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faith in a pandemic

Faith in a Pandemic

On the second week of March, Tara Hurley and her family did something that now seems strange to our sequestered world: she walked into a restaurant, sat down, and ordered food to celebrate her birthday.

The restaurant was The Cheesecake Factory, a natural choice for a family with little kids. The chain restaurant is heavy with options — “Glamburgers” live alongside a kid’s grilled salmon in a spiral notebook-like menu. 

Tara turned 34 on the last day in the free world before her suburban Los Angeles neighborhood shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Pasta Da Vinci arrived, but the birthday girl’s attention floated past her family to the quiet restaurant and the edgy waitstaff. Uncertainty clung to the air in the days before city officials issued stay-at-home orders, but on that day there was cake and a bowl of pasta swimming in wine sauce.

“That would probably taste so good right now,” said Tara, pronounced Tar-ah, like her Irish parents, Emer and Niall O’Mahony, do.

It’s been almost two months now of staying at home, right? Who can keep track? The days blur into each other like an endless ballad on repeat.

Tara is tall, slender, with light cerulean eyes. She is the kind of mom who dresses up all four of her kids — Mary, 8; Rose, 6; Finn, 3; and Cora, 1 — in their finest clothes for an Easter celebration at home to keep some sense of normalcy in a world turned upside down by the Coronavirus outbreak. They made prime rib and had an egg hunt — just Tara, her husband, Patrick, and their kids. 

faith in a pandemic

Tara watches Mass in her living room with her children. Quarantine has brought on introspection about her faith.

For Tara, this time of sheltering-in-place has brought on introspection about her faith. She is a practicing Catholic, who has always leaned into her religion for inspiration and comfort. In her childhood bedroom in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, she painted a wall with a portrait of Jesus.

Her faith shapes her kindness. Or is it the other way around? Once when Tara was about 9 years old, their family hosted a yard sale to purge the house of accumulated stuff. Tara sold some of her toys and stuffed animals for $7, which she then put in her church’s Sunday collection. 

“That shamed me into donating the $300 we made at the yard sale into the collection also,” said Emer, her mother.

As a mother herself now, Tara always reserved Sundays before the pandemic for church. It was never easy to get four little kids ready and quiet for service. Often, it bordered on chaos, but the Hurley family always made it to a pew. 

Now her church doors, which were always open to welcome the weary, were locked. No large physical gatherings meant no sacrament of the Eucharist. No squirming Hurley kids to hug and cajole in their pew.

Their church was empty, and it unsettled Tara emotionally in many ways.

“Making sure I am able to feed my children spiritually is so scary to me,” she said. “How can I give them this on top of everything else?”

Los Angeles’ lockdown came amid Lent. For Catholics, it is a time of waiting and penitence as a solemn observation of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. So for Tara, it seemed appropriate to ask her family to cancel any plans that would take them outside of their home. The way she saw it, they were being called upon to make sacrifices. But when Easter came, joy was tempered with a new reality: lockdown orders were still in place. The churches were still closed.

“It was really hard,” said Tara. “I am struggling with that every day, but not letting that drag me down.”

That Easter Sunday, the rain fell steadily. The Hurley family watched Mass online. Their oldest daughter, Mary, had a classmate with a birthday, so as with the fashion in a pandemic, a celebratory drive-by parade was planned. The parade is a new, tenuous tradition that has a razor’s edge rate of success. Often it teeters on awkward, especially when it rains and the birthday girl stands in her driveway dressed in her best, unsure of what to do.

Especially when the Hurley kids made signs to flutter out the windows of their car to bring light to this little girl’s life, only to find out halfway to their destination that the signs were left at home.

Tara is only human.

“I’m like ‘Are you kidding me? It’s the one thing that we could do!’”

So they found some American flags inside the car. Okay, just stick them out the window, she told them. It will be fine. And it was, for the most part. But it made Tara again think about her faith and her resolve, beyond anything else, to make this time a positive experience for the kids.

“I feel I am being stripped down and I can’t control what I used to be able to control. How do I operate now? The lesson is to be present. It’s here and it’s now. I can’t control more than just right now.”

faith in a pandemic

All six members of the Hurley family are sheltered in place in a snug suburban home with a muddy front yard paradise.

The Hurley’s “right now” looks, well, a little cramped. All six people are sheltering in place in a two-bedroom house, about 800 square feet. It was supposed to be a 2-year house, but then 7 years yawned by. And on any given day, a walk down their street will stop any pedestrian in front of their yellow house to drink in the energy of love pouring through the windows. And the laughter. There is so much laughter.

Patrick, an audio supervisor and technician in the television industry, is an even-keeled California boy, according to Tara. He’s like the doldrums of the ocean with no wind or waves. Pandemic? Meh. No problem. Nearby, Tara storms, her waves of emotion crash on top of each other.

