I appeared on PBS’ To The Contrary, and discussed COVID and women, the women’s vote, and moving past Donald Trump:
Kids not going back to school. An inability to travel across state lines and give grandma a hug that won’t kill her (or you). People being laid off from their jobs.
The problem is leadership failure, not coronavirus.
Other countries have identified how to manage coronavirus in a way that doesn’t destroy everyone’s lives. The virus is not somehow different in the United States. What is different about the United States, more than anything, is a lack of leadership at the national level.
It’s low-hanging fruit to attack people going to the bar, and believe me, I have some choice words for those recklessly having drinks at the bar as U.S. infections top five million. But you know what? The real problem is a lack of national leadership that would be courageous enough to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and create measures to deal with it.
If we had a national leader, we would have meaningful, temporary lockdowns to cut transmission so that we can have meaningful, in-person contact. Like schools. Sports. Vacations. An economy that can actually move up rather than cutting, shriveling down.
If we had a national leader, we would have testing available to everyone who needs it with rapid results, and contact tracing that would make real life more workable so that we can do the things that we enjoy, for real, not sort of while assuring ourselves that it’s maybe ‘safe’ because there is hand sanitizer as one enters the nail salon.
If we had a national leader, masks would be mandated, not politicized, the needs of children and the most vulnerable would be prioritized when weighing what services to reopen and when, and school board members and governors would not be on the front lines of making decisions for which there should be national policy, guided by public health professionals.
We don’t have a national leader. We have an authoritarian, racist psychopath who doesn’t care how many Americans die.
Coronavirus isn’t doing this to us. A leadership failure is. And so, I am no longer saying COVID or coronavirus is making life tough. I’m saying leadership failure. When my daughter adds to her never-ending list of things she wants to do “when coronavirus is over,” I gently correct her with, “when the leadership failure has passed.”
I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.
My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.
We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.
Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.
Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.
But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.
While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.
My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.
I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.
Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.
Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.
We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.
We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.
I wanted to thank you for going to the pub. I hope you had at least four Miller Lites, and traded numbers with someone cute (I’m sorry they haven’t called). I know you had been feeling lonely. My daughter just turned seven and she is an only child, so she can relate as camps have closed for the summer.
I wanted to thank you for going to the restaurant to have a bacon cheeseburger with your family, eating indoors while the waitstaff wear masks. I know you needed that. Meatpacking workers, many of them from immigrant communities, also need food on the table and have been continuing to go to work — sometimes under government command — until they die. Mmm, bacon!
I wanted to thank you for standing up for small businesses by seeing your manicurist, getting your roots touched up at the salon, and keeping up with your local gym membership. I appreciate that it all felt ‘super safe.’ Friends who contracted COVID-19 continue to struggle months later, seeking new referrals by the week for pulmonologists, cardiac specialists, and gastroenterologists. Many of these medical professionals, too, operate their own small businesses and I’m glad we’re working together to keep our economy safe.
I wanted to thank you for refusing to wear a mask. You have looked so manly. On occasion my husband has joined the throngs not sleeping well, and SARS-CoV-2 couldn’t push up anxiety and depression rates like this without your unrestrained virility.
I especially wanted to thank you for going ahead with your summer vacation (YASS! Cotton Candy on a Stick!), as this week my school district has announced that for the next year children have the option to attend school two days per week or all-virtual. In my daughter’s grade they are honing reading skills so the timing could not be more effective to cement and intensify the inequities experienced by children with disabilities, non-primary English speakers, and poor kids of color without broadband and devices. We can’t solve everything for the kids, am I right?
I do apologize for getting a little windy during your long flight home from paradise (hope that guy in the aisle with the face mask over his eyes doesn’t snore too loud!), but since you’re up anyway, let me tell you what’s happening to moms of young kids. Without childcare, the nurses and nursing home attendants on the frontlines have been SOL this whole time, and now a sizable segment of my generation of working moms with office jobs are on the brink of being permanently forced out of or downgraded from our careers. In this new normal of barefoot and managing Zoom calls and ever-shifting distance learning decrees for my daughter, I appreciate the ability to ponder the intensification of systemic white patriarchy through school closures against a newsfeed of busy boardwalks and you, looking so great in your swimsuit.
