Dear Jenny: How Do I Handle The End Of The World?
Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The world is facing a global pandemic. Gen Z and millennials are filling the bars; Gen X is sheltering in place and shoveling Xanax; Boomers are rolling their eyes.
My family is sheltering in place. We have enough Cheez-Its and margarita mix to last three weeks, and yet, I'm concerned. Apparently, the internet could go down, and every non-screen activity with young children involves CREATIVE PLAY SOMEBODY STAB ME IN THE EYEBALLS.
Things I've noticed: 1) My husband chews too loud, and 2) I don't like my kids. I want to express my rage, but I know this will make things worse. What are my options?
It's the End of the World as We Know It
Oh, the advice that's flown around the internet in the last few weeks for families who are trapped (yes, trapped!) at home with their kids: Make a schedule! Watch exercise videos! Do arts and crafts! Do a jigsaw puzzle! Bake! Breathe!
None of this mentions the single thing that will get parents who are working from home, or sheltering in place, through the next few weeks (or months). What is that, you ask?
That's right. Now is the time to bottle up your fear, anxiety, and frustration and put a good face on things, only letting it leak out around the edges, like an acid that singes the linoleum and leaves the smell of burnt plastic, but faintly. Additionally, there are some things you shouldn't do at the moment:
1. Break up.
2. Get pregnant.
Here are two examples of situations that would benefit from passive aggression:
Situation 1: Perhaps you feel that, because everyone is home all the time now, everyone should be extra careful about dirt and tidiness. Perhaps you have switched into, as they say, "high gear," with a Lysol station at the front door (and perhaps, just today, you Lysol'ed the front and back of a AAA Via magazine as you knelt on your front porch, curious to read about "The Magic of Monterey," but not willing to do so without bleach).
Perhaps your family does not agree. Perhaps they feel the OPPOSITE, that BECAUSE the world is turned upside down, the rules no longer apply. Perhaps your children are having a competition to see how much of the kitchen wall, along with their faces and hands, they can stain with frozen blueberries. Perhaps your husband is seeing this as an opportunity to garden, and then walk back into the house in his shoes, and onto the rug you hand-cleaned with a steamer from Lowe's a mere few weeks ago.
Situation 2: Perhaps your children have decided to start a family band, complete with wooden spoons, metal bowls, an accordion, bagpipes, a violin, and a kazoo. Perhaps they have done this in a central location, such as the living room, and perhaps because it is cold or it is raining and all the windows and doors are closed, all the sound — ALL OF IT — is ricocheting around your home like a coronavirus. You watch for a while, telling yourself this is positive, that your children are playing together, that music develops skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Then your 2-year-old sharts on the rug.
What to do, ITEOTWAWKI? Slam a door? Shriek in frustration? Find an object from your husband's childhood that is irreplaceable and holds sentimental value and smash it with a hammer?
Nope! Here are your options:
1. Turn the ringers off on everyone's phones so they miss their calls.
2. Log out from the streaming services.
3. Hide the charging cords.
4. Hide the toilet paper.
These are troubled times. People are dying; people are sick. Our president and our younger friends and siblings and parents and even our neighbors aren't taking things seriously. Our school-age kids are thrilled to be home and then devastated, indignant, defiant, and eventually door-slammy to learn that schoolwork is expected and they can't see their friends. The virus has sparked racist speech and acts. People are losing their jobs and their savings.
Shelter in place in a room with a midday glass of Trader Joe's boxed cabernet and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett or Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and put on your White Musk from The Body Shop and hoop earrings because they make you feel like you.
Now is not the time to get in a fight with your partner or your child. Now is not the time to insist on anything other than mutual respect, hand-washing, and social distancing.
There are things you can do. Give blood (if you're not sheltering in place). Share your extra N95 masks with health care workers. Check in on your older friends and neighbors. Shelter in place in a room with a mid-day glass of Trader Joe's boxed cabernet and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett or Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and put on your White Musk from The Body Shop and hoop earrings because they make you feel like you.
Just don't make things worse, in your home or your community. (And when you do, apologize and carry on.) Then, when you encounter your family, the people you love the most (or not), who eat nothing but the seediest bagels and get the seeds f*cking everywhere and laugh at things that aren't really funny and walk around with their long toenails smiling blithely as if the world isn't ending? Then you can know that you're doing your part to get through this with everyone else.
Please note: I say this as someone who yelled at her husband before 9 a.m. this morning and still hadn't apologized by the time I wrote this. In the middle of editing, I walked into the kitchen, where my 2-year-old sat at the table, eating toast with peanut butter and jelly all over his cheeks.
"Mommy, you talk to Daddy?" he said.
"I yelled at Daddy," I clarified.
He chewed for a second.
"Mommy, you happy now?" he said.
"Not yet," I said. Then I took a breath and walked over to my husband, who was chewing his own toast stolidly with his back to me.
"Copper, look," I said. Then I leaned down and kissed my husband so my son could see us make up. My husband looked delighted.
"Mommy, you love Daddy?" my son said.
"Yes," I said. "Very much."
BE THE BIGGER PERSON RIGHT NOW. IT'S SO F*CKING HARD, BUT IT'S THE ONLY WAY. KIDS ARE VECTORS SO KEEP THEM AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE, AND SHELTER IN PLACE IF YOU'VE BEEN ASKED TO, OR EVEN IF YOU HAVEN'T. KEEP OUR VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES IN MIND AND REACH OUT TO THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU TO OFFER SAFE, APPROPRIATE CARE. GOD HELP YOU IF YOU'RE TRAPPED WITH A PARTNER WHO WON'T GIVE HEAD IN THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. WE GOT THIS.
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