*Warning: well-deserved strong language ahead!
Update from the Trenches
Well, friends—here we are.
It’s been a full year since COVID-19 hit. One year since we decided that I would stay home with the kids for “a month or two” to do remote schooling while we “flattened the curve” or whatever delusion we were living under at the time.
Aside from being gradually reduced to a quivering pile of gristle and screaming nerve endings, I’d say I’m…okay? I suppose? I don’t really have a frame of reference here, it being my first global pandemic and all. I’m 20 pounds heavier and my beard is a lot whiter, but I’m still getting out of bed every morning, so…win?
It’s been insanely difficult. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is a big giant poopy-pants liar. I have ADHD, and generally don’t do very well when presented with large swathes of unstructured time with no one but myself to hold me accountable. This entire year has been one long, drawn out, inescapable reckoning.
Things got dark at times. I won’t lie. I commend anyone who can get through a year of this without going full Jack Torrance. Some days freezing to death in a hedge maze doesn’t actually sound half bad. At least I’d have a bit of silence before I dreamily slipped away into the loving embrace of the void.
But I digress. To commemorate this dismal anniversary, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned about being a dad with ADHD, suddenly forced to spend 24 hours a day with his feral barn children. I hope it helps someone, somehow.
Things I have learned, in no particular order:
1. You will start out doing a really good job. You will be attentive. You will be fun. You will shower regularly. You will think, “We’re all in this together, and as long as we love and respect one another we can get through this!”
This is false. The average adult man has a finite supply of the specialized energy required for sustained, long-term arts and crafts. You will succumb to madness—or glitter poisoning—long before the pandemic ends.
2. You will make gallons of homemade slime. Elmer’s glue, baking soda, and contact solution are all you need to kick off your adventures in the amazing world of “science.” Kids love making this simple, fun
waste of precious resources craft. They go apeshit for it.
This is, of course, because they love “science” and is in no way related to the video they saw on YouTube of some insufferable nine-year-old millionaire filling their swimming pool with it. Have fun combing this shit out of your dog, you fucking sap.
3. You will, at some point, make a UPS driver extremely uncomfortable because you’re just so damn happy to speak to another adult. I miss you, Carlos. Please come back. And bring the goddam sweatpants I ordered.
4. Anything that can go wrong (fistfights, mortal injuries, broken glass, etc.) will go wrong while you’re taking a shit.
5. You may spontaneously burst into an intense ugly cry for no discernable reason. Probably on the toilet. This is fine, and is in fact encouraged. Just be prepared for whatever is going to go wrong while you’re in there (see above).
Important Note: Although the bathroom may seem like your only refuge from the shrieking chaos, its status as a hideout is tenuous at best. Children can sense when you are at peace and they will hone in on you like fun-sized Ringwraiths. If you need a quiet place to take a break, you may need to get creative. The basement, your car, or your neighbor’s crawlspace are all great alternatives. Remember: keep it secret, keep it safe.
6. You will eventually grow tired of every single food you love. Just thinking about the phrase “what’s for dinner?” will immediately fill you with dread because you just don’t know anymore. Chicken nuggets, I guess? Whatever will occupy your mouth long enough to quiet the howling maelstrom of inane questions and eldritch screeching for a few precious moments, Sweetie.
7. For all you creative types, an important word of advice: for fuck’s sake, go easy on yourself. As you start to realize that you are in this for the long haul, you will naturally begin to have all sorts of grandiose ideas. You’ll finish that novel! You’ll paint every day! You’ll actually practice guitar and learn some new techniques so you can move on from this plateau you’ve been stuck on for the past few years!
Lol okay. Sure you will, Sport.
But please do not take my skepticism as discouragement. Obviously, I am speaking to you from my own experience and unique set of circumstances. You may very well find the time, motivation, and inspiration to create. If so, huzzah I say! That rules. Go kick some ass.
However, most of us know that ADHD rarely travels alone. Anxiety and depression are usually skulking close by like a couple of hired goons. Stress, uncertainty, and prolonged isolation tend to create the perfect environment for them to flourish. Not exactly the best environment for creativity.
My point is, things are hard enough without you beating the shit out of yourself because you haven’t been able to do the thing you love. The joy will return when it decides it’s safe enough to do so. It’s all about survival right now. Get through the day first. Your Magnum Opus can wait.
8. It is quite possible that in your quest to provide some semblance of normalcy for your children you may forget that things are, in fact, not really “normal” at all. It is critical that you do not lose sight of this, for it is your tether to reality.
Write this down, record yourself saying it, tattoo it backward on your forehead so you can read it in the mirror like a sad little ambulance: you cannot judge your current life against how things were in the “before times.” To do this will only leave you feeling inadequate, exhausted, and lonely.
9. A lot of us were not prepared for this. Like, at all. We’ve been forced to face some harsh truths. In most two-parent households, both parents have to work full-time just to survive. Which means for the majority of our lives someone else was raising our children for us. (I’m not going to go into the systemic rot that made this necessary. That suitcase is way too big to unpack right now.)
It made us soft. We went off to our little jobs and stared at our little phones and sent our kids off to be looked after by teachers and daycare providers and grandparents, all whom we took for granted. Our support systems suddenly evaporated and many of us found ourselves suddenly faced with the fact that, “Holy shit this is hard and I feel like every choice I make is wrong and were they always this fucking loud?!”
This feels a lot like a huge personal failure. I definitely entertained the notion that I was just a shitty dad this whole time and it took a global pandemic to unearth this immutable truth. But that’s really just some bullshit. The truth is that for so many of us, a lot of valuable time with our children has been stolen from us and we can never get it back. Now that we have that time a lot of us don’t know what do do because we were never allowed to really learn. The whole system has set us up to fail for decades, and now the chickens have come home to roost or whatever cliched colloquialism you’d prefer.
You may be isolated, but you’re not truly alone. Talk to other parents if you can. Bitch about your kids together because it’s funny and it keeps you sane enough to remember that you love those little assholes more than you love yourself, theoretically.
And if it starts to feel too overwhelming, Carlos and I saved you a seat in the hedge maze. They can’t find us here.