Every school semester usually begins with the best intentions, I think as I stare at the mess that is my workspace.
The summer semester is down to the last three weeks. Deadlines are piling up. Pieces of paper, with half written notes scribbled across them, are scattered everywhere. Sticky notes from my husband are tucked here and there as tributes to our relationship’s undiminished love. My daughter’s art in the form of a unicorn figurine reminds me I’m more than just a student.
I have waited a long time to have this opportunity to attend school. My kids finally being old enough to attend school full-time along with the winter intake of students for journalism at Algonquin College felt like destiny calling.
In order to make my dreams of becoming a journalist reality, plans were made to have my kids juggled between school, extracurricular activities and home. During the summer, my kids would attend day camp with their friends and spend a lot of time in the pool with my parents. The plans I balanced to perfection were then unceremoniously thrown out the window with the seemingly sudden onset of the novel coronavirus.
Now I sit here at my chaotic desk wondering, what have I done.
On March 9, the students in the halls of Algonquin College started to dwindle. Throughout the week I could feel the growing tension as the news spread of COVID-19 cases increasing at an alarming rate, leaving those who had left on their planned tropical vacation scrambling to get home before the borders closed. I had no idea that in just four days, my class would be meeting for the last time in person.
COVID-19 grabbed the end of my wrapped-up plans and started unravelling. Fear and depression seemed to take hold of everyone around me as safety measures were put in place. Unessential workplaces were forced to shut down and I watched as my husband got laid off of his job as an electrician.
Routine wasn’t a comfort we could rely on for long, as grocery stores put a limit to one member per household. With the toilet paper crisis reaching its peak, the bare necessities seemed to be fading quickly too.
The only thing I could do was remain positive for my kids, family and friends. The hope that everything would go back to normal was an idea I held onto tightly. Maybe not all hope was lost.
After the semester ended in April, it felt as if I had just survived Armageddon. But the month break almost gave me too much time. I found myself questioning the decision to go back to school for the summer semester.
Can I handle being in school with the kids who no longer can go to day camps and school like I had originally planned?
This became an ongoing concern for me. But as soon as I received an email from my professor, Neil Haesler, my passion overrode my concern and I started planning once more. My mother agreed to help me with the kids during class time and with her help, I knew I could do it.
“Congrats,” wrote Haesler. “I have chosen you to lead the Algonquin Times team as its newest Editor.”
The weight of the new responsibility didn’t hit me until I started watching numerous classmates drop the program. I became filled with self-doubt and worried I said the wrong things. Maybe I wasn’t a strong enough leader. Everyone had their reasons for dropping out. Looking back, I can see that now.
Guilt became a constant companion as I watched my mom and my husband shoulder the load of my house and kids between them.
Jasmine Cady from Algonquin College’s Counselling Services told me I’m not alone.
“In my conversations with parents, I’m hearing that they are feeling really worn out,” said Cady. Time that once could be divided is now being balanced and juggled between work and children. Parents begin to feel overwhelmed and guilty for all that is out of their control.
At the beginning of June my husband found work, which meant that the portion of the housework and children were added back to my list of responsibilities.
Everything started to feel hopeless. I couldn’t get ahead of my assignments. My laundry had taken over the living room. Stories of COVID-19, police violence, death and suffering were all I could see in the news. The weight of the world seemed to be pressing down on top of me as the never-ending list of things to do piled up.
During the reading break, something in me broke.
I sobbed to my husband about everything I was emotionally carrying. The words poured out of me, expressing my feelings of failure. How I felt like I had let everyone down. I wasn’t a good enough editor for my peers; I let down my teachers who entrusted the role to me. I had become a burden to my parents forcing them to watch my kids for me. I had let him down – we had made plans and financial sacrifices so that I could pursue my dreams – and it was all slowly being pulled away from my grasp. I wanted to quit.
My husband finally spoke after a moment. Gently, he said, “You’re so much bigger than this.”
His words seemed to put a stop to the storm that surrounded me.
I will rise above this moment with my husband’s and family’s support. I will sit back down at my cluttered desk and do what I needed to do. I will take my kids to my parent’s pool in the afternoon and embrace the little moments I have with them. I will persevere with school and conduct another interview for the paper. Because he was right, I am much bigger than this pandemic.
Cady encourages parents to lower expectations and express some self-compassion. She said we can lose sight of the fact we are in the midst of a pandemic.
I’ve seen my best intentions and plans be laid to waste by COVID-19. But my story and future do not end here. There is hope, and though we may never return to the pre-COVID state, there is promise in tomorrow.