I had made it through the summer with almost no childcare and still having to work and all these things. And then the school announces two weeks before they were supposed to be back in session that no one would come back in person. And I don’t know if it was a news article or a friend texted me, but I was sitting at home, and I just started bawling.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 1)

So closing thoughts at the end of the day before school, Max and I cleaned up the whole house and made it nice for tomorrow. We got his laptop all logged in and updated. So that hopefully it’s smooth sailing in the morning with no tech difficulties or anything. Max told me that he isn’t excited for this year at all, and he’s just sad that he can’t see his friends. He’s really bummed out. Which makes me worry because I feel like tomorrow is going to set the tone for the rest of the school year, and I just hope that he likes it somewhat. I will check in in the morning when we wake up and kind of let you know how it’s going throughout the day. Wish us luck.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 2)

This is our first day of school style.

max (memo)

Because there is only digital school now, so I don’t really care.

elizabeth halfhill

It’s black t-shirt and gym shorts. Don’t have to be too formal.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 3)

OK, I left Max in his class. He did OK for a minute, but his microphone on his frickin’ headset I just thought isn’t working.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 4)

It’s 11:28 am Max was out in the dining room, muttering that he doesn’t like school or his teacher because he was being silly on webcam and they made him turn his camera off. I’m already really discouraged, because I know that this is just going to turn into a power struggle, where I tell Max to not be silly on camera and pay attention and he is going to get in trouble all year long, because there’s no peer pressure to be good. It’s literally just an adult and a kid and us one on one.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 5)

It’s 11:57. I’m making grilled cheese. Max has informed me that his teacher has decided to call it quits for the entire day three hours early, because everyone’s just getting used to everything. Max says distance learning sucks, and he doesn’t want to do it. And I agree. So we’re just going to take it day at a time and do the best we can.

elizabeth halfhill

I got pregnant at 18, and Max was born when I was — I turned 19 right after he was born actually. So I gave birth to him when I was 18. I was home schooled by my parents religiously until fourth grade, like actual religious curriculum. And then I went to public school from that point on. And I ended up dropping out of high school in my sophomore year and getting my G.E.D. Max’s father and I were not married until he was three years old. But we did get married when he was three, and then we divorced when he was, I think, six. He was actually in jail from the time Max was six months old. So he missed a lot of the first holidays. We were together after that, but I embodied a lot of the old-fashioned ideals of the mother doing most of the parenting. You know, and I worked, too. I worked full-time, so yeah.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

OK, so update. We’re basically just by Thursday, Friday we’re at the end of our rope. We’ve been on computers doing our work on our school for, like, four days, and we’re tired. So we both woke up not in the mood today. Max wasn’t paying close enough attention in class, and he sort of got snipped out by his teacher.

elizabeth halfhill

Max was playing a game on his phone during class time. I got a little upset with him.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

And he immediately got a stress headache after that, because he’s just so stressed out by virtual school. He feels like it’s hard to pay attention, it’s hard to get assignments done. It’s hard to understand what the teacher is saying when he’s speaking to everyone in a Zoom meeting. So he got a stress headache. He said he felt like he was going to throw up. He was like crying. The stress is just a lot for him.

elizabeth halfhill

I kind of go back and forth between knowing I need to be upset that he is not paying attention or this or that, and then having total empathy. Like, if I had to be on a Zoom meeting for five hours, I would definitely mess around on my phone, too, right? So it’s trying to find the line between enforcing the right boundary and also letting him know that I understand it’s a struggle.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

So I calmed him down, and I made him, like, a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea. And I was like, “I love you.” I was like, this year, you’re not going to fail. They won’t hold you back. You don’t have to do perfect this year. You just have to make it through and just be present in class as much as you can, right? So he felt better.

elizabeth halfhill

There are days where he didn’t want to pay any attention to his laptop class. And it’s hard to enforce that sometimes.

