DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
IN OUR house, things feel different from the last lockdown. Zi appears antsy about being cooped up inside, and we are changing our routine to get her outside daily. She’s still coping well with online school, but the context is heavy, uncertain and surreal, and children across the world are expressing anxiety. I’ve pared down my ambitions. If I can get her through the pandemic with her mental health intact, I would have achieved the most important thing I can at this time.
I’ve also struggled with what feels like slowing down to about a fraction of my old capacity. Maybe, it’s a worn energy that wakes up with me. Days can feel overwhelming from the heightened stress without end. Maybe it’s just getting a year older over covid19; we have all changed a bit.
It’s also working at home, absent of colleagues, manufacturing an idea of an office by yourself in a room. With an office, there’s a clear separation from the space meant to be a refuge from the hectic exhaustion of the day. I’d walk into my department and the next ten hours would be pace. It’s hard to drum up that level of focus and momentum at home, all day, every day, in a space built around a gentler logic, and especially with children. When you leave them in school, you can lock off emotionally. If I did that at home, I’d be missing the call for greater care at this time, when families must collectively create a new mix of work-life balance.
I’ve thought a lot about what a longitudinal view of working from home reveals. Last year, in the first six months of lockdown, I operated like a machine, smoothly switching to remote teaching and zoom meetings combined with messaging and calls on multiple platforms.
I knew that work was intruding on a sphere that was for rest and relationships, for emotions and escape from the day. I knew it was a shift for Ziya, who suddenly had to contend with a mother who disappeared into her work life despite being there, requiring her to negotiate time with me when I was mostly behind a screen. This was new for her as I had long set boundaries on demands of the public sphere, putting in endless hours during the week so that the weekends could be properly ours. I told myself I had to value the work of reproduction and the private sphere, and setting such time aside was a feminist act of prioritising and valuing the labour of nurturing and love.
Then through the first lockdown, I worked at home as I had at work. Now, it’s clear that working from home may be a way of the future, but that it requires far more thoughtful realism. Family members don’t entirely obey boundaries, unless you close the door all day. Still, I’ve seen so many children interrupt zoom meetings and talk to their parents as if the screen hardly matters, because those meetings are happening in their space of home.
In my heart, I’ve thought more power to them. Family members interrupt because they need help or because they love that you are there or because they can’t grasp that you are home, but they should act like you are not. More power to them too.
At first, I thought I just wanted to work, now I think about how to not subordinate all that home life entails for all that this new imposition requires. Women are working earlier in the mornings and later at night to get the quiet they need. Even doing that, as I seemed less able to generate manic speed, I berated myself for being inefficient, delayed on e-mails and late on deliverables. I found myself more frequently apologising for not meeting my usual productivity.
It took time for me to realise that I wasn’t being less productive, I was actually doing much more. Not just more housework, which is well recognised as a consequence of covid19, but paying more attention to the relationships around me, the state of the wellbeing of those I love, and the emotional health of our household bubble.
Last year, we shifted for emergency reasons and find ourselves here again today, some of us still with jobs, many more of us unpaid or unemployed. At different points, we are making difficult decisions about managing labour and love over the long duration. A longitudinal view of such pandemic negotiations is a necessary public conversation.
Diary of a mothering worker