Watch Me Burn

I would have described myself as an overly busy, at times overwhelmed parent-professional before COVID-19 took the world by storm, so the fact that I look back to those days with nostalgia is, in my estimation, a really bad sign. This past March my kids’ elementary school and daycare closed. School and daycare closed so it was suddenly up to me to homeschool and care for my 3 and 6 year old during all of my ‘off’ hours. The “Admin Time” built into my schedule for non-patient work became homeschool time, as did all of my other unscheduled work time. I uneasily accepted help from an elderly family member and an elderly neighbor, since I had no other immediate options. Their father took them another day per week as for multiple years he has and continues to work remotely from home. My volume of patients continued on as before, except now largely in the form of telemedicine visits which I was expected mostly to take from my office 40min from home. I am but one example of how the covid-19 pandemic has hit households, but particularly women and their careers, extremely hard, possibly irrevocably. 

According to Forbes (“Coronavirus is Widening the Gender Gap for Working Mothers” by Alison Escalante), women are leaving work to care for children at a disproportionally high rate compared to men, and losing their jobs during the pandemic, having made up 55% of the 20.5 million job losses suffered as direct sequelae of the pandemic. Even when both parents (are in the picture and) work from home, the 40-hour work week has remained largely unchanged for men during this pandemic while women’s work hours have decreased 4-5 times that of their male counterparts. This is a gender gap that apparently results in a predicted 15% decrease in the world’s GDP.

In my case the work did not decrease. It can’t, as I am the sole earner of my household as well as primary parent of my children. I put two elderly women at risk in order to continue working outside of my home. This weighed heavily on my conscience as I preached meticulous social distancing measures to my patients, particularly the high-risk ones. 

“Without a robust social safety to help support families when they fall on hard times—the sort that exists in different forms in every other western industrialized country—U.S. families are left on their own to adopt private solutions to their struggles. Unfortunately, in reality, ‘left on their own’ too often means ‘left to women.’”

When I recently made the controversial decision to send my kids to summer camp, the new, increased exposure risk caused me to lose my high-risk childcare (and rightly so). The college kids I scrambled for to fill the gap were ‘hopefully’ socially distancing as much as I needed them to, and are momentarily leaving back for college themselves. Having just received word that my daughter’s school will reopen in the fall, albeit on a ‘hybrid’ schedule of four half-days per week (AM vs PM not to be divulged for another couple of weeks), and no word on either the presence or absence of bus transportation, my head swims with consternation at how I will tackle this sea change 1-2 weeks before implementation, and how it came to be that I, as a professional, capable working mother am left feeling unseen, unconsidered, and powerless to a school district’s powers-that-be, and to my culture as a whole. Gently reprimanded for falling behind on my documentation during this pressure cooker of a spring, I was recently asked, “how can we help you?” I fought the urge to laugh maniacally. I am superwoman. I can do everything. I am invincible. I am perfect. I am burnt the hell out. Now watch me burn. 

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