At some point today my bedroom, which now functions as an office, school, and meeting room, will be turned into a wild playground. While trying to write these words, my three school-aged children will pile in out of routine boredom, looking for something to do after making their daily rounds through the house. When this ruckus happens, as is inevitable after weeks stuck at home, I know one thing: My partner and children’s mother has my back.
Yesterday, she saved the day with colored markers and paper, and the “Three Marker Challenge.” Today, for now at least, she has them occupied with “Lego Challenge Cards” sent to us from our kids’ elementary school technology lab.
Life under COVID-19 is part balancing act, part magic trick. We have work, school, meals to prepare, claims to file, a future to plan, and three kids under the age of 10 – all crammed into one living space, 24/7. While moms and dads are used to keeping up with the many demands of children, family, and household, the game’s changed. After almost two months of school-at-home, kids are restless, cooped indoors, and absorbing the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the time we’re in. Mom’s magic tricks, pulled out of a hat at a moment’s notice to redirect any wayward kiddo, have taken center stage.
Mother’s Day will be different this year. Social distancing rules mean there will be no brunch out with Mom at a nice restaurant, spa days, or family beach outings this Sunday. But now perhaps more than ever, Moms deserve to be celebrated for all they are doing in families stuck at home across the island.
“Balancing is one word for it!” says Kate Griffiths, editor in chief of Mauimama Magazine and mother of an 11-year old and 13-year-old. “My plate was already pretty full, but the pandemic has taken it to a whole different level.”
“One minute I’m helping my son review chapter 25 of To Kill a Mockingbird, to switching gears remotely shadowing a councilmember during budget, to answering community concerns and questions via The Mauimama, to helping my 5th grader with perfect nouns, to holding up a friend trying to make sense of the insanity, all while trying to help create a more sustainable infrastructure for my community that relies less on tourism, to making sure a good meal is put on the table and the house is still tolerable to live in,” says Griffiths, who also works for Councilmember Kelly King. “The bags under my eyes tell my story louder than I can, but things are easing up a little as budget season winds down and the new norm has become well… the new norm.”
“I have had to remind myself I am on maternity leave and this is my time to get to know and bond with my son,” says Kerry Foltz, a high school teacher and mother of a newborn. She’s been taking extra precautions to isolate her son from possible exposure to the virus. “I won’t have this time forever. I am still trying to do my best to provide lessons and enrichment to students, but I need my full attention in one place or the other. That’s what is nice about a dedicated work day. Now, I find myself making lessons outside of work hours because I simply cannot when my baby needs me and is awake.”
The “new norm” may look a bit different for each family, but to some itʻs an opportunity to rethink priorities and values.
“My priorities changed dramatically,” says Krystal Cabiles, mother of 7- and 10-year-old daughters. “Balancing this circus is quite a fiasco at times. My main priority now is educating my children and keeping them happy and healthy, whereas pre-COVID I relied on their teachers and school to do so… If I am being completely honest, I am barely balancing it all. Some days on the verge of tears. I must remind myself constantly to breathe. There is no right or wrong in how I choose to deal with what is going on. If I can accomplish just one thing that day, it’s a win. I try not to worry so much about the unforeseeable future. I tackle today and make a game plan for tomorrow, but that is as far ahead that I can control. ”
“In the beginning we had a schedule,” says Jen Mather, “but it’s completely degenerated into a Wild West free-for-all interspersed with my eldest daughter trying to watch all 40 seasons of ʻSurvivor.ʻ It is a little like ʻSurvivor;ʻeveryone fends for themselves. We’re always late to online meetings and in-person assistance, which is strange because in non-COVID-19 times we were always early. Thankfully my girls are old enough to do things on their own for themselves, and even sometimes for me… Except for dishes. Dear God, all the dishes.”
“I wish I could be more involved in [my children’s] schooling,” says Councilmember Tamara Paltin, mother of two children under the age of 10. “I do worry that they aren’t getting enough education because I have so much work and I’m not able to keep up and help them as much, since they are in [Hawaiian] immersion and my husband and I went to English language school. Since I was elected, the ʻolelo [language] classes have gotten harder and harder to attend. Overall I just try not to worry too much and do the best I can at any given moment.”
