14 May 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not

 

Dear Diary,

Today I made yogurt, a loaf of sourdough bread, crumpets, popovers, swirled cheese buns, and rhubarb jelly which is a LOT OF THINGS. And now I’m Very Tired, and I’m going to go sit in the bathtub with M&Ms if there are any left over after I accidentally showed them to the rest of my family, and I’m going to read my book. 

Greg Woolsey, bless his heart, just walked into the kitchen, looked at the bounty I created, and said, “Wow. Did you just feel like making all of this?” He also said to the children a couple weeks ago at dinner, “Aren’t we all glad Mom likes to cook?” And, Diary, I am grateful in my HEAD to be married to a human person who is working hard to be appreciative out loud of the work I do, but also, Diary, I want to yell things like, “NO, I DID NOT JUST FEEL LIKE MAKING ALL THIS, GREG,” and also, “I AM NOT DOING THIS BECAUSE I ENJOY IT SO, SO MUCH,” and also-also, “I AM TRYING TO BE WISE AND DILIGENT DURING A FORKING GLOBAL PANDEMIC and USE WHAT WE HAVE and IF I DIDN’T MAKE THE RHUBARB INTO JELLY, IT WAS GOING TO GO BAD and IF I DIDN’T USE THE SOURDOUGH DISCARD IT WAS GOING TO EXPLODE IN THE FRIDGE and MAKING YOGURT EQUALS ONE LESS TRIP TO THE STORE WHICH EQUALS LESS EXPOSURE FOR ALL OF US” and I especially wanted to yell, “I SPEND EVERY SECOND THINKING ABOUT WHAT I NEED TO DO NEXT TO HELP ALL OF US GET THROUGH THIS — emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. — AND I AM VERY GLAD I’VE MANAGED TO DO IT KINDLY ENOUGH THAT YOU THINK I *LIKE* ALL THIS, BUT OMG, I DON’T.”

And did I mention I’m Very Tired? 

Because I’m Very Tired. 

Very, Very Tired.

And I’m not going to yell all those things at my family, so you get to listen to me vent, instead, because YOU’RE THE LUCKIEST, Diary. 

But also, this is part of the emotional and mental labor women talk about so often. The invisible work we do. The way we can’t shut off our brains because there’s always Someone Needing Something, and a List of More To Do, and If We Don’t Do It, It Won’t Get Done. 

As quarantine goes on, I’ve found myself resentful every time Greg lays on the bed to read or watch a show or otherwise put his feet up and relax. The same way I resented it when our children were younger and he’d go in the bathroom AND LOCK THE DOOR to do his business. On the one hand, I fully recognize that I AM RIDICULOUS, and I AM ALLOWED TO ALSO LAY DOWN AND REST, and I AM ALLOWED TO ALSO LOCK THE BATHROOM DOOR. But on the other hand, I’m not ridiculous at all because I actually, truly couldn’t leave the baby unattended to spend 45 minutes taking a shit in peace, and I actually, truly can’t just lay down and rest unless I’m willing to a) delegate the work I was going to do in the house or with the children or b) have it pile up and tackle bigger messes later as a consequence of “resting.” 

None of which I’m saying as a way to bitch at or about my partner. I have it Better Than Most women because I have a partner who cares about inequity and is open to conversations about All of the Above. But having it Better Than Most women doesn’t mean it is equal or equitable, either. So my challenge is trying to figure out how to have conversations that are positive and kind and still push the needle toward the other humans in my house (offspring included) Seeing What Needs to Happen without my intervention.

It’s SEEING ALL THE THINGS that requires so much energy. I’m the person charged with Seeing What Needs to be Done — the cooking, cleaning, inventorying, yard work, homework, daily exercise for the humans and beasts, hygiene, mental states, and everything else into infinity — and then, after the Noticing, I must choose to Do the Things Myself or Delegate the Things to Others, but when I Delegate, I also must Continue to Manage to Ensure the Things Are Actually Done, which involves Knowing Who’s Assigned What, Noticing Whether They’ve Done What They’s Supposed to Do, and Reminding as Needed Until It’s Done. All of which multiplies my workload exponentially.

