When the rain of this pandemic started to pour, I thought I was prepared for it. I had my boat, crafted of iPhone reminders and calendars and schedules and sticker charts, of face masks and disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, of bulk supplies of Lunchables and Gogurt and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and I was going to ride it all the way to the other side of the year 2020.
It was not until I had launched this vessel that I realized how poorly equipped it actually was. The rain kept falling, the water kept rising, and when my ship sank, I had no choice but to swim.
And now I’m drowning, because this sea keeps rising higher, and higher, and higher, and I’m just too tired to swim anymore. I lost my will somewhere in a storm of distance learning, of Zoom meetings and downed servers, of too-slow internet and too-fast lessons, in the storm of the constant change of regulations coupled with the maddening stagnation of staying at home.
And that was before the rain turned cold with social and physical distance in a place that was already lonely.
I am not swimming alone, either—I’m carrying a child who is heavy with the weight of her messy past, a burden in its own right, but I could not leave her behind in this storm. So I have her in my arms, and I am bearing my own weight along with hers. Although I love her more than anything, she is becoming increasingly difficult to carry.
Adoption is a heavy blessing, sometimes as bitter as it is sweet. No one tells you that, but it’s true. It’s a heavy love, a patchwork of losses made of awkward holidays whose edges will always be singed by grief, no matter how hard you try to make them joyful. It’s a heavy love made of ever-present worries and fears that chew up precious mental real estate in your child’s mind, leaving little room for multiplication facts or STAR reading tests or all the other things that the school has deemed “essential.” Even as time has passed and love has grown deeper between us, her fears and worries have not dissipated. If anything, they’ve only metastasized, becoming the lens through which she now sees everything. It is a cloudy lens, and its membrane is seldom permeable.
No amount of preparation could have readied me for this, for the weight of trying to reach my child through the clouded lens of her reality in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. My charts and timers and calendars and hand sanitizer proved meaningless when she started bawling because some kid in her Zoom meeting was wearing a t-shirt of a superhero that her biological dad used to like, and now he's all she can think about. It’s hard to review math or do vocabulary flash cards or fill out attendance forms or do anything else, because the only thing that seems "essential" in that moment is stopping her from crying.
She, too, feels the weight of the rain.
Her emotions have been a flood in and of themselves.
She is drowning in worry, in anxiety about things she cannot control. (Aren't we all?)
She is drowning in the disappointment of celebrating her thirteenth birthday alone, her plans canceled by the new COVID-19 restrictions.
She is drowning in loneliness.
She is drowning in confusion.
She is drowning in fear.
She is drowning in irritation with me for constantly telling her to do what she doesn't want to do (read: distance learning).
I am drowning in the flux of her emotions at the cusp of adolescence. I am drowning in embarrassment at my own adolescent response to them. I am drowning in the resulting explosive exchanges between us, leaving my husband caught in the crosshairs.
I am drowning in Essential Learning Outcomes that feel completely inessential. I'm trying to pull my child up the slope of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Self-Actualization is merely a pipe dream when she is constantly worried about the safety and wellbeing of her biological family members. It is hard for her to learn when her fears keep her stuck at its base.
I am drowning in school assignments that reduce my child to tears and rage. I am drowning as I watch her spiral into shame, believing that she isn’t smart enough to do them. I am drowning in the knowledge that her struggle has nothing to do with her intelligence. It's just that her mind is too riddled with trauma to focus.
I know her struggles are rooted in her past, and I can empathize with that when someone else is in charge of her education. But now that my kitchen table has turned into the teacher's desk, I am drowning in waves of my own shameful impatience. It's all too easy to forget about her trauma and expect her to function normally. I know better, but I don't do it. I am drowning in my own frustration with her inability to grasp a concept, even though I’ve already explained it three times. It has become all too easy to hand her the calculator like a pacifier during math class, just to keep the peace between us.
I am drowning in loneliness, both hers and my own. It has become so hard to connect with anyone, but especially with one another.
I am exhausted in every sense of the word, but I put on my face mask and hand sanitizer and press on, though I am struggling to keep my own body afloat.
I can see no end to this. I can only see water. I cannot see the other side.
But for my daughter’s sake, I have to keep swimming.
I am not a natural optimist.