Now that you’re home, I wanted to thank you for refusing to take off your mask in Trader Joe’s and for connecting this issue to the Democrats (though, gently, I remind you that the need for chocolate-covered mango potato chips is non-partisan and for those on the team, our symbol is a donkey, not a pig). It may be that no one in America better understands the need for people to wear masks in public than hourly workers, many of them people of color who have no choice but to serve you, so it was helpful that you provided some an opportunity to do so on camera while wearing fabulous Hawaiian shirts (every moment deserves a little cha-cha, yes?). As with some of their colleagues who have died in packed ICUs after restocking shelves and ringing up your toilet paper, the rhinestoned Bebe brand you were wearing during your viral rant may never recover — and as a member of the Georgetown class of 2002, I too am ready to move on.
I wanted to thank you for insisting on holding the funeral in-person and indoors, and making sure everyone had a role to play so they just couldn’t let you down. My daughter has not seen her grandparents in five to seven months, and should the worst happen during these delicate times when traveling across state lines carries mandatory quarantine or even closed borders, it is helpful to know that many of the elderly people in attendance were able to have everyone together singing the appropriate funeral songs before some of them die alone on video cam.
I wanted to thank you for attending the Trump rally wearing red, white, and blue, for desecrating the American flag with a blue line, and for wrapping yourself in the flag carried by rebels who tried to defeat the people of the United States of America. Your visible patriotism of destruction is poignant as Black people are killed in the streets by law enforcement because this presents a second option in the event the virus that is disproportionately infecting and killing them ‘magically disappears’ as has been suggested by the authoritarian Nazi sympathizer too busy ordering the military to teargas peaceful protesters against racism to lead a national strategy to defeat the coronavirus, from which, after arguing for less testing (the numbers will make him look better) and reopening the economy (the numbers will make him look better), he has moved on.
I have been staying at home for 17 weeks and am grateful for this opportunity to reflect upon what happens when I play along with ‘we can do hard things’ and you do not. At various points in this sofa-bound adventure, I have played Italian music from my iPhone and fantasized about having that one pasta dish from my honeymoon in Florence, and you have carried more than your fair share in this group project to ensure that Italian borders are closed to us so that this fantasy can stop taunting me. Scientists warn there may soon be 50,000 daily new infections in the United States.
In our own special ways, I suspect, we have been concerned about recent declines in American standing, and now we can say objectively that as far as coronavirus goes, the world watches on as we take irrefutable first place.
So truly, thank you for going to the pub. I used to think it was sad to drink alone.
COVID-19 has destroyed the basic social compact working parents signed up for when we decided to have children. Now, we’re forced to do it all. At once. This is impossible. The other option is to lose our jobs like tens of millions of other Americans.
This is a childcare emergency.
There are no personal solutions to fix it.
Color-coded ‘schedule charts’ for the kids or sweet website recommendations for how to view the Louvre collection virtually, from a pogo stick, while the kids learn how to meditate following prompts in ancestral languages aren’t going to solve it.
Re-opening the tattoo parlors, barber shops, bowling alleys, and movie theaters? Also worthless.
We need to just say it out loud:
The federal government’s economic relief packages for COVID-19 are sexist as hell. In leaving the childcare crisis unaddressed, the whole response is sexist as hell.
Parenting and childcare are economic activities that are not being compensated. Guess why? This has always been considered women’s work, even when men and non-binary folks do it, and that’s why it’s been under-appreciated and underpaid.
I’m seeing lots of government aid packages and promises for businesses that promise not to lay off their workers. Where are the government aid packages and promises for businesses that:
- Reduce hours for caregivers on staff without reducing their pay
- Give caregivers on staff PAID LEAVES OF ABSENCE even if they theoretically can ‘work from home’ at 3 a.m. while the baby sleeps for 20 minutes
- Provide incentives for social-service organizations that are currently closed to innovate on safe provision of childcare for essential workers and also workers, period
Why are our legislators not talking about the childcare crisis facing working families in communities around the country?
Our schools, summer camps, and childcare providers are closed. It is critical that the *actual government* address this issue. Legislators, cabinet secretaries. All the schools have closed and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is doing what, having a manicure in Georgia? Have you heard anything from her since the coronavirus crisis began? How about Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia? Has he opened his mouth once about the extreme challenges faced by working parents ever (duh, childcare affordability has always been a crisis), much less now when we’re all tearing our hair out and struggling to breathe?
Where are the think tanks with papers about ways to climb out of this childcare crisis in a way that also offers protections for public health during a global pandemic?
The time for innovation is now. If ‘relief’ and ‘reopening’ ideas don’t prominently feature the needs of working families, they are not worth printing on paper.