Sitting with the rage

Have I ever felt this angry or trapped in my entire life? Certainly—let me cut you off right there at the pass—the world has seen greater cruelties and outrages. “Broken childcare infrastructure” barely makes the list of world-historical tragedies.

And yet for sheer absurdity, for the unbelievable stupidness of this problem, for our steadfast refusal to acknowledge the giant fucking impossible disaster hanging over all of our heads—for that, this year should win some kind of award.

Let me back up. California’s public schools are all currently online, as they should be. I have a seven-year-old daughter who’s in Zoom school. I also have a six-month-old baby. I also have a full-time job, as does my husband.

When schools announced they’d be all-online this fall, I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief: disappointment, because online school is so inadequate for kids, but relief because keeping kids home helps ensure that everyone is safe. It was the right call. I shuddered when I thought about the tantrum-spattered disaster that had been Zoom school in the spring of 2020, but this time we had the space to plan. We had time to figure this out. It seemed obvious that we wouldn’t be asked to repeat the mess of spring 2020.

Except no one acted. I tried, God help me—I tried to convince the school district that beginning the school year without any provision for childcare was insane, would be a disaster for everyone, but especially for lower-income families. The district needed to exercise creativity in order to allow students to be supervised in small, safe groups. I did everything I could think of to get them to see this, even though I was at the time trying to care for two small children, and work, and deal with the emotional fallout of all of this for my family and me.

The school district did nothing about care for kids during school. Nothing. It was shocking. One board member told me not to worry, that we’d be going hybrid as early as September and at that point kids would have care. That seemed unlikely, but I wondered at the time if she knew something I didn’t know. She didn’t. LA County now tells us it will be at least November before kids step foot on campus.

It was a surreal, out-of-body experience to watch district administrators steadfastly ignore the enormously pressing question of childcare in all of their communication and official meetings. I watched questions go unanswered in the chat box that ran alongside our “listen and learns.” What was an essential worker, who must work outside the home, supposed to do? What about the rest of us? Did the district have any suggestions? These questions never got answered; instead we heard lots about online safety and the distribution of ChromeBooks.

Hey, they were busy! They sure were! They were doing all kinds of things to get everyone prepped for online learning: making arrangements with edtech companies, training teachers on best practices, sending out breezy newsletters about how we’re all in this together. I tried to tell them, in every way I knew how, that


None of it. Teachers can offer the most exquisitely prepared and finely tuned lessons via Zoom, and they are utterly useless if parents aren’t available to get students online and supervised. But I was screaming into a void. I never got a response.

The PTA, meanwhile, earnestly filled backpacks with school supplies for lower-income kids, busily ignoring the fact that these same kids are likely to languish without care or supervision.

The start of the school year crept closer as my incredulity grew. Surely they couldn’t expect us to repeat what happened in the spring. Surely not. Surely everyone recognized that was an unmitigated disaster. But as the days went by, schedules got emailed out, teachers got assigned, and the possibility hardened into fact: We were going to be expected to help our children with school, full-time, while also working, full-time. The glaring impossibility of this, the fact that it violates the laws of physics, was never acknowledged, which made me feel as though I had privately and quietly gone insane.

For its part, my workplace, which had in the summer held out the possibility of childcare and other help, grew increasingly quiet. Administrators who had promised to find solutions stopped answering emails. The resource we’re left with is a page of links to expensive private tutoring companies and a pod-matching initiative called Bruin Bubbles.

The wasted opportunities, the refusal to exercise creativity, just astound me. The district could have used a hub-and-spoke model, as other districts have, to distribute small groups of students around my town’s many unused public buildings. The college students home from school could have been hired to provide care. The money parents are apparently spending on private tutors could have been pooled to provide options for everyone. Instead, it’s every parent for themselves in a claws-out scramble for resources.

In the school Facebook group, any complaint is punished with frowny faces and exhortations to think positive. “We’ve got a pretty good system going on!” the PTA president retorted when I made a very mild joke about the difficulty of the school year. What is her system, I wonder? Is she, too, a pre-tenure college professor with a full courseload, a tenure dossier, and a six-month-old baby? If the ads on my social media feeds are any indication, her “system” might involve the hiring of one of an eye-popping array of private services, from boutique childcare to custom pod-matching services to art and music instruction to help with pods’ tax implications. Though I am far from rich, I am a relatively well-resourced person, with a white-collar job, and I cannot afford these services. What in God’s name are lower-income parents supposed to do? The PTA president posted a GIF of an upside-down sloth, captioned “hang in there!” I left the group before I said something I regretted.

The school year has kicked into gear, and conditions are worse than I could have imagined. My daughter was an incredibly good sport about this situation for a good five months, but now that she’s gone six months without any social interaction, the strain of all of this is starting to show. She is quicker to anger and tears than she ever has been, convinced that she alone is unable to keep up with the Spanish-language instruction at her immersion school. She has regressed in countless, heartbreaking ways. We’ve frequently had to cut Zoom school short because her hysteria made it impossible to continue.

This upsets the school administrators, who have introduced strict policies about attendance and (somehow, unbelievably) attention. My daughter’s asynchronous work, meanwhile, requires that we ease her into each assignment, because her unhappiness is so profound that she tips easily into desperate tears. My silly, mischievous, confident, brilliant daughter, who has since she was a baby woken up giggling. The last year of her little-girlhood is being sacrificed to this mess, and she’ll never get it back. We’re now spending a small fortune of counseling to try to undo some of the damage these last months have done.

