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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Motherhood and Multimodality during the Pandemic: Writing is a Lifeline

Elise Green

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Keywords: parenting; grandparents; intergenerational knowledge

Categories: Parenting as (Im)possibility in Impossible Circumstances; Writing the Process of Writing; Reflecting on and Refusing Racial and/or Gender Inequity

In my office, on the top shelves of a bookcase, sitting among some regalia and honors, is my grandmother’s collection of pencil sharpeners. They are antiqued brass and of varying sizes and themes—a covered wagon, a slot machine, a locomotive, a lantern... She collected them throughout her travels all over the US. To her, they were tokens—physical reminders of moments in time. Today, they are my reminder of her—more precious than hoods and tassels and medals. These pencil sharpeners remind me of a woman who loved life and loved her family.

Yet, she struggled—like so many caregivers—with self-neglect. She lived self-sacrificially to serve others and never herself. I once thought, I’ll never treat myself that way. I’m going to enjoy the luxuries of life and all it has to offer. What a wonderful aspiration for someone who was single, without children, and in the early stages of her career. Indeed, I did not have many obligations at that point in my life, but I see that I had plenty of ignorance.

Now I am a wife and a mother of two children under the age of five. I am also full-time contingent faculty, who is responsible for teaching a 4/4 load. Plus WPA responsibilities. I am both the Scholarship Committee Chair and Altruistic Committee Chair for my local chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, and I teach Sunday School at my church. And as of March 2020, I was ABD and in the middle of data collection for my dissertation study.

In spite of all this, when the world came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, my sweet, sweet family assumed that because I was home, I was available.

Of course, I didn’t tell them I wasn’t available. What might have changed if I did? They never would have understood how the usual writing for which I was responsible had suddenly become so much more complex, in part, because my “mom” work needed to be performed alongside my professional, school, and service work. No one job could really be put first. Definitely not the “self” work I so desperately and suddenly needed to do.

With both my husband and I working from home with no childcare, I had limited physical, mental, and emotional space. So, being the English major that I am, I looked for opportunities to write, as these moments became mini-retreats for me to spend time with myself. And I wrote as much as I could:

✓  Excessively long email correspondence with faculty

✓  Questionably useful email correspondence with students

✓  School lesson plans

  YouTube videos

  Assignment outlines on the whiteboard side of a child’s easel

  Post-It reminders on bathroom mirrors

  Church lesson plans

  Prayer journal entries

  Press releases for scholarship award winners

  Altruism reports

  Research journal entries

  Audio notes for methodology and analysis chapters

  Transcribing interview data


✓  Impromptu lists spoken into iPhone Notes app

  Drafting and revising dissertation chapters

  Email exchanges with dissertation chair

  Creating Outlook Calendar appointments

  Color-coded calendars mapping out a writing schedule

  Mommy-do lists

  Grocery lists

  Amazon lists

  Honey-do lists

  Home refinance application and forms

  Text messages commiserating with girlfriends

I was a multi-tasking mom, using multimodal tools to care for myself while working to care for everyone else around me. It was through this diverse, often layered writing that I aimed to maintain organization and productivity in a time when so much felt out of control. I could not physically escape from my house, but I could mentally escape to my writing.

Sure, I locked myself in the bathroom a few times and cried. The increased carework I experienced during COVID, however, reminded me that writing is a lifeline. Writing is my happy place. Writing is where I go when I need to take time for myself.

I sometimes get sad when I look at my grandma’s pencil sharpeners. She collected them, but she never used them. If she had, I wonder, maybe she would not have suffered like she did.


Image of a book shelf topped with tassels, ribbons, and graduation hoods, plus a row of decorative sharpeners.

Antique brass pencil sharpeners sit among academic honors and memorabilia.



Elise Green has served at Longwood University since 2014. When she’s not researching, teaching, or conducting writing assessment, she enjoys kayaking with her family on the Staunton River.

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