All of which is highlighted during quarantine.

All of which is building to a head because this Cannot Go On.

All of which requires that I Invent a New System, Explain the New System, and Enforce the New System because it’s past time we Change How This Works. 

All of which makes me feel Very Tired. 

But Changing the Rules is part of relationship. We’ve done it in our marriage after assessing which things are ruts and which things are working. We’ve done it in parenting as our children grow and learn, and as we do, too. What Once Was needn’t be static. What Once Was shouldn’t be static just by virtue of habit or ritual or tradition. What Once Was must be evaluated so we can keep that which fosters growth and love and discard that which weighs us down.

And this pandemic is a catalyst for change. Of course it is. Crises always are. The pressure cooker of extreme situations condenses our natural timelines for noticing What Works and What Doesn’t. 

I don’t have a solution yet, Diary. I’m just noticing What Doesn’t at the moment. I’m in process. Making observations and letting them percolate before turning them into a Plan for Change. 

But Change is on the horizon, Diary. 

I can feel it coming.

With love… and making a beeline for the tub even though I know the messes will mount in my absence…

 

 

 

P.S. Along these lines, I asked Greg a couple weeks ago to make a list of what he does to get ready for bed. I told him it wasn’t a computer programming test — as in, he needn’t write down the minutiae of each task — but he should cover all the main things he does from the point he thinks “I should get ready for bed” until he’s in it and ready to sleep. 

Here’s his list:

  1. Brush teeth
  2. Wash face or shower
  3. Get clothes for next day
  4. Change into bed clothes
  5. Put on wrist brace, nightguards
  6. Turn off unused lights
  7. Watch a show if time
  8. Solitaire/Sudoku

 

Here’s my list:

  1. Is it going to rain? Did we take the hammock chairs down? Did we leave anything outside that can’t get wet? If yes, take care of it or ask someone else to do it.
  2. Are the oven and stove off? Check.
  3. Have the kids come downstairs to ask for a later bedtime/screen time? If yes, do nothing. If no, check in with them re: bed/screen expectations so they’re not coming into our room at midnight to ask.
  4. Feed dogs (or make sure they were fed tonight), check water, give meds.
  5. If dinner food is still out, ask Greg to put it away. Remind kids to do their kitchen chores.  
  6. Lock back door, garage doors, turn off garage lights, mantle lights. Lock front door, turn off porch lights.
  7. Brush teeth/wash face/Shower. Wipe down shower with cleaning spray and sponge. Spot clean shower curtain liner. 
  8. Wipe down bathroom counter.
  9. Change into bed clothes.
  10. Put dirty clothes in bin, evaluate how full it is, if full either start laundry or ask Greg to. If starting laundry, add towels and get new/clean towels for bathroom.
  11. Nightguards, earplugs, and sleep meds.
  12. Turn off unused lights (check with kids re: upstairs lights, too).
  13. Read.

 

I share these not to suggest I do more than Greg to get ready for bed. Often, by the time I’m done delegating tasks or asking Greg to follow up with kids on my list of things, he does more than I do. I share these to point out the mental labor of Seeing Things and Making Sure They’re Done. And this is JUST bedtime. It’s not dinner time or game time or yard chores or daily chores or weekend chores or school work or grocery shopping or bills or car maintenance or any of the other Infinite Things that Need Seeing. 

P.P.S. I’m Very Tired. 

P.P.P.S. This is my friend Paul watching kale grow because that’s the kind of thing we do in COVID times. Also, he looks in this pic like I feel.

P.P.P.P.S. And how I feel is Very Tired, which I may or may not have already told you.

