Papi en Pandemia

So there’s this moment when you “Aye Dios mio, que es lo que voy hacer ahora?!” to yourself in the midst of some ish going down.  Let me set the picture for you (and sorry not sorry for the dips and slips into Spanglish, porque that’s what I live, so allí tienes) - I’m a half hour in to a ‘Zoo’ Meeting (and that’s how I call them now, because we are trapped in these little box cages and whatnot) and my 2 year old is all “daddy, daddy, daddy I want cookie!”  And she’s doing it in that -she ain’t going to stop until she gets a cookie, half-crying/half screaming- thing that toddlers do. But I’m deep into this meeting. Matter of fact, I’m the one talking right now, giving the info and trying to look like I got myself together. But it’s the fifth meeting of the day, two more to go and this poor baby hasn’t napped or been changed in since lord knows cuando.

So I say to my fellow zoo-bians, “Please hold while I acquire the cookie requested of me”, and I know some of these folks are sitting there being Judgy McJudgerson, pero what can I do?  My fellow black and brown brethren hitting me with that “I know what you’re going thru, son.  Go get that cookie and maybe grab one for yourself.”  Porque truth be told, I haven’t eaten since last night, and breakfast was a fast-as-heck insta-brew Bustelo K-cup, which doesn’t carry the same punch as when abuelita or mommy made it.  Cookie acquired, child shushed but pamper heavy and I’m back to dispensing instructions, updates, tasks completed and wisdom where appropriate because, sometimes you gotta remind people that it ain’t all gravy.

My WFH office is under a bunk-bed in my stepdaughter’s room because she’s out of town, safe and sound with other family that has a yard, thank god, and it takes a village.  Coño, truth be told, I could use a village right about now.  My partner is essential, which means work needs her more than we do, apparently.  So let’s pause right there and look at what pandemia hath wrought.  Almost overnight, we went from 9 to 5 to 0-100 real quick.  High speed meetings over so-called high speed connections slowing things down because how effective can I be when all things I did were in person?

Our children became office mates overnight, because we need to cute-en things up? Nah, no office mate of mine ever needed a diaper change (maybe a breath mint), or for me to feed them 5- 6 times a day, and the psychology behind how they know just the right time to demand your attention at the worst possible moment.  And I wouldn’t say I’m single parenting, but it’s damn close.  Further, can I just say that women have been hysterically, historically maligned in the child rearing business?  This stuff is WORK, and do not take this as pro-advocacy that women need to be raising the kids.  This is me waking up and realizing what I must’ve put my momma through.

But I digress, the point is, that even at my busiest, I wasn’t in back to back meetings that required me to sit in the same place for hours at end with no end in sight.  Posturing and playing performativity politics was never my strong suit, so here’s me creating virtual backgrounds and being artsy-crafty to give folks something fun to look besides the underbelly of a bunk-bed.  Because, there is no greenspace in this tiny NYC apartment.  There’s no take the ol’ laptop out for a slice of green at the park, at least not with a hyperactive 2 year old riding shotgun everywhere I go, even when I’m going.  Not to sound crass, but pooping and peeing have taken on a new light when you have a two year old running around or deciding she wants to be right next to you because…”scawy muntah” (scary monster) is outside.  I also can’t trust others to do their due diligence and wear masks to protect me and mine, so inside we stay.

I can’t eat, sleep or use the bathroom in peace.  Meetings are a guessing game that will either have a napping baby or an explosion of “I want (insert random toy, song, video, food item)” at any given moment.  I try to dress for meetings but now everybody gets random superhero or sports team t-shirt of the week.  I try to keep normal hours but since no emails can get done while I’m at the Zoo-meetings, it only means that my tired partner gets to come home and deal with an attention starved child, as I try to furiously close out emails that I started writing hours ago and can no longer remember what the point of said email was.  What I do remember is my mother not having to deal with raising me under this level of duress, at least as far as I can tell. 

More Pandemic “goodies”….mass unemployment, shelter in place orders, wear masks to access stores and the outside world, broken systems that are now being exposed for their inequities and racial divides.  But I’m one of the lucky ones.  Dual incomes, rent stabilized apartment, with (mostly) working heat and hot water, serviceable internet.  Yet, we are cut off from the un-official agency that helps us make it through this crazy thing called life…La Familia.  Remember the whole it takes a village thing?  Yeah, well us Latinx been making it through on the bread and butter of that alone.  Kid is sick?  Abuela got you.  Need to take quick trip to the store to shop, Tio/Titi can watch the baby for a few.  Want to go catch a quick bite without your child, Padrino can handle babysitting duties.  But not now.  Nope, there is no escape from anything.  It’s like every button got pressed and everything is turned on to max volume and you can’t hear nada.  Like when mommy is in the bathroom with the hair blower on, listening to her freestyle mix and the door is closed and you’re outside asking to get let in.  Or maybe that’s just the house I grew up in.

And for the record, it’s not only your children that need you, lest you forget the panic put everyone on edge.  We have entire student populations in all their beautiful and wonderful existences and identities, navigating a complex maze of a world that stopped making sense three months ago.  Shelter in place?  More like trapped in hostile space for many of them.  Others didn’t have permanent residences to go back to.  Food? That’s another thing that was already scarce for them when they had access to our buildings and us full-time.  So, we are on a full blown, all hands on deck, use every dot in your job description type of situation, and my question is who watches the watchmen?  I mean it’s not like our stresses got cut short because we sprang to action.  Crisis managers out here managing crises for everybody else, including and up to ourselves.  I cannot even begin to imagine the PTSD and system shock effect this is going to have on us.  Because, even in the midst of the pandemic-monium my thoughts flow to others, that’s how I was built.  To spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.  But on this day my patience is razor thin, as I fatten up, stuffing another corn muffin in my gut, on my way to sit my behind in front of the damn machine that has slowly taken over my home life, acting like my home wife, demanding I push all the right buttons.  But there is no Ctrl-Alt-Delete for this mess and I confess, sitting on the edge of madness under duress is a special kind of stress no human should have to endure.  Pero, we are survivors.  And we do more than just survive, we thrive under the harshest of conditions and Pandemic or not, I got work to do.  We all do.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.