Grief and Transformation in Pandemic Parenting

This is a stuffed bear from my childhood. It's upside down, standing on its head on a futon.

It’s February and we’re coming up on the one year mark of when we all started Pandemic Parenting. If my great-great grandmother were alive, I could ask her about parenting through a pandemic, and the corresponding anti-mask societies that had popped up then. No one likes a pandemic and we all rebel against its restrictions, sometimes to our deadly comeuppance. Or to the unintended deaths of others. Because cause and effect, it turns out, are never more apparent than in a pandemic.

But she is not alive. And so we forge ahead untethered. 

And in this period of blind progress through time, I am sitting here, almost one year in, feeling a lot of grief. “I feel like we’ve taken one step forward and ten steps back,” I said when I was chatting with my husband in the bathroom last week. 

I have grief about parenting through a pandemic, about how my anger flares up so quickly, about how I wish my children wouldn’t remember me as a screamer but how I watch myself cementing those memories week over week. 

We are 11 years–a bachelor’s and a Master’s and a Ph.D.–into parenting, and here I am unmoored from the dock and I find myself lilting in the wild, open seas. All the parenting books and classes and child therapists we’ve seen, nothing has left me prepared or feeling like I’ve passed the course. 

I recently took the parenting anger management and kid anger books off the shelf and dropped them off at one of our little neighborhood free libraries. Those clear-cabineted giant birdhouses that hold literary gems and cast-offs. In fact, you may drop any parenting books that you feel might transform my life off on my front door, and I shall find homes for them in the little book birdhouses nearby. 

I find myself taking a radical new tack. I am centering my own wholeness and healing and liberation. I started to find hope through a transformational ending racism course I took, and the amazing mentoring of my business coach, Shamaka Schumake. Two avenues that are not focused on children. For me this comes as a shock and aha!

We’ve gone about parenting struggles as if they were child-centered and solving them focused on solving the child with parenting strategies. I remember myself as a compassionate and thoughtful person who didn’t yell before I had kids. So it seemed natural that kids were the root of my turmoil. But perhaps they are a beloved mirror, the original #unfiltered. They’re showing me my whole self.

I asked my husband to take an ending oppression workshop with me in March. It’s premise is that all people are good and all people are hurt, that oppression hurts everyone who participates in it, and that we must heal and discharge trauma so that we don’t keep perpetuating it. We were weighing whether we could afford the course for both of us. “We would spend this much on an intervention for one of our children,” I said. 

My oldest is two years past the halfway mark of his time with us, our middle child is halfway through, and our youngest is almost a third of the way. I have time. I can show them that I’m growing and learning and capable of transforming even under circumstances that only my great-great-grandmother would remember. 


P.S. A note on my parenting advice boundaries. You are welcome to share your experiences with things that have changed your life. I ask that you keep it focused on you and your experience without suggesting that I do the same thing that worked for you. As many of us with challenging parenting situations will tell you, we’ve had 6,000 different strategies recommended and we’ve tried 8,000. And although you are likely coming from a place of feeling like you are unique in recommending the thing that will change my life, you might not know that I’ve already been offered the thing unsolicited many, many times. What I don’t see offered up online enough are real and candid talks about parenting struggles in a way that centers the humanity and goodness of people. Writing also fulfills my need to be seen and heard. So I will keep writing and keep offering any unsolicited advice to the book birdhouses of the world (which, as a side note, is also where I stash phrases like this too shall pass and cherish every moment, perhaps because my heart is just a block of Minecraft obsidian).

This Metaphor Revolves Around Leg Hair

I don’t shave my legs. It’s not that I have translucent leg hair that serves only to give my calves an extra glow. I have loads of dark brown hair. But in the last couple years I’ve cared less and less about shaving, even during the summer. That’s not to say I’m giving up on myself or letting myself go or throwing in the towel or whatever people say. I’m quite fashionable. Here I am in bespoke Jeff Boothe jeans. 

Evelyn sits on a blue couch looking at the camera with her legs in the air to show off jeans that have wild paint splatters and print and brush strokes all over them. She holds a pillow that says "LOVE," and wears reading glasses. A painting by artist Jeff Boothe that is an abstract deep blue, teal, and black whale head kind of shape is on her left.
Jeff Boothe pants and painting: double bonus points.