 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
16 comments
  1. Love this. Here’s what my husband and I have come up with to help our kids and other families get through this—and giving music to them as a life long companion!
    I hope this helps! http://www.mnomusic.com/blog

  2. Thank you. It is SO. HARD. to explain the mental load without sounding like a control freak. I also have it Better Than Most women with my partner, but that mental load is a bitch that is always making me exhausted and when my partner notices I’m losing it and suggests that maybe I should get away for a bit, it makes me cry because I know that I will come home to all the things undone (or done poorly or differently in a not better way) will undo all of the rest I got while I was away, and then I’ll have to work double time to fix it all. But then I feel like I need to thank him for vacuuming, when he forgot to also vacuum the stairs and dust and shake the rugs and thoroughly sweep the hallways — which are all part of the “floors” chore that I do. And I don’t want to critique his gift, but I also don’t want it not done and if I do it myself he’ll be like, why didn’t you tell me? But then he won’t actually get to it before he forgets and then…well, I’m tired. Waving.

  3. My husband and I use a “divide and conquer, but with communication and helping each other because we’re allies” approach.

    He manages all the bills and budgeting, and healthcare, and church/family/couple activities, such as weekly date and family night, and nightly prayer and scripture study. I manage food, laundry, hygiene, and housekeeping. We both manage our children’s education and upbringing. We have weekly couple councils (his responsibility) and run things by each other frequently and see where we can help each other.

    So, all I have to worry about with budgeting is to look it over and put my stamp of approval on it, and then try to stay in it and enter my purchases into the spreadsheets for him. He keeps everything balanced and plans ahead and ensures that we can afford buying a car when one of ours eventually dies. In turn, all he has to worry about with housekeeping is taking the garbage out when I ask him to, or running the laundry up and down the stairs for me because I’m pregnant. I make sure that the pantry is stocked with staples and there are clean sheets when someone throws up in the middle of the night. Who ever deals with the throw up depends. We tend to be worried about each other’s needs, so one of us will usually say something like “You really need sleep. I’ll take care of it. You just let me take a nap later, okay?”

    We do help each other, and we can both step into each other’s roles when needed. But neither of us is expected to manage everything. That’s too much.

    We also expect our children to not just do tasks when told, but to accept full responsibility for things. My children are responsible for their shoes. If they lose their shoes, they just have to stay home and miss out on things. So, their shoes are their mental load, not mine. I’m perfectly willing to put a pair of shoes away when I’m tidying up, or if a child asks me to, but knowing where their shoes are? They do that. We help them problem solve when they get stuck with their goals and responsibilities, and we communicate expectations, but consequences are pretty built in so we don’t do much nagging or any punishing. It’s just “Bummer. I’m sorry your playdough got all dried out and you have to throw it away. Is there anything I can do to help you keep it good longer next time we make it?” Or “Yeah, it’s not fun having to scrub dried on oatmeal from dishes. Soaking might help. Have you tried doing them as soon as breakfast is over? Then you don’t have to wait as long to do what you want to do.”

  4. Ah yes, the mental freakin’ load. That which drags down much of woman kind. It is the exhaustion generated by this load that leads me to fantasies of isolation. My imagined retreat. My respite involves living alone in a small house in the wilderness. Alone. Alone! With no one to parent, tend to, compromise for, meet the needs of, think for! Just think and do for me… there’s a fantasy for ya!

  5. 100% yes to this post, and that is an amazing picture of Paul. 🙂

    Have you heard of the Better life lab? they have these “experiments” you can do all with the goal of families living happier more balanced life at home. We have done some (the chore organizer was particularity eye opening for some at my house…)

    https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/better-life-lab-experiments/

  6. Amen 1000x. I can’t wait for the post when you tell us you have a plan! Because I am way too __________ to figure it out, and I must rely on better brains than mine during these __________ times. xoxoxoxo

  7. I love you. My brain hurts like this. I’m working on flylady’s control journal to get this out of my head.

  8. Hello Beth,
    Thank you for writing your blog I look forward to it everyday and it helps to keep me sane. I feel for you, I think it is the season for moms to be tired.
    I feel like you also about all the things which must be kept track of: food, laundry, kids appointements, cleaning, etc… What helps for me is noticing something, like the laundry, and discussing it with my husband specially the mental load part.
    Now he is responsible for all of the laundry, the mental and the physical labor: the noticing if it piles up, the not-mixing all the colors, the not-leaving something wet overnight in the washing machine because otherwise it smells bad, and also hanging it to dry, taking it down, folding it somehow and putting it back into its place. At first, we had a few loads of laundry that smelled bad and a few others which turned pink, now it works.
    Enjoy your tub.

