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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Woolf still holds up....

Marisa Klages-Bombich

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Keywords: parenting, gender

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

How many pieces in this collection will start with Woolf's now cliche words, "'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." I never wanted to write fiction. However, I would like to finish the revise and resubmit that I received from a journal in 2019. My pandemic spring semester started on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020. By March 12th, 2020, our classes had shifted online. One of my courses that semester was "The Woman Writer." As such, Woolf's words were always fresh in my mind.

As we round the corner on Fall 2021, 3 semesters after the initial shutdowns, I'm thronged with anxiety, stress, and despair for countless reasons:  the pending return to school of my 3rd grader; he's returning to a public school system without remote learning options, but with a mask mandate for students and staff and a vaccine mandate for staff; the entry to preschool of my 2-year-old, who is joyous and wondrous but has rarely seen other children her age because she cannot be vaccinated and has only just started to tolerate a mask;  summer where I've spent hours watching videos from the Mask Nerd on YouTube where he tests the safest masks for children in terms of filtration and comfort; and weighing the safety of my family as we tried to navigate the space between safe outdoor normal summer activities and the swelling delta variant infections. Beyond worrying about my kids, there is anxiety around my own impending fall semester return, where faculty have received alternately stern and cajoling messages about the importance of returning to face-to-face instruction (and yet, across the system, only 25% of students have chosen to return to classes via in-person or hybrid instruction with the remaining 75% trying to remain online.)  My husband's job has provided zero clarity about their in-person work expectations or how that will play out over the next few months. A six-month-old vaccination with two more months to wait to be eligible for a booster shot (while living in a high-risk body caring for unvaxxed kiddos). And this revise and resubmit that has been looming over my head for many, many semesters. I naively thought I'd be able to write during the pandemic without the exhaustion of commuting and the constant in-person meetings. I was wrong.

I don't know how to get this done. I don't know how to write anymore because my whole life now revolves around carework. Care for my children, my spouse, my students, and my home. As I sit down to write this pieceone that I believe I can dash off more quickly than the revise and resubmitI have been interrupted more than 27 times. I woke up this morning and needed to empty litter boxes, unload and reload the dishwasher, feed two kids, feed two cats, and feed the chameleon we are babysitting for a friend. I did all this while waiting for my spouse to wake up (in fairness, the toddler had a rough night, and he got up with her) to shift some of the onus off me so I could work in peace. He woke up briefly and asked if he could go back to sleep "for another hour or so." My background noise is the TV series Captain Underpants, my children fighting with the blocks they are building with, the toddler knocking down the masterpieces of the 8-year-old because she's a toddler, and a shift from building to "serving cake" from the blocks. So I've been brought several pieces of wooden block cake, which I've had to pretend to eat, encourage the kids to eat, and pretend feed to stuffed animals and live cats. Briefly, we've shifted to the toddler yelling, "Paper! Make Mommy Pig. Draw Mommy Pig too" (yes, she has a steady diet of Peppa Pig), and as I write this, she has literally just laid a piece of paper over my hands while I'm typing saying "Please Mommy. Please." How can I do anything but carework under these circumstances?

There are the initial notes I took for this piece. They are from May 18th, 2021. A brief two-night reprieve from carework occurred after I had absolutely lost my shit and screamed at my husband that I needed to get away from children and plastic toys for at least a night after I slid across the room on the base of my son's Pokemon Trainer Guess game. We are a family of 4 living and working pretty much full time in 800 square feet. I taught from my dining room, my husband took meetings from our bedroom, and my son destroyed the living room with daily toy explosions when navigating remote learning if he didn't go to his learning pod because he was tired, or anxious, or someone in the pod was sick, and we were all waiting on COVID test results. My daughter bashed around daily as 2-year-olds domaking cameos in my and her brother's classes. It was and still is a lot of togetherness. And as folks living in NYC, we lacked the space many of our suburban friends have of basement playrooms and spare bedrooms for offices. Trying to keep the house clean was a lost cause. I lost my shit a lot because of the combination of the constant, ever-present, ever-changing mental load (who needs to do what, when, and where), the sheer decision fatigue (what are we all going to eat for three meals a day, again), and the overflowing stuff often made my whole brain feel disorganized.

