The Toilet Paper Shortage Doesn’t Scare Me. Parenting Through a Pandemic Does.
by Nathania Seales Oh
This is the Emergency Broadcast System. This is not a test. I politely disagree. The past three weeks have been nothing but -- a test of my patience, my ability to stay calm in the middle of a storm, my time management, my will power, my spousal obligations, but most of all a test of my parenting skills. And to think, I thought I was flailing before. In my everyday life, when we were bathed in normalcy I struggled. I juggled. I yearned for balance, unending compassion as well as the time and wizardry to make Instagram worthy bento lunch boxes every now and then. None of these things were achieved.
Now, I feel like I’m working three or four full-time jobs. I am a chef (turning out three square meals a day with two to three snacks in between). I am an elementary school teacher. I am the IT department, communications expert, secretary, Fed-Ex/Kinko’s and Mary Poppins babysitter. These are the jobs bestowed upon me on top of my real job as Adjunct Faculty for a private university. For that paying job, I am also now part IT department, academic counselor, therapist, cheerleader, and surrogate parent. Yeah, yeah, yeah… that’s a lot of hats. You know what I really am? Fucking tired. I haven’t been this exhausted since giving birth. That’s a lie. I have never been this exhausted.
Perhaps it’s the candy shell coating of stress and anxiety ladled on top of everything that makes me so tired? And speaking of candy – why is that the only thing I care to eat? People have been joking on social media about quarantine snacking. I’m on another level. In fact, I should probably just list that as one of my new jobs too – Eater of All the Candy. I’ve gained my Freshman fifteen and then some. That’s a guess. I’m afraid to step on the scale.
I’m trying to keep a schedule for both my sanity and that of my daughter and husband. My husband pitches in a little (if I ask), but I’ve always been the one in charge of our daughter’s academics and most of her day to day care. This pandemic has not only reinforced our roles but made them more traditional. He does most of the procuring of food and supplies (hunter/gatherer). I raise our child and prepare our meals (nurturer). Some days I do the hunting and gathering in order to nurture. I love my husband beyond measure, but I would be lying if I said I don’t still feel alone sometimes. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, or the thirty-plus years I spent being single? I feel like surviving this is mostly up to me.
The creation of the next day’s schedule takes me one to two hours each night to type up. It’s the culmination of cross-referencing my daughter’s assignments, my own lesson planning for my college students, the myriad of Zoom meetings/distance learning workshops, meals, meal prep, letting the sunshine touch our faces here and there, and a dog that refuses to use the toilet. I relegate viewing of “the news” until the evening hours after our daughter has gone to bed. She’s panicked enough with our social distancing, incessant handwashing, gloves, masks and Lysol spraying of our groceries. She doesn’t need to witness the eye-rolling and face-palming group of experts standing behind our president, nor the catastrophic numbers that keep inching upwards like an Oldsmobile about to crack 100,000 miles.
So I sit, slack-jawed, hand over my agape mouth, greying at the temples. I know. I know. I’m not supposed to be touching my face. I can’t help it. I stay up until well after Midnight, watching Coronavirus updates, footage of the various political leaders standing at podiums “not yelling” at us and I reach for another peanut butter cup. If and when I do make it to bed, I don’t sleep. My eyes are closed. I curve my body around my husband’s and hang on for dear life.
On the upside, the toilet paper shortage is something I’m prepared for. My daughter too. We spent the last five months of 2019 living in a mountain town on the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon – a far cry from our southern California suburban home or the Caribbean island I grew up on. I was a visiting professor, teaching at a program that was rooted in environmental studies and sustainability. Here, I’ll translate that for you. We lived in what used to be a logging mill. We had a farm that garnered the majority of our produce. We composted, and chopped our own wood for heat, and had mice. There was no television, no central air or heat but plenty of group chores every Friday. All of it was new to me.
Also new to me and something I never thought I would be doing in a million years? The myriad of hiking, camping, peak climbing and a five-day backpacking trip where “leave no trace” was voraciously enforced. Let me translate again. We hiked into the wilderness and camped there. Everything we needed (shelter, food, clothing) we had to carry in (and back out) on our backs. There was NO toilet paper allowed. I repeat. There was NO toilet paper. So, the toilet paper shortage doesn’t scare me. I now know how to take a crap in the woods. I know how to wipe my lady bits and nether regions with a rock, or a cluster of leaves, or a twig. So does my daughter.
Speaking of my daughter, she’s only eight years old. When we went back-packing she was seven. My daughter and I are close. We’ve always been close. But let me tell you, nothing bonds you to another human being like taking a crap in the woods together. We shared a hole. Do you hear what I’m telling you? I dug a six-inch hole. I squatted wide-legged over said hole and held onto my daughter’s hands for balance, while she kept a look out and I took a crap. It was not a little crap. Then I wiped my ass with a flat rock. It did not feel good. I almost fell into the hole on top of my own crap. Thank God, I didn’t. My daughter then crapped on top of my crap. She opted for a twig rather than a rock to wipe her delicate seven-year-old butt. And then together, we buried our crap. Less than 24 hours later, my student’s support dog dug up and ate our crap.
I tell you this, not to gross you out. Okay, maybe a little bit. I tell you this to say no matter what the state of the world is, we’ve all got crap to deal with. Some of it you can try to bury and ignore. Some of it will be uncovered and provide a tasty snack for someone else. Crap will always be around, but you survive.
So, although I feel like I’m drowning in a completely different way than I have previously. I guess I take comfort in knowing that this too will pass. And I will never be perfect. I need to stop beating myself up and trying to be perfect. You should too.
I have to go now. There’s some raw cookie dough in my fridge that’s calling my name. I am also Eater of All Baked and Unbaked Goods. Not to mention, my daughter’s fourth Zoom meeting of the day is about to start, and I need to get her dialed in.
Bio: Originally from the Cayman Islands, Nathania Seales Oh is an entertainment industry veteran with over 20 years of production experience working with such media giants as Sony Pictures Entertainment, HBO and Cartoon Network. Now, she lives, writes and teaches in Orange County, California after earning her MFA in nonfiction from UC Riverside’s low-residency program just last year. She has been published in Coast Magazine of The Orange County Register, The Coachella Review, Anastamos, and the Redlands Review. In between working on her first full-length memoir and volunteering with the Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy program, Nathania explores the world through food and travel with her husband and eight-year-old daughter by her side.