‘Keeters Sound Off: Melissa Stefanec’s Perspective On Parenting During The Quarantine

Editor’s Note:

This week, Terakeet learned that we placed 44th in Great Places To Work’s “Best Work Places For Parents” category for this year! We are so honored and proud to be included — especially amongst such incredible brands and organizations.

This year has featured some of the most unique challenges any parent could face. Parents working remotely have had to juggle the usual stressors plus all of the monumental struggles the 2020 quarantine has presented. Some parents have been handling remote learning since March, others have been trying to keep up with an endless series of changes that schools have had to implement to keep educators, kids, and parents safe.

To acknowledge all of the hard work our ‘Keeter parents have been doing in 2020, and to give some insight into why Great Places To Work recognized us as a “Best Work Place For Parents,” we asked Digital Content Manager Melissa Stefanec to speak about her parenting experiences during the pandemic.

Melissa writes candidly about the struggles so many parents faced as the year progressed, and she so poignantly highlights the joy and support she was able to find while working from home with her family. We are so grateful for all of our ‘Keeter parents and their teammates who have remained flexible and so supportive during this historic period of time. Read below to learn more about the two parenting paths that Melissa has walked in 2020.

2020: A Tale of Two Parenting Realities

By Melissa Stefanec

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

If I was given 10 words to sum up middle-class parenting in 2020, I would choose these words: A paradoxical reality that turned my brain into mashed potatoes.

Some days are treasures and some are trash (and some are simultaneously both). That was true in 1859, and it will be true in 2022 and beyond; this year just intensified that sentiment.

Some people might be wondering what “parenting a six-year-old and nine-year-old during a pandemic while navigating working from home and global unrest” looks like. Are most days trash or treasures?

My answer is to present two realities. Both are real, and their reconciliation is just one more thing my brain can’t quite handle this year. 

Melissa and her son share a sweet moment during the workday

2020: Parenting Daily Reality A

The alarm went off quite some time ago. I slept a little too late again. I wanted to get up and lift weights. My body doesn’t look like it did a year ago. I am disappointed by it, but 2020 is full of disappointments. Maybe tomorrow, I will get up and exercise.

Are the kids awake yet? I hope not. I want them to sleep just a little longer so I can get a few things done. I also hope they wake up on their own, but at just the right time. I hate fighting with them to get out of bed.

I want to start work at 8:15, but that’s hard when the kids don’t leave for school until 8:30. Some days, they understand work boundaries; some days they don’t. 

I join an 8:15 meeting. One of them interrupts it. I apologize for the 38th time. I wonder if my team is getting frustrated with me. After all, it’s only 8:23 a.m., and I’m already apologizing.

At 9:15, I remember my husband and I forgot to fill out the daily health attestation for the kids. Does the school have a three-strike rule? I really want to support their efforts during this pandemic. My mind is just so crowded.

I power through my workday. I steal 7 minutes to call one of my daughter’s doctors. Later in the day, I steal 3 minutes to send an email to my son’s teacher. If I wait until later tonight, I won’t have the energy to send the email. I will then beat myself up for putting it off for another day.

Before I know it, it’s 2:45. If I leave right now, I will be able to get the kids on time. However, I have to dial into the Zoom meeting I’m on before I can get in the car. I can’t find my keys. I hope someone doesn’t ask me a question when I’m trying to get in the car. It’s already 2:50. I hope I don’t get stopped at the train tracks.

I get stopped at the train tracks. If I wasn’t on a call, I would answer a few Slack chats while I waited. I will be late to pick the kids up, again. The school staff doesn’t give me trouble, but I know I’m that jerk who often picks her kids up just a few minutes late. I should plan better.

I pick my kids up while I’m still on my call. They’ve learned to be quiet when I’m on a call. I’ve growled at them and taken their tablets away enough times for it to sink in. I really want to hear about their school days, but, instead, they sit in uncanny silence.

I burst into the house just in time to make it to my next meeting. I’m all smiles and positivity, but, today, I feel like I’m dying inside. I wonder if the other people in the meeting can see through me. 

My kids unpack their folders on my kitchen table, which is also my work desk. They start asking me to sign papers and review school materials. I mouth to them to leave me alone. I hope the other meeting attendees don’t notice. I feel myself growing resentful of my husband, who is at his work desk in the basement. They tend not to bother him.

It’s 4:30, and my kids have been using screens since I ran them off from my meeting. I tell them to go outside. Before long, they wander back in and ask me when I will be done with work. I tell them, “the more times you interrupt me, the longer it will take.” Their eyes reflect a simultaneous lack of understanding and disappointment.

Did I hug them when we got home or did I just bee line for my laptop? I never wanted to be that sort of mother.

I said I would end my day at 5:00, but it’s edging up to 5:30. I have so much left to do, but I close my laptop anyway. Even after a day without a single break, I feel like I’m not giving enough, not to my job, not to my kids, not to my husband, not to myself, not to this broken world.