Recently, the Hurleys have welcomed bedtime with a reading of “On The Banks of Plum Creek,” one in a series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s children’s novels about a pioneering family putting down roots in a new world. In the story, a storm of locust decimate the family’s crop, but the father carries on in the face of adversity. He just finds a way to be a steady, protective force for his family. For Tara, there are many parallels between the book and real life in a pandemic.

Bedtime reading of “On The Banks of Plum Creek.” For Tara, there are many parallels between the book and real life in a pandemic.

“As parents we have an added responsibility to shape the memory of this for our kids in a way that is not all negative and scary,” she said with optimism seemingly unrattled by all the uncertainty.

It’s a quality born into their daughter, said Emer. One Halloween, little Tara wanted to dress as a smiley face in hope that her yellow outfit with the smile painted on the back would be contagious.

It’s probably the only thing the world needs to catch right now.

In the snug Hurley house, all the togetherness and time has grown something unexpected in Tara — patience to listen to all sides of conflict between the kids and truly empathize. She is letting their feelings air out, unfettered by time or her own emotions. It’s something she hopes she can hold onto when the world returns to normal.

“All of this time to spend with the kids is such a cool unique gift to be given right now,” she said. “How can we make it a good memory and not think back and say, ‘Man, that was awful?’”

Just as Tara says that, Mary opens her bedroom window facing the back patio and giggles at her mother.

“Go to bed! I will be in in a minute to kiss you,” Tara calls out to her.

“Oh boy. Hooligans,” Tara laughs before disappearing into the night for snuggles and goodnight kisses.

 

Should you or someone you know be featured in “Parenting in a Pandemic”? Send details to llgrigsby@gmail.com

Introvert's Social Distancing Log 1

Introvert’s Social Distancing Log, Day 1

Introvert’s Social Distancing Log, Day 1, Saturday, March 14, 2020 (so many commas, probably too many)

Well, my good intentions of getting up early, showering and eating breakfast before 9AM were shot to hell when I snorted myself awake at 10:15.

In the evening, before I fall asleep, I think myself capable of all sorts of miraculous behavior. A healthy breakfast, an ecologically minded 5 minute shower, taking time to brush my hair and apply mascara and eyeliner.

Morning me is unshowered, a banana flavored kid yogurt eaten while driving (uncomfortably eaten with the only clean spoon in the house which is those dreadful serrated grapefruit spoons), ratty hair swept up in a lopsided bun and needless to say, no makeup.

Yet I was out of bed by 11AM and I ate a bagged salad for brunch so the day isn’t a complete loss. I’ve set myself the enviable (according to me and only me) task of rereading Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series with pencil in hand to note all the lovely odd words she uses so I can look them up in my OED. I have an OED. I might have that tattooed on my chest in the same font gang members have their affiliations tattooed on theirs. I am exceedingly proud of my OED. If my apartment catches fire I will probably die trying to save it.

Be advised: my possession of a twenty volume, woefully out of date dictionary makes me an idiot. I bought it for myself as a divorce present. My friend bought herself breast implants as a divorce present and she has a devoted boyfriend. I have an OED and I am as alone as a woman on a desert island.

Let that be a lesson to you newly divorced humans.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right. The majority of Americans are trying to live the life I have been training for. I have been a weirdo introvert most of my life. I love being left alone (no questions about why I am divorced? I didn’t think so). I love spending days on end in my apartment alone. I am on day one of social distancing and I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to being left the fuck alone without people calling or texting to make sure I haven’t died and begun to decay.

On that note, that’s it for today. Take care of yourselves. I’ve starting to put together lists of movies and books and songs for you to listen to as you wait out this pandemic. It’s not that I don’t think you have your own taste in these things, you do. It’s just that while you’ve been living a highly social and productive life, I have been here like the bridge troll that I am, piling up things I want to read, watch and listen to.

Please try not to worry. It’s not a bad thing to go back to first principles. Try to be kind and gentle to the ones you love. And yourself.

Talk soon.

child care

The Child Care Challenge

According to a Pew Research Center report, “Child care is a major concern for parents with children who are not yet school age. A majority of parents with one or more children younger than 6 say it’s hard to find high-quality, affordable child care in their community.” This concern traversed all socio-economic, race and gender delineations. Single parents and low-income parents, who are sometimes one and the same, had even higher levels of concern and frustration regarding affordable, high-quality child care for children under the age of 6.

None of this is news to anyone who has ever tried to find child care for a child under 6. And if you’ve ever tried to find care for a baby or a child that is not potty trained, the level of frustration and cost of care skyrockets. With wages what they are, stagnant for most and shockingly unfair for many (Latinx women earn 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes), child care costs can push women out of the workforce. Especially if a second child comes along.