Itʻs given her kids the chance to step up. “Things all evolved to work out and they got used to being more independent and responsible in some areas,” Paltin says.
“Being home alone with the kids, while working nearly 80 hours a week throughout the County’s budget session, trying to fit in schoolwork with my children, while managing our families most basic needs, like groceries, hygiene, emotional support, sleep schedules, taking care of animals, etc., brought about severe feelings of inadequacy as a parent,” says Sarah Freistat Pajimola, a mother of two children ages 4 and 7 who works for Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.
“As someone that survives and thrives with order, schedules, and structure, suddenly that delicate balancing act that every mother somehow pulls off – while wobbling on a thin thread of sanity – was shoved into a confined space where carefully coordinated worlds collided. It took longer than friends and family members advised, for me to let go and realize everything was going to have to just ʻbe,ʻ” says Freistat Pajimola. “Accepting chaos and imperfection was hard, but everyone was better off for it. Now that budget session is over, and we are returning to a more manageable work schedule, I am looking forward to creating some healthy routines for us all.”
Itʻs a common theme with mothers I speak to. Moms, expected to be ever-selfless, expect the same from themselves even now, in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and global crisis. But in defining the “new normal,” some mothers have found, is an opportunity.
“Even through the madness, I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed being home with my family and don’t want things to return to ʻnormal,ʻ says Freistat Pajimola. “This virus has forced us all to reflect on everything important that has been neglected in our busy lives. I realize that I really missed my kids and being home enough to enjoy them and it.”
“Go easy on yourself and them too, there is no right or wrong way to survive or thrive during a global pandemic,” she advises. “Stay safe and healthy, breathe through the stressful times, laugh loud and long, and cuddle as much as humanly possible. Eventually, quarantine will be over, and you might just miss it.”
“If there is a personal silver lining to this pandemic, for my family, it is that the quality time together, quarantining and working on-island, coupled with them not being in school, have allowed us to enjoy meals together. Breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner. That means a lot to all of us,” says Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez of Molokaʻi, mother of two. “As parents, know you’re doing the best you can, and try not to compare yourself to what it seems like others are able to do on social media. Mom-guilt is real. But try to see yourself from your children’s eyes. Have patience. Breathe when patience runs thin, for your children won’t be this young forever. We get one opportunity to have them at 8 or 10 years old, and that’s it. Enjoy them at this age.”
Griffiths agrees. “Personally, I have a small window before my sons will be too cool to hang out with me and then go off to college. Until then I’m soaking up every day that I can go find them in a nearby room to hug and kiss them. We are safe, healthy and happy and this time to reset has not gone amiss.
“This too shall pass. Everything has its season and if you can turn this into an opportunity to connect with your keiki and help with your child’s growth it will be time well spent. Some days are definitely more trying than others. Reach out to a friend or family member on those days, even though we are isolated in our homes you do not need to do this alone. We are enduring a pandemic. These are not normal times. Check in with your children regularly and listen. Allow them to be heard and connect with them. Reach out to local organizations if you need assistance or support with anything, there is a great sense of community and amazing people on the islands who are here to help. And most of all be gentle on yourself. No one can be everything to everyone.
“Hold your little ones tightly and do what works for you and your family, take it day by day and find solace that you are trying your best.”
Share your opinion: Take this week’s Coconut Poll
Do you live in a household with school-aged children? How have you adjusted to the stay-at-home order? Tell us about it!
Take the poll: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/stayathomekids
Happy Motherʻs Day to all the moms holding it down across the island, especially the one keeping me and the kids sane during this pandemic and my own mom who put up with me back when I was a wayward kiddo. Griffiths recommends two resources for parents of school-aged children and anyone in need of assistance during these times: the Keiki Central database online at Auw211.org/keikicentral and via phone by dialing 211, and Islands of Hope which is available at 808-214-0781.
Cover design by Albert Cortez
Photos by Sean M Hower