  9. So much this.

  10. All this responsibility talk makes me think of a podcast I listened to recently by Brené Brown on overfunctioning
    https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-anxiety-calm-over-under-functioning/

  11. ‘I share these to point out the mental labor of Seeing Things and Making Sure They’re Done.’ False. It is not called mental labor, it is called chores. Same as ‘wash dishes’, ‘fold laundry’, ‘plan meals’. You do more chores than your husband, but accept that by mis-labeling them as ‘mental labor’.

    Back in 2013 I started a 3,5 year long cycling trip with my back then boyfriend and now husband. In 2014 it became clear to me that I am constantly tired and have no more energy for cycling left, while my partner was ready to go and pushing for more. At first, I thought he was just physically stronger than I was. But I started analyzing it anyway and made a long list of things we do every day and noticed that I just do way more than he does. So he had all the energy in the world that he could use for cycling and I had none left, because all the planing and organizing and checking everything and thinking about stuff was left for me alone. So we created a daily plan that had every little thing we had to do daily, self care and ‘mental labour’ included. And for each thing one person did there would be a point. At the end of the day we counted all the points. At first, I was getting 70 points, while he was getting 20. So we slowly changed that, so we would reach 45/45. And we kept counting the points for very long time. Today, in 2020, we both carry the weight equally, with the occasional tantrums from both sides ‘why do I have to do that, if once I’m done I need to do more things’, because chores are boring and require energy and they suck. So stop mis-labeling things as ‘mental labor’ and start calling them what it is – chores – and distribute them as equally as you can.

  12. I love this post. I don’t have kids or a spouse, but I’ve been thinking lately about all of the invisible work/mental labor that I take on at my job. Its the seeing things and the thinking through every aspect and delegating or taking action. Recently, I tried not doing it. I thought I was creating pain for myself and I should try just letting it go, assuming other people are capable of doing their part. It turned out that those people didn’t do the things I tried to assume they would and in the end, cost me more… time, money and to some degree, frustration and resentment. So I guess there was a lesson in boundaries, in there. And I’m still not sure how I feel about the extra mental work I do. Do I embrace it or try to sluff it off like an extra skin thats holding me back? IDK but I love this post.

  13. This! All of this!! Thank you so much for being so open and honest and sharing this. Especially right now it can feel like I’m the only one who feels a certain way. Thank you for making me and everyone who reads this feel seen and understood

  14. Waving over here!

    I have spent some time thinking about this over the years.

    I feel like the the kindest way I can frame it for myself, is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. I catalog all the things, and once seen, take on responsibility for all of them. I’m not sure how or why it happens, but it does.

    In many ways this tendency has a lot of positives for me. I’m a highly self motivated person. I feel a sense of agency and I like being CAPABLE of doing things myself instead of waiting on others to do them for me. Those capabilities give me a tremendous sense of security.

    This tendency also make me a good citizen. I believe that I have a role in making the world better.

    The negative side, is that I’m not actually superhuman. And the relentlessness of the ongoing to do list in my head is overwhelming. And the brain screams you had are very familiar 🙂

    It’s a sticky wicket, and probably something I’ll be trying to figure out my whole life. How do I maximize the good stuff and minimize the negative. Even more daunting, how do I teach my kids to do the same.

  15. I feel every word of this post…

  16. Good heavens to Betsy I swear you just typed my entire brain into this post and I feel so seen and understood and not alone. Waving in the dark (because it’s Ohio and it’s already dark here), Erica

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