I was talking to a friend of mine who called me after spending yet another morning sitting by her daughter’s side during virtual online learning for school. “Zoom went down,” she explained. Not just at her kid’s school – in AMERICA. The whole freaking program crashed, presumably because there were millions of households logging on multiple kids (and, in many households, one or two adults as well) to video conferences supported by slide shows supported by digital document exchange platforms. Because that’s what we’re all doing these days.
The teachers did their best to cope, of course, as did the kids, as did my friend, who put down work on her masters degree so she could figure out how to enable editing on a document so her kid could do math. We’re all doing our best here. It’s nobody’s fault that we are just cobbling it together. But everything still kind of feels like it is failing. Like it’s unsustainable. Like we’ve really stopped smiling, and now we are just clenching our teeth.
Many of the wonderful women I know and love with school-aged children have expressed a similar sentiment. Sure, we will do our best to make it work. We and our partners (if we have them) will work excruciatingly hard at home or at paying jobs (or both) and multitask to the best of our abilities (this goes double for the teachers, essential workers, people in health care, etc., who have children themselves), so that we can find ways to help a nation full of kids during the school day, because … well, what the hell else are we supposed to do? We HAVE to do it. We have no choice. We know this is bad, but we will just do our best until something cracks, until it actually becomes unsustainable. We’re gonna break, we just haven’t broken yet. So, I guess we should just keep going? *looks around* Is that what you’re doing, too?
It occurred to me that this teeth-gritting moment isn’t just the normal part of coping with this pandemic. It is something above and beyond what this nice article describes as “surge overload.” I realized that it is not the feeling of failure that’s messing with our heads: it is the cold hard recognition of the actual inability to succeed. At least in the before times, we had some limited illusion of control over what might fail. Now, it feels impossible to get it right, or even to balance the fricking plate, because we all have no idea what will be slapped on next with this era’s goo-laden cafeteria ice cream scoop.
I know I am living a charmed life, even during the end of the world. I have a job, a house, plenty of food, a safe place to be, and a strong internet connection. I am even equipped with Gen X/Oregon Trail, Jan Brady-style coping mechanisms (which I have written about before here) that usually get me through just about anything hopeless. However, I still know failure is pending. The cavalry ain’t coming. Mars is in retrograde, and I know it will assuredly get worse. So, what’s the answer? What’s the cure? How can we survive this? What do we do?
Here’s my answer so far, and I have to remind myself of it often: It ain’t normal out there. So stop acting like it is. It’s still the earthquake, so stop fretting over where the outlets go in the house plans for when it’s time to rebuild. Quit thinking about how good that stolen idol is going to look in the museum, Indiana Jones. Put your strength into the fingers that are hanging on to the cliff. And for god’s sake, if your kid doesn’t learn about Mesopotamia or their multiplication tables or whatever, WHO CARES. We missed a Zoom meeting … during the APOCALYPSE. ALONG WITH LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN AMERICA.
IT. IS. NOT. NORMAL. OUT. THERE.
You aren’t crazy. The world is.
So just stop for a sec. Rest.
This attitude gives me permission to sit down for a minute and see the Matrix for what it is – an artificial construct. I now understand that I can prioritize my energy, because I know I cannot possibly succeed. My real job isn’t to teach my kid math. It’s to successfully tolerate failure.
Is this attitude healthy? Sustainable? Reasonable? No, silly, and that’s the point. Nothing is. So stop pretending it might be. Sitting through the fail is our actual “have-to,” so do it in a way that might work semi-well for you. By all means, find the energy to do good things you care about: vote, help your neighbor, change the world, give more hugs. But just remember, today is not the day when we have to learn the multiplication tables. We are all home sick, babe, and sometimes you gotta be still, watch the Price Is Right, and wait for the Tylenol to kick in.
How long will we have to be this way and tolerate this failure? Oh, who the hell knows, but take comfort in the fact that’s not the question you should be asking. The real question is, and this is very important: if you do get to bid, how much are you putting on that second showcase in the Showcase Showdown?
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.