On Wednesdays We Made Art

My mom has been encouraging me to write about my time during the Stay At Home order and distance learning. As we near the two year mark of the introduction to Covid and it’s been almost six months since I’ve reclaimed my dining room table from the impromptu classroom it became, I find myself loath to return to that time. But memory is a weird thing – did you know that under times of severe stress that our brain makes forming and recalling memories really difficult? When our bodies are flooded with cortisol our brains are all “yeah, you don’t want to remember this shit. I’m turning the security cameras OFF.” As such, the longer I wait to write about my experience the more nebulous and ethereal the experience becomes, like maybe it happened to someone else, someone who wasn’t me. Occasionally something will trigger a memory of that time and my reaction is visceral; like being in a swimming pool and having a piece of errant tissue brush up against your leg. It’s wet and slimy and you can feel it but when you try to scoop it into the pool gutter the paper disintegrates in your fingers leaving only the feeling of being violated by something unseen and unpleasant.

But the Stay at Home order and distance learning are, in someway, worthy of being memorialized, at least to remind myself that it did happen and that it wasn’t just an eighteen month fever dream. It was possibly the hardest thing I’ve done and, in the process, I learned so much about my son but also lost a great deal of my sense of self along the way and if I’m being honest I still haven’t regained most of that back.

My son is autistic. He’s been in the school district’s special day classes since he was three years old; the first two years were preschool and he began his kindergarten year in 2019. His teacher, Ms Kayo, was a pure delight as were the classroom aides. Freddie thrived. We took a trip to Seattle that November for Thanksgiving and marveled at how well he was able to navigate all the different changes and the new surroundings. The start of the 2020 semester was fantastic and then Covid came and everything changed.

I fully believe that parents and teachers of children with special needs were uniquely equipped to handle what was thrown at us. It doesn’t mean it was any easier but the two lessons learned very early on is to always be flexible and to embrace the fact that things might not go according to plan. As such, Fred’s amazing teacher was able to roll into the new distance learning plan with what appeared to be a fair amount of grace. I know it couldn’t have been easy but when you’re in charge of eleven students who thrive off of reliability, schedules, and the safety of a routine, what else can you do? You go with it because it’s what needs to be done.

Fred was lucky enough to retain Ms Kayo for the 2020/2021 school year which began online. My dining room table became his classroom. We had five sessions every day beginning at 9am: Morning circle time and a break. Small group time and a break. Mid-morning circle time and lunch. Small group time. Afternoon/Goodbye circle time and we were done by 1:30. I sat with him every day. His schedule became my schedule and the routine of the class became my biorhythm. We had music on Thursdays, OT on Tuesdays, speech and reading groups.

And on Wednesdays, we made art.

Prior to the pandemic I was working as a freelancer. I had a small writing gig that brought in a little spending money. I had been with the company since 2016 and it proved a way for me to feel like I had some kind of contribution to the world, some kind of identity beyond a stay at home mom. My last job was working about 20 hours a week at a quilt shop which ended right about the time I became pregnant in the fall of 2013. Having assignments given to me, having something expected of me that was more than just being a mother, having money that I earned and could spend however I wanted gave me a sense of purpose. But when my energy needed to shift to distance learning I realized I no longer had the mental capacity to do the work. By 1:30pm when Fred was done for the day I became done for the day.

I tried so hard to make it work. I wanted to be productive. There were other freelancers, other moms in fact, who were making their weekly goals. They were sailing through the assignments and the calls. I would sit at the table, my laptop open, Freddie engaged with a therapist or a game, and I couldn’t do it. I would call up a stranger and pretend to need daycare and my pulse would skyrocket. And then the same would set in: why couldn’t I do this? Why was I failing at this? Other women weren’t. Other women had three kids, husbands who were deployed, they were making easter baskets out of willow branches that they picked up on hikes and they could still make 50 calls a day. What was wrong with me? Why was I such a failure?

But on Wednesdays, we made art.

When the Shelter in Place order came in, my husband and I made the decision that he would be the only one to leave the house. We knew my son would benefit greatly for continuing with his therapists so if we wanted them in the house then we needed to severely limit our bubble. Jonathan worked on job sites and was considered essential. He left to get groceries or run errands. Fred and I stayed behind closed doors. Freddie’s therapists came as did two wonderful friends, Heather and Jack, to give me some breathing room and Fred some much needed engagement.