[new scene]
elizabeth halfhill

I had just gotten divorced, and I had a pretty good job working for Apple, but I knew I needed something long-term career-wise. And I didn’t even know what I wanted to do, but I was like, you have to get back into college, you have to get a degree, you have to do something. So I just enrolled at the local Spokane Community College. And right around that time, I started working as a legal assistant part-time as well for the attorney that sort of got me started on the path. And she was telling me about the paralegal program, which was at the same college I was attending. And so I just enrolled in the program and sort of took it from there, I guess.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

Just finished my class. And I was working the whole time, like typing emails for my job. But I’m going to go make a cup of coffee and then get to work for the day. Whew, whew. It’s 9:17 a.m.

elizabeth halfhill

I’m still going to school, so I am always tired like 100 percent of the time.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

I did my class at work. The receptionist held my calls. Everyone’s really nice about me being in school. So I returned all of those, and then I just had a really busy whirlwind day at work. Then we came home, rushed through dinner, kept cleaning. I literally cleaned until like 8:30 p.m. and then took a bath. I am sitting now, but it is 9:58 p.m. and I’m doing my math homework. So yeah, some days feel like they’re so busy, they feel like they don’t even exist. It’s like I just went through 24 hours, and I don’t even remember any of it, because I was just go-go-go, move-move-move.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

I would like to let it be known for the record that I am not a homeschooler. I never wanted to homeschool. I always put my kid in school. This isn’t me. It ain’t me. I’m doing my best, but this is not my frickin’ talent. This is not my talent space, OK? Not me. I’m a great mom and I’m good at momming, but I’m not good at educating.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 2)

When they say tomorrow is a new day in Covid-land, it’s not a new day. And if it is a new day, it’s probably just getting worse.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 3)

I’m actually just really pissed and upset because I know this isn’t going to work all year. I know he’s not going to learn anything, and he’s just going to be sitting on a frickin’ computer screen. Like, I wish they’d just cancel school for the year. There’s no point. It’s like you’re implementing a system that just isn’t going to work for most kids, and they’re all going to be really behind anyways. So why don’t they just let us parents figure out what we’re going to do during the day on our own and take them to child care or whatever and just can it? Like, we’re expected to keep working and implement an entire education system at home and have this power struggle of making them log in to meetings at certain times 5 days a week. It’s not realistic, and it’s not doable.

elizabeth halfhill (memo 4)

And I might be really upset because this is drawing on a bigger thing that I already deal with, where I’m not a married parent. I’m not stay-at-home. I don’t have a stay-at-home spouse. It’s harder for me to do things already for my Max working full-time, like sports or extracurricular activities or things that I can’t afford anyways. And then on top of it now, like the pandemic hit, and it just exasperates on — I’m going to cry — but like things I already deal with and stress, like not being able to do things and provide as much for him as a lot of other families do. And the pressure is now triple on me. Not that it’s not on other parents, too. But it’s kind of impossible for me to make this work, because I’m not your classic design of a family that is prepared for something like this. I depend heavily on social things like school to get me by. And then without it, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

mom 1

So I’m a single mom in the pandemic. And I’m a teacher, so I feel like single mothers and teachers — and mothers in general — all take on more than they can. And so I have like three strikes against me, and it’s just impossible.

mom 2

I feel like I’m not doing anything well. I feel like everything I do, I do badly. Because I’m managing so many people and so many things.

mom 3

I’m wondering if I missed the delivery of the tool box that was delivered when this shit all went down last year. I’m trying to be a good professional woman and a good mom all at the same time. And no one is telling me how to do this.

mom 4

I’m not expecting handouts. I don’t expect things to be easy. But I just want it to be doable.

mom 5

My daughter’s three-years-old, and 8 days ago, I gave birth to a stillborn baby at 21 weeks of gestation. Today is my three-year-old’s last day of preschool for the year, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the end of the year. I can barely take care of myself.

mom 6

No happiness in my life. I can’t stand my kids anymore. I’m just miserable.

mom 7

I am rarely alone. Even when I go in my room at night to go to sleep and turn out the light, somebody comes in to talk to me and tell me another thing. [SIGHS] It’s endless.

mom 8

I’m lucky I haven’t lost my job yet. I’m on the phone with clients all day, and I have a five-year-old in the background. But if she’s heard on there, I could lose my job, our only source of income, and we could be homeless.

mom 9

How are we going to do this? I’m so angry at our entire government and societal system. There’s just no backup or no help, or nothing.

mom 10

I just want to wake up and go through my day and not worry and not wonder, and not know what the future holds because this right here sucks, and I’m sick of it. I’m so sick of this!