These notes were taken early in the morning on a two-day holiday when I awoke and left my still-sleeping husband searching for coffee. I finally found myself with coffee, sitting quietly, alone, and able to hear myself think for the first time in 14 months. There was no noise. At least no noise that required my interaction with it. And the silence was fantastic. I realize that even being able to write these words is a grand privilege. I have disposable income to allow a break, and I have childcare from my close-knit Italian-American family when I need it (even though I really only used it when I needed to be teaching live), but before the pandemic, I had a lengthy commute, I had an office, and I had short moments between classes, before meetings, before going home. And in all these tiny moments, I could read, and write, and take notes, and not worry about my kids and how they were getting through this whole situation because they were in school or at my moms'  (and now even as I write this, my 2-year-old is playing with Doggie, her stuffie companion and yelling "Doggie Falling Down. Safe Doggie. Make bed, Doggie." The chattering is constant, and I'm required to make a bed for the Doggie on the couch where I'm sitting, to catch him as he falls, and to be a jungle gym for my climbing toddler as she navigates the spaces around my body while ensuring that she doesn't fall off the couch).

When I think about my current to-do list, my revise and resubmit has fallen to the bottom of the list. I wish it didn'tbut I have to take the kids to get their annual well-checks and get back-to-school paperwork done. My son needs to see his eye doctora rescheduled visit from April 2020 that I made in May 2021. I have two doctor's appointmentsone a follow-up for an ongoing chronic issue, one more urgent because I wrenched my knee tripping over a toy late last week. I have to finish my planning for the semester, which includes two more syllabi to add the two that are already finished and sending the now requisite email explaining to students how to access the online portion of their hybrid classes. Meal planning. A multi-hour meeting to "launch" the new fall semester, which will include a riveting livestream via YouTube and little faculty interactionin other wordsnothing that actually sustains us as a community. An assessment report that I chose to write for the September deadline because I was SO burnt out in June.

My revise and resubmit lives in a folder inside my computer bag. I look at it daily. Sometimes, I write a less literal translation of the Middle English passages in the essay. Sometimes, I do a quick database search for an article I need to read to finish the revisions. But mostly, I cannot figure out how to prioritize it daily because by the time I get through everything elseparenting, housekeeping, wife-ing, and teachingI'm 100% out of both functional hours and bandwidth. (And even now, my son is chanting "We are the Dinosaurs" by the Laurie Berkner Band while noisily banging blocks and playing Roblox, and my daughter has found a tissue box which she is shreddingand I'm letting her because at least it's letting me finish this piece of writing).

I never thought we were really only shutting down for two weeks in March 2020. I read virology articles for fun and know too many epidemiologists to have lived in that fantasy world. But I really did think that by Fall 2021, things would be more "normal," and while I think lots of folks want to pretend that things are normal and safeas evidenced by no public school remote option and vague platitudes about the importance of being on campus for interaction with colleagues and    studentsI really think we are far from normal or safe. And that means the burden of carework and ensuing lack of writing will continue to fall on those with caregiving responsibilities. And what we know (from the countless articles handling this very topic) over the last 17 months is that this specific burden will overwhelmingly hit women. And so, as Woolf said about a century agomoney and a room of one's ownare still necessaryto write anything. And frankly, until caregivers collectively can find more work-life balance and home-life responsibility sharing, it seems like many things will remain unwritten. My revise and resubmit is still in the folder in my computer bag. But I don't look at it daily anymore. I haven't looked at it or anything related to it for months because I'm reasonably sure we will never get back to normal. I will never recover the moments I used to carve out writing timemy commute, between my classes in my quiet office, and before and after meetings. Now, fully two years laterthere's more work happening virtually than before 2020, and rather than lessening the carework burden, it continues to magnify it as the time I'm not commuting or not on campus just continues to absorb the labor of children and homelife.



Marisa A. Klages-Bombich is Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College-CUNY, in NYC, and a co-author of Taking College Teaching Seriously. Her research interests focus on reflective teaching practices, assessment,  developmental writing, and medieval mystics (though not all in the same project). Outside of work, Marisa hangs out with her two kids, now 9 and 3, making her an expert on Pokemon and Unicorns, and can always sing the right song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for any parenting moment. 

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