Shaving and level-of-fashion-sense and sexiness are not tied together. I have lots of other things I want to do besides shave my legs. Plus I want to save that extra shower water for the hot bath I take almost every night that does much more for my well being. 

But the other night I felt like I wanted to start fresh in 2021 and shave my legs. So I got out my husband’s electric razor. Is that what it’s called? Let’s call it the Fuzz Remover. It makes a satisfying ZHUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ noise. Right leg, ZHUZZZZZZZZZZ, done. Left leg, going great. Then ZHUZZ UZZZ UZZ… It started slowing down. The Fuzz Remover was like, “Lady, this is toooo much for me! You have so much leg hair. I just. UZZ. can’t. UZ. handle. Z. it.” 

And it died. 

And I was left with a dark brown mohawk and some ankle patches down my left leg. I really willed the Fuzz Remover to keep going and it gave a valiant effort. But it died. And now I’m left with a really weird coronavirus leg styling. 

And it got me thinking. This is very much like my parenting. 

I’m a very good parent. I also (and in a not mutually exclusive kind of way) have a LOT of parenting challenges, because parenting is quite difficult. And I find myself very broken up about it sometimes. Many times. 

As a writer I focus a lot on the part of parenting where the energy runs out and it’s a mess. That’s what I share with you. It’s like we’re friends walking down the street and I pull up my pant leg in public and show you my weird mohawk leg hair. 

A lot of people like to stay covered in public in winter. They like to wear clothes that make them look good, and even add makeup. (As do I, but we’re in a metaphor about leg hair here.) It makes a lot of sense to put on mostly the great stuff and share the socially acceptable stuff.  

Sort of early on in parenting I realized I was a real mixed bag. And I also now realize that sometimes people think I’m a mess, kind of like it’s a static thing. Like the original Voodoo Donut is on 2nd and Ash. It’s a thing. Google will tell you. But unlike that fun and obvious fact about donuts, I’m more of a dynamic ball of neon, glittery slime that’s rarely in the same place. 

So I guess this is a manifest eleven years down the road. I post a lot of look-behind-the-curtain content because not everyone feels comfortable sharing the most anxiety-producing and personal and embarrassing parts of parenting, but a lot of people feel solidarity. The parenting anger and the exhaustion and the screaming into the void or in the house, the need to get help and deal with your mental health like it’s about to knock you out cold if you don’t. I don’t write about everything. I protect myself in some places. But I do lift up my pant leg quite a bit.

I very seldom desire advice. I want to be seen and I want you to feel comfort and companionship because of it. I realize that the highlight reels of social media aren’t the full picture of anyone’s parenting, but that it’s important to be able to put out the beautiful and proud moments because we need those badges of honor because the work is so hard. So I (and plenty of other writers, too) am here to overshare, possibly so that you don’t have to, and often so that I can be heard.

And I apologize if I’ve not reacted great when you’ve shared something delightful that happened in your parenting. Sometimes I haven’t seen your challenges so it makes it hard for me to be rah-rah about your awesomeness. But that’s me and my deal.

For those of you whom I’ve interacted with over DMs, I love you, and I treasure our conversations. To my commenters, I adore you. You fill me with warm fuzzies. And to all of you who share about your own struggles in ways that are somewhat public and very vulnerable, you kick some serious ass.

Jeff Boothe is an amazing Portland artist. I am in love with how he is so joyful with color and movement and I’m so lucky to have two pairs of his pants (although you have GOT to see his paintings). Follow him on Instagram. DM him about paintings and clothes that cover up your leg hair. xoxo

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things for 2021

A scribble drawing of neon lines with no distinct form

This summer a package from Delightful Bloom came with a little tin of lotion that smells like it’s packed with two dozen roses. My friend María had sent me a care package! That was pure joy. So in the spirit of joy, small business, women entrepreneurs, businesses owned by people of color, sustainable brands, and really kick-ass stuff, here’s my sharing of love for some amazing things and creators.  

Amid the dumpster fire of last year, some amazing small bizzes run by women, and women of color in particular, brought rainbows.