[SOBBING]

mom 11

This pandemic has made me realize that maybe I’m not cut out to be a mother. I love my kids, but I don’t like being a mom. And I don’t like being a mom in America, because it’s just so much more clear that America hates women and hates families. We don’t have support. Moms are not heroes. And this is just so hard, so hard.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

Just eating breakfast, getting ready for the day. It’s about 7:45 in the morning. Max had Cream of Wheat and toast, and I had toast and coffee. And we’ll be leaving here in like a half hour to drop him at Susan’s. How are you doing, Max? He says “thumbs up.”

elizabeth halfhill

Susan is a very dear friend, and I would venture to say sort of chosen family-style friend. Max and I, before we moved into the house we are in now, lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of kids and a lot of parents living in a block radius. And Susan was one of them. They all homeschooled prior to the pandemic. So they were already set for all of this. But all of our kids are best friends. They run all over the neighborhood together. And Susan was home, and she said Max can come and be on his laptop here while I teach my kids, and then he can play with them in the afternoon. So she’s a part of my essential community. Like, I could not have gotten through the pandemic without these other women in my neighborhood.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

So also just to update you on where we’ve been, last week was mostly fine. Max is doing good being at Susan’s, because he has friends there. But he is already completely burnt out on laptop work. It’s been two weeks, and he says that he just hates sitting in front of that webcam all day. And it isn’t fun because it’s not — like, they’ll have you do some things, but it’s not interactive. There’s no arts and crafts. There’s no gym. There’s no music. Like, there’s nothing to do with your hands, basically. So I texted his teacher on Monday. And I said, listen, you just can’t do this for the amount of time that you guys are expecting. He’s going to be done at noon every day. So this week, he’s only doing school from 8:30 to noon, at lunch time. His home school friends are out of home school afternoon, and he’s been playing magic cards and walking to the park and doing things that I find to be better than sitting on a screen for the afternoons. And his teacher was totally understanding. He wrote back and said, you know, I’m sorry. “This totally sucks” is what he said. He said there was no other way to say

[new scene]
elizabeth halfhill

Max!

max

Yeah.

elizabeth halfhill

Can you come in here?

max

Yeah.

elizabeth halfhill

Also, you were supposed to take the dog out and you never did.

max

Sorry.

elizabeth halfhill

Well, look at him. He’d sad. Look at his face.

elizabeth halfhill

So I had Susan, and then I ended up working from home from November through January. And then I use Boys and Girls Club until he went back to school February 17th. And now he is back at school two days one week, three days the following week. And I have to find care the other few days.

max

I think we’ve gotten closer over this little while. We get into arguments sometimes, but other than that, we’re pretty close.

elizabeth halfhill

You’re gonna make me cry! All of the stresses that caused us to be annoyed with each other or anything like that were all outside stresses of the situation. And we handled them OK. I don’t think it’s changed at all, really. It feels the same. We get along decently. And we enjoy spending time with each other. It’s like — it’s like we had a relationship beforehand, and the situation around has shifted, but we’re just mother and son, best buds. And it’s still that way.

I think I was always this way, but I think I now realize I’m absolutely unstoppable. Just nothing. I’m always going to figure out a way to make it work. Like, nothing will stop me. Nothing can stop me from just keeping on keeping on, I guess.

elizabeth halfhill (memo)

So today is April 14th, and I made homemade pizza for dinner. Max, how would you rate today, 1 to 10?

max

8.

elizabeth halfhill

And how come?

max

Because it was a good day. I had fun with my friends. I got scraped up a little bit. But other than that, it was awesome.

elizabeth halfhill

Cool. Well, I rate it an 8 for you, too.

max

Yeah.

elizabeth halfhill

All right, and that’s our report of a school day. Later.

max

Goodbye.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording

Have you made a decision today whether you intend to testify or whether you intend to invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege?

archived recording (derek chauvin)

I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today.

michael barbaro

On Thursday, Derek Chauvin declined to testify on his own behalf, and his defense lawyers rested their case, ending the testimony phase of his murder trial in the death of George Floyd. Closing arguments will begin on Monday, after which the jury will begin deliberations.

archived recording (peter cahill)

If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.

michael barbaro

On Thursday afternoon, the judge in the case, Peter Cahill, began preparing jurors for that process.

archived recording (peter cahill)

Basically, it’s up to the jury how long you deliberate, how long you need to come to a unanimous decision on any count. And so because that’s entirely up to you, whether it’s an hour or a week, it’s entirely within your province. So —

michael barbaro

Today’s episode was produced by Michael Simon Johnson, Diana Nguyen and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Lisa Chow and Paige Cowett, engineered by Chris Wood, and contains original music by Marion Lozano. Special thanks to the editors behind the Primal Scream Project, Jessica Grose and Jessica Bennett.

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday.

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