In response, the school promotes “independence” for our children. But I refuse to believe that it’s abnormal or worthy of a punishment for a seven-year-old to require help on an assignment. This seems eminently normal and reasonable to me. It’s not her fault that the world around her has collapsed into chaos.

My anger about all of this is intense, threatening to overwhelm me. I’m surprised sparks aren’t flying off my body. The difficulty of the situation is one thing; the refusal to even acknowledge the impossibility of what we’re doing is what really pushes me to fury. What once seemed like common sense—that a parent could not teach a child full-time while also working full-time—somehow no longer obtains. This new state of affairs, which self-evidently violates the laws of physics, is treated as a fait accompli, just an obstacle to be met with good humor and grace. But it’s not. It didn’t have to be this way, and parents’ insistence on being good sports about this simply prevents others of us from claiming legitimacy for our experiences. We can’t build any kind of collective action or solidarity when even small complaints are met with righteous indignation.

Why have we allowed this to happen? Why are we not in the streets? Why has no left organization capitalized on parents’ rage, channeling it into action? Do we think we deserve to be shit on like this, to be run over and left for dead? I don’t think I do, and I especially don’t think my daughter does.

And yet this is somehow, unbelievably, our reality. And as my anger mounts and I grow increasingly dangerous to be around, I’ve realized that I need to do something I’ve steadfastly avoided since this started: to set my concern for other people aside in order to keep my own family afloat. My family is at risk of drowning, and it’s time for me to do everything I can in order to keep us from going under. If it means we drain our savings, then so be it. If it’s not fair, I can’t think about it. My rage, however justified, is not helpful to me right now, and so with this last salvo, I’m tabling it, perhaps to return to when we’re not in a five-alarm emergency.

9 Replies to “Sitting with the rage”

  1. Astoundingly good article. Thank you for reawakening me to the absurdity and exhausting impossibility of what we are doing right now.

  2. A few of the details are different, but my experience in Seattle has been very similar. Most of the younger kids hate online school. This was totally predictable based on the failed experiments of the spring, when half of the students in Seattle never even logged on to remote classes and the ones who did we’re miserable. There was plenty of time to develop alternative plans, including outdoor classrooms, which would have been the safest option and which the School Board proposed. None of those plans went anywhere. Here, too, all the energy was directed at delivering “devices” to every kid in the district, but my daughter (8) is going to smash her district-issued laptop to pieces if she’s forced to waste more time properly sizing and locating the text box on Seesaw to answer a simple math problem that would take a few seconds on paper. For my son (11) the first two weeks consisted almost exclusively of tech checks. Two weeks spent learning where to find the “mute” button on Teams. Technology was supposed to be our savior, and of course we’re constantly told to be thankful to the tech companies that donated those painfully slow computers, but nothing has lived up to the hype. Now we’re subjecting a generation to this cruel experiment. I’m raging with you, but I also feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall when I contact the local authorities. Here, too, the schools have bunkered down, and the standard response is that they’ll try to transition to hybrid school at some undefined point in the future. This will end, they tell us, but without a timeline or specific plans and commitments. Meanwhile, private schools and suburban public schools have been teaching in person for weeks and public kindergarten enrollment overall is down 14 percent. We can all see where this is going. It’s also frustrating that so much of the discourse about reopening schools is dominated by the MAGA crowd. Shouldn’t there be a leftist argument for sensible reopening that focuses on educational equality and generational responsibility and that acknowledges the catastrophe unfolding in front of us? Like I said, I’m raging with you. If you have any ideas for how to organize, let me know.

  3. I see the affect this online and hybrid learning has on children. This is devastating for all parents but especially those that have no form of support in the community and/or the school. The pandemic has caused more damage by school Not being in place than the lives that may be affected by Covid. Protect high risk teachers snd students. Do small group learning strategies with college students and teachers under fifty. Please let children learn the most important lesson of all. Hope

  4. Thank you for your letter Miriam. Im 66 and the kids are grown. I started wondering about this impossibility of this situation when the kids were sent home last year. It’s so crazy. I’m sorry you have so much to deal with. I understand about you knowing your anger isn’t helpful right now. You just need to survive this.

  5. Miriam- you are an awesome writer! You are writing for millions of women in a similar situation, I think your parenting instincts are on target- hugs and patience !! My children are teens now and I worry about their mental health. my kids are in school half the time- which has made a huge difference.

    Wealthy working moms have full-time nanny’s, imagine what that’s like! I support your decision to drain your savings account- go into debt even- to hire a nanny or babysitters. Do what it takes to support yourself and your children. Also- cut as many corners as you can with cleaning your home and food on the table. Long live breakfast for dinner, frozen pizza, PBJs and Mac and cheese! When I had 3 children at 3, 2 and an infant- moms would ask how I did it? I said-lower your standards and hire babysitters. Adding COVID on top of the typical pressures working moms face daily are overwhelming! Mental health is just as important as physical health. I wish I had more support to offer you.

  6. Solidarity, and rage. I am in philly with 3 kids (k,3 and 5) in 3 different schools. One kid has already had to have a psych eval because of this. These poor kids get all of the bad parts of school without one ounce of the good parts. My husband and I work full time+ from home and we are drowning. Our house is a mess, we are living off of processed foods because there is no time to cook real meals anymore. We sleep maybe 6 hours a night. We are living in a collective nightmare and I am so tired of being told that I have no choice. I have begged the teachers, administrators for help and they just keep making the school days longer and piling on more homework. Its sick. Torture. Cruel. I am with you, and feel like we just need to revolt.

  7. Good God. This is very very very upsetting. I’m fucking sorry. I don’t know what to dooooo.

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