My friend Eric wrote about difficult the pandemic has been for people who are more towards the extroverted side of the spectrum. He talked about how much he missed the “five minute friendships” that would happen as you waited in grocery lines, the interactions with clerks at stores, the small shared energy that happens between people. I longed to sit in a coffee shop and feel the people around me. I desperately wanted other adults to talk to and would find reasons to check in with Ms Kayo and the other aides. There were some days I spoke to them more than my own husband.

And my poor Freddie…Fred is an extrovert’s extrovert. He THRIVES off of people. My mom tells the story of how at a grocery store not three months old he would demand the attention by people in line. How he wouldn’t want to nap for fear of missing out. When we shuttered the door I became his primary source for that kind of interaction and like the Texas power grid in the face of a polar vortex, I simply could not keep up with demand.

But. On Wednesdays we made art.

I believe it was around February when I started really losing my footing. Since the pandemic started I would have mini-breakdowns about every six weeks or so. In the meantime I did my best to control my anxiety. I learned early on never to read the news or doom scroll before bed unless I wanted to wake up at 3am with a panic attack so severe it felt like my heart would explode. My ADHD meds kept me focused enough to keep the train moving along but I felt stretched thin like a rubber band and, like clockwork, at the six week mark I would crash and spend a weekend crying in bed, trying really hard not to let Fred see me break as bad as I did. I needed for him to feel safe, to know that we were managing just fine. But there was one time where he came in my room where I was crying. He patted my back and in his small voice said “It’s okay mommy. We’ll work together and find a way to make this better.”

While I won’t say that I went towards serious suicide ideation, and I did talk about this with my doctor when we checked in about my medication, there were moments when I would think “would it really be THAT BAD to have covid? To just be in a medically induced coma for three months and miss all of…this?” I know that it would have been horrible and awful with lots of complications but man. As we neared the year mark and anxiously waited for our turn for the vaccine I honestly didn’t know how much longer I would be able to hold it together. My guilt at not being able to work when others were able to. My crushing loneliness. My shame at not being present enough.

But then it would be Wednesday. And on Wednesdays we made art.

By March Jonathan and I were fully vaccinated and the school started in person learning part time. I was able to leave the house, take Fred to school on the bike, and come home to an empty house. I thought that I would be able to work again, that I would be able to go back to the ways things had been but in my absence the company had grown beyond me, which is a thing that happens. I found myself almost paralyzed at the thought of leaving the house to do errands or shopping. I had been told for over a year that it was my job, my civic duty, to stay home. To leave the house, to go to a store, felt like breaking the law. While I rejoiced in the reclamation of some of my previous life I realized how much changed during that time, and suddenly I realized I didn’t know, and that I don’t know, who I really am or what my place is.

I have no gainful employment. Freddie’s schedule is busy between his extra-curricular activities and his therapy. While I’m not housebound as I was before learning to leave has been tricky. I realize that I am faced with a blank page and while 20 years ago I would have seen that as an opportunity for adventure and self expression as I come out of this experience doubting that I have the worth, the imagination, or the skill to make anything of interest. That anybody would be interested in what I had to say or do or create. The brain weasels that I thought I had exterminated still lie dormant and I heard them gnawing and feel them writhe.

Then I remember. On Wednesdays I created art.

I am endlessly thankful for Fred’s teacher and his classroom aides who were sometime the most adult interaction I would have in a day.

I am deeply indebted to my friends, especially Diana, Abby, and Todd who were always at the other end of the text message and just knowing they were there would pull me back from the edge.

To Jonathan, my teammate. My matching gear. This experience proved what we already knew: that we are stronger together and at our best when we work towards something greater than ourselves. We work best and are at our best when we are together.

And to Fred. I sat with you and learned with you and from you and loved you every moment of the way and hope dearly that you’ll find a good therapist in 10 years to process the fights we had when days got hard. But I hope that you’ll always remember that on Wednesdays.

On Wednesdays we made art.

One thought on “On Wednesdays We Made Art

  1. Meg I’m glad you’ve come through this difficult time and that you were able to put it in words so eloquently.
    I also looked forward to the art that you both did. So amazing!

    Like

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