We power through our night. We make sure everything is in line for tomorrow. I check to see if there are any Covid cases at my kids’ school. As hard as this reality is, it’s become our routine. I dread having to navigate remote learning, because it will require more energy and time. I don’t have much of either of those things these days.

I tuck them in. God, I love them so much. I wish I had been less short with them today. They are what makes my life invaluable. Why didn’t I show them that?

They fall asleep. I strategize with my husband about the rest of the week. Wednesday is a half-day, and we need to figure out whose work calendar is less loaded and can pick them up. 

I don’t want to talk about work calendars with my love. I want to drink wine on the porch with him. But, I’m so tired, I literally have trouble forming complete thoughts. 

So, I scroll through social media for a few minutes. I have to be informed and knowledgeable. But, in my state, the state of the world feels like too much.

I should really get to bed, even though my mind is racing. After all, I want to get up early…

Keeping pace this year has been no easy feat

2020: Parenting Daily Reality B

I wake up just before my alarm. Good. I don’t have enough time to work out, but that’s ok. I will do it after work. My kids aren’t up, but they should be. I go into their rooms and scratch their backs. I remind them we are going to have an awesome morning that turns into an awesome day.

I head to the kitchen and start to gather my thoughts. I have a lot to accomplish today—personally and professionally. I make a list of all the personal tasks. Once I’m done with the list, I prioritize it. I leave spaces between the items, so I can add the items I forgot as I remember them. 

My kids eventually come into the kitchen. I take their temperatures and call down to my husband to fill out a daily health attestation for each of them.

I remind my kids to look at their lists of morning responsibilities. I tell them I need to be online by 8:15, so I need them to practice being grownups and work through every item on their lists. I tell them I know they can do it.

I start my day a little before 8:15. It feels great to be ahead of schedule. I write out a work to-do list. I prioritize it. I’m off and running.

My husband brings the kids to school at 8:30. Right before they leave, they race up to me for hugs. I tell them to enjoy this beautiful day, stay strong, and be kind. They tell me how much they love me.

I power through my morning. I find a small gap in the action, during which I call one of my daughter’s doctors. There is a lot of extra coordination and precautions during this time, and this makes everything take longer than normal. As trying as it is, I’m thankful she has access to quality health care. I’m thankful I have an employer who gives me the flexibility to coordinate that care.

I get off the phone with the doctor’s office minutes before my next meeting. I’m thankful for my stroke of good luck. I can keep moving and not miss a beat.

A few hours later, I shoot off a two-minute email to my son’s teacher. This means I skip some midday stretching, but I am happy to be able to fit in this email. I’m a better communicator when I still have energy.

I have to pick my kids up at 2:45. The meeting I’m in ends at 2:30. I fit in a couple of short tasks and am out the door at 2:45. On the way to school, I get stuck at the train tracks. It’s a cargo train, but I think I can make it on time.

I pick the kids up exactly at 3. I can get out of the car to greet them. I smile at them through my mask; I hope they see the joy in my eyes. I give them hugs before they get in the car.

On the drive home, I ask my kids about their days. They tell me all the details. I’m so glad they still talk with me. I treasure their little voices and this opportunity to interact with them right after school. Before Covid, when they went to daycare, I didn’t get as many details.

We get home, and I remind them to leave me alone for the next couple of hours. I kindly remind them that if they let me focus on work, I can spend time with them sooner. At 4, I remind them to shut down their devices. 

By 4:30, my son has forgotten the non-interruption memo and interrupts me. I pull him close for a hug and tell him how much I love him and remind him to give me a little more time. I send the kids outside. I hear our next-door neighbor come over to play with them. Their laughter is the perfect backdrop for finishing my day. 

The next time I look up, it’s 5:15. I finished all the things on my work to-do list. I feel like a champion. I start picking through the papers my kids have strewn across the table. I ask my husband when he will be finishing up his day. I ask him if he can wrangle dinner and baths if I do all the paperwork and finish up homework.

He agrees. That means I can go running. I feel like we truly can do all of the important things.

When I get home from my run, I ask the kids if they want to write a thoughtful note to someone at school. We talk about how making someone smile turns into smiles for a lot of people. It quickly morphs from writing a note to decorating gourds to give as gifts. They finish up their projects and set them out to bring to school the next day.

Then, we snuggle up and read together on the couch. I feel so thankful.

During a time when so many people are facing so many hardships, I have so much. I have a helpful husband, two wonderful children, my cats, my family, and my friends. Beyond that, I can give my kids a safe place to live and food in the cupboards. I can provide for my family. 

Quarantine has changed our routines and presented many challenges, but it hasn’t taken any of the truly important stuff. Not everyone can say that. When I tuck my kids in, I remind them of how much we have to be thankful for. I remind them that tomorrow is going to be a great day, and, if it isn’t, I’m always here for them.

I can’t control the chaos in this world, but I can control the narrative in my home. I stay positive about our circumstances and empathetic to others’ hardships. 2020 has been a great teacher. I’m lucky to be here.