Why are women the ones often pushed out of the workforce? When women perform the same jobs as men, they tend to be paid less than men. Women are also pointed toward and hired into fields that traditionally pay less than fields that employ men (construction vs cashier). If in a heterosexual couple the man makes 53k a year and the woman makes 28k, guess who’s staying home? And for every month and year she stays out of the paid workforce, the gap in her resume grows and grows, making it harder and harder for her to find a good quality job when the last of the kids finally go to elementary school. And if like many of the schools around here kindergarten is only 4 hours, she has to wait until the last child goes to 1st grade. And even then there is the gap between when a child’s day ends and when the traditional workday ends.

With all the hand wringing around the falling birthrate in America, one would think someone in government might realize that the stress, frustration, and heartache around quality childcare might be a pretty big contributing factor.

And then, if one finds childcare there can be all kinds of problems. I found childcare for my younger son that was affordable, had extended hours and FED THEM BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND SNACK! Anyone who has ever pleaded, nagged and cried their way through a time-constrained breakfast with a toddler and cleaned out a grotty lunch box five days a week for years knows why I was so thrilled.

There was only one pretty big snag. The childcare was through a local church and there were many religious components to the program. My family is without religion. I was concerned that there would be friction between what was taught at school and what he heard at home, but needs must. I had gotten a promotion at work that changed my schedule to weekdays from weekends and we really needed the money. So we enrolled him in the school and luckily he really didn’t understand what was happening. For awhile my younger son thought Jesus lived in New York City and when you died you went there and lived with him. My older son quickly adopted this theology, saying he hoped Jesus would provide him with a snug third floor walk-up with quiet neighbors and a reasonably chill co-op board.

We were very, very lucky. When I explained the theology swirling around my house, the director nearly hurt herself laughing. But what to do when the only quality, affordable child care teach ideals that clash with what’s taught at home? Many of my friends have had this problem. Some child cares include service requirements where parents must volunteer a certain number of hours per week in the class. Some of those parents have been a nightmare to deal with.

Anti-vaxx parents chiding children for the bandaids proclaiming they’d gotten a flu shot. Judgmental comments about the contents of a hastily packed lunchbox. Endless fundraisers, lists of required ‘donation’ items, and the general melee of drop-off.

It’s enough to send any sane woman screaming from the workforce. Hell isn’t always other people, sometimes it’s other parents.

New rule: keep your highly researched opinions to yourself. Nobody has time for it. Unless someone says the words, “What do you think,” keep all comments to the weather and how adorable everyone’s kids are, even if they are sniveling little bridge trolls. I can say this because I was a sniveling little bridge troll when I was a little kid.

No one has an easy, controversy free answer to the child care crunch in this country. For example, the second you start talking about extending local, state and federally funded schooling to every child from birth to college, everyone on either extreme of the political divide loses their minds. You know who you are so don’t even try to deny it.

But that leaves the millions of parents in the middle struggling with no end in sight. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of only our children and begin to think of all the kids. They deserve better than the patchwork of care on offer in this country. This is just a staggering breakdown of 10 places in the country where childcare bills for center-based infant and four-year-old care will cost you the most.

I don’t want to end on a hopeless note. Here are two different ideas about how we can provide high-quality, affordable child care for all Americans who want it. Each is from a controversial figure from either end of the political spectrum.

President Trump’s 2020 budget has a request for a one time 1 billion investment in childcare programs that mostly push deregulating the business of childcare. The proposal is tied to border wall funding, which is in turn tied to the entire Trump border policy which is inhumane to say the least.

Senator Warren has a more comprehensive plan for childcare. Here is her Medium article explaining it. Basically any family that makes less than 200% of the federal poverty line would qualify for high quality child care at no cost to the family. And our nation reaps the benefits of having more children in high quality early childhood educational programs.

Tend 2.0

Tend 2.0

From the first day that we launched Tend, we’ve been getting solid feedback from our incredible user base. We’ve been listening and we are thrilled to announce the launch of Tend 2.0 to the App Store and Google Play! If you’re a visual learner, here’s a tutorial video that walks you through all of the new features. Otherwise, read below to find out what’s in store with the new update.

Here’s what you’ll find in the updated version of Tend. Read more

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Now that he is an adult I say, “Be thoughtful” which is pretty much white noise to someone who is 23. All they have are thoughts. Being young is a lot of work, you have an entire personality ot build.

I’m 46. I’m pretty much built. Everything is either hardening into place or just getting worse. But for young adults, it’s all thinking and building and becoming all the time.

Exhausting. Read more

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Lets talk about caregiving

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Caregiving, unpaid labor, the motherhood penalty, the gender wage gap.  These are terms that get thrown around in academic journals, economic studies and angry online posts, but what do they mean and how do they affect the lives of modern women? Let’s talk about caregiving by defining what it means.   Read more