Wife, daughter, mother and business owner Dana Peck. (Courtesy photo)

By Dana M. Peck
Special to the AFRO

I’m a wife, mom of three, bonus mom of three, daughter, consultant, community association volunteer, Board member and Director of Digital Solutions for the AFRO.  

COVID-19 and the ensuing quarantine is doing a number on my life as it is for everyone else. I’m holding it together, but at times it seems that I’m barely making it. While COVID -19 brought additional challenges for me, it also created many blessings. I have to make difficult decisions daily that could potentially affect the lives of those I love the most.  

If I permit safe playdates, extra-curricular activities, go to the grocery store, accompany my youngest for an ER visit and overnight hospital stay, go for a walk, or finally get my hair colored, am I putting my entire family at risk for COVID-19?  At what point is one’s protection greater or lesser than the protection of others? What about the alternatives? Boredom? Depression? Anxiety? Gray roots? 

Since March 13, I’ve lived and run the household like I’m in battle and I’m feeling like I don’t have the bandwidth to truly defend my family. The feeling of burning the candle at both ends doesn’t seem to fit. It seems more like a trick candle that just continues to burn at my expense. It’s not uncommon for me to participate in several Zoom calls a day between work and community responsibilities. Working for a media company means deadlines are rolling and urgent. Co-workers and subscribers rely on my role to keep the information current. As a consultant, clients rely on me to design and build their brands through social media, and website and mobile applications in a timely fashion.   

I couldn’t agree more with EJ Dickson, Rolling Stone writer, who commented in her article, Coronavirus Is Killing the Working Mother, “It is mothers, not fathers, who have historically shouldered the vast majority of the childcare burden, and continue to do so during the pandemic, … it is women, not men, for whom the Secretary General of the United Nations warned, ‘across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated.’” The pressures are indeed felt more on my shoulders. Even pre-COVID, it was my primary responsibility to take care of the planning, shopping, cooking, and managing of my husband, my children and my father’s needs.

However, pre-COVID-19, I had access to a support group and siblings to whom I could send my kids. I could coordinate carpool and plan overnights, and find some relief from my duties as primary caregiver for my 93-year-old father. Relief teams are no longer an option and are equally burdened. We face a seemingly never-ending battle. Maybe I’m struggling since I never experienced these feelings before, since I believed I had everything and everyone under control. Now everything and everyone is out of control. I wonder if it’s the lack of outside support, the feelings of isolation that burden me daily, or my quickly approaching 50th birthday!  Hot flashes, lower energy levels, sleep disruption, unwanted weight gain, and emotional waves are also now my new normal. Commiserating sessions with other moms seem to make me feel worse. I can’t even live vicariously through the lives of my friends because many of us are living the same story. 

I’ve been challenged with managing three students (8th grade, 9th grade, and a freshman in college) with the sole responsibility for their remote learning and navigating their grief from a lack of normalcy, and grief from isolation and missed opportunities, including two graduation celebrations, six birthdays (four of them milestone ones), and their general sense of uncertainty and anxiety. Pre-COVID, I shared custody with their dad. Because of health and logistical challenges of switching homes, that is no longer an option. I always thought I just needed just a few more hours in a day – now I just need a long pause to stop the clock. As the first up and last down, after wiping down surfaces and door handles, and as the expected first responder to  “I can’t find”, “I’m hungry”, “It broke”, “I’m bleeding”, “I want”, “I need”, “Can you help me”,  I constantly ask myself: How do I sustain my sanity (and everyone else’s)? 

How do I navigate the forced multigenerational intertwined life of work, study, and play in the confines of our home? Can I really afford to be ill? How do I keep up morale, healthy food options, reduce boredom and attend to my own self-care and work responsibilities?  

My heart has broken more than a couple of times over these last six months: for my honor student who missed his graduation and prom, for my middle child’s personal struggle with anxiety fearing she exposed her family to COVID-19, waiting for test results, for my children’s pain from not being able to spend quality time with their biological dad, the death of a childhood friend, the defiance and anger that is characteristic of many teenagers. For too many parents and families that buried their loved ones due to senseless violence and for my son who carries that apprehension when’s driving that he could be the next victim of racially charged violence.  I’m also burdened with the fear that if one of the kids gets sick or falls behind in school, I will be blamed for making the wrong decisions or not doing enough.

My 18-year-old just started college. I grudgingly helped move him to campus not because I would miss him (which is normal), but more so out of fear for his health. I just couldn’t see how on-campus living would work, especially coupled with his health issues, being asthmatic with environmental and food allergies. Less than a week later, because his roommate was exposed to someone with COVID-19, he was sent back home. Right now, I’m quarantining an 18-year-old while protecting the rest of the family.  

The days continue to be full of powerful emotions that change every day – highs and lows, ebbs and flows. I’m thankful though that the tears from pain and sheer exhaustion are outweighed by tears of pure joy. We are in week 20 of a three-generation family bible study of the Book of Revelation where many of the weeks were led by our children; two businesses have been formed and profitable, new skills and interests emerged for all of us, we are in the midst of planning celebrations for my milestone birthday, and I have the love and support of a husband who notices me on the brink of despair and can swoop in with a hug, and thankfully, we have bonded like never before because of all of this. I’ve found comfort helping others whose challenges are far greater than mine. Where I’m concerned with what to cook, others don’t have enough food to cook; when our internet is not as fast as we’d like, others don’t have any access to Wi-Fi; or when my Dad needs assistance, a friend can’t visit their elderly parents; or when the house appears to get smaller and smaller with everyone home all the time, others are alone. 

I realize that I can’t waver. I will ensure that love, fun, and prayers will abound in the house. I’ve learned a lot, particularly, delegation! I don’t have to cook or plan every meal. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. There will be laundry piled up. Someone else can prepare the shopping list online. I’m maximizing technology for my sanity and the family’s benefit.  

There but for the grace of God go I …

This is the life I’m living, and I still thank God for it! I’m not going down; I’m only taking all of us up! 

Black Mental Health month just ended. I encourage you to seek a professional outlet and support systems. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is one such resource and it has a 24-hour helpline: 800-950-6264.