Evelyn’s Favorite Things for 2021*

Skin and Self-Love

Delightful Bloom – OMG the Rose Lotion

Cheekbone Beauty – the 3-pack Sustain lipstick bundle is a hell YES

Focus Self Care – can’t wait for the body butter

Queen of Hearts – CBD gummies, please

Clothes

Nooworks – 2020 Knife Suit

Martine’s Dream – makes me feel like one day I can live in pantsuits and beautiful dresses

B.Yellowtail – still lusting after this shop

Lauren Good Day – my eyes can’t take the gorgeous colors

Food

El Rincon – carne asada, get it when you’re in Hood River

Good Medicine Tea – the herbal chais!

Elegant Elephant Baking Company – gluten-free deliciousness

Podcasts

Why Won’t You Date Me? – now Nicole only interviews people of color & it’s awesome

In the Thick – my go-to news analysis

Stoopkid Stories – the kids and I love these stories

Smash, Boom, Best – K-Pants’ favorite

Shows & Movies

Woke – Nicole and Sasheer together?! And Nicole as a cartoon voice?! (Hulu)

Ramy (Hulu)

Dear White People (Netflix)

The Weekend (Netflix)

Jumping the Broom (Amazon)

Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning (Netflix)

Sex Education (Netflix)

Atypical (Netflix)

Alaska Wildlife Rescue (Disney+, National Geographic) – my sis is a videographer on it and my kids LOVE this show

*In the spirit of maybe writing more than one blog post in 2021, I’m keeping explanations short and staying focused on pushing “Publish.” Hearts. Rainbows. Here’s to 2021.

As We Gently Nudge the Facebook Cats

[This post is for my white friends. We are learning together. This time of convulsion is overwhelming and energizing, wrenching and combative. We are lucky to be here. These are the swells of change and we are doing it together. I’m always open for your thoughts.]

I was talking with a friend who is white today and she was disheartened. “So that was it? One week?” She was talking about her white friends’ Facebook feeds. It appeared to her that the solidarity with Black lives was basically over. I didn’t think that was the case, but I went on for my nightly scroll around and the cats and the pasta and the golf and the birthdays were everywhere. Those are all important things. New pets, a child’s birthday in pandemic, a bit of joy in a really challenging time. We need breaks. We need space. We need comfort and rejuvenation and affirmation in not normal times.

I want to gently nudge us to get back to it—to dismantling racism within ourselves and within our schools, neighborhoods, cities… I’d like to offer this space below for you to share what you’re thinking and what you’re learning. Maybe this feels like a great awakening and it’s too much of a change to post about it all the time. Maybe you are depressed seeing immense pain now that you didn’t see before. Maybe the internal work you’re doing is shocking and exhausting. Maybe you are afraid of making mistakes and saying the wrong things because you’ll be called out by people both more radical and more conservative.

And still, I gently nudge you to get back to it—to being uncomfortable and talking about it. You may gently nudge me back, too.

Right now I’m reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. She asks you to have a journal as a companion and write in it with each set of reflection questions. I decided I would reflect in my head. I don’t like to handwrite things. On one of the most recent lessons, she wrote to me directly on the page about white exceptionalism, “White exceptionalism is the little voice that convinces you that… because you have an intellectual understanding of the concepts being presented here, you do not have to diligently write out your responses to questions. That you can just think about it in your mind, and that is enough.”

It’s time to get out the journal because the journey is still beginning and it’s mostly inside me. Have you Googled about what defunding the police means, sat with your discomfort and questions about it, read about it from the Black activist’s lens? Are you in on what the Black wealth gap is about and how to fix it? We feel safe with police; We think reform is enough–why do we think these things?

“White exceptionalism is what convinces you that you don’t really need to do the work. That you are doing it because it is a commendable thing to do but that you do not have to dig as deep as you are being asked to go.”

We are being asked to go deep. The lives of our non-white friends and peers depend on it. And we will be more free ourselves.

Two upcoming dates to think on:

June 19 – Juneteenth. If you don’t know it, Google it. I only learned about it last year because 1) racism & historical erasure, and 2) lack of internal work.

June 20 – Poor People’s Campaign Mass Poor People’s Assembly.