Co-Parenting Through Coronavirus is Harder Than I Imagined

The neighbors below me are banging on my floor and I tell my kids, 7 and 5, to quiet down as they do one last jump routine from couch-rush down hallway-to bed-to chair and back to the couch, before their baths. I hardly care about the disturbance they are causing for the family below because I only see my kids every other week. In another day they will be with their father and I will miss them terribly. 

I was just two weeks into co-parenting when the coronavirus pandemic hit media-waves, and the adjusting to my kid’s going back and forth between my apartment and their dad’s; the fleeting time of being with them daily and then being without their fast feet for seven days.  

I had filed our divorce paperwork and temporary orders in the weeks before the virus broke globally, in those weeks I also started working my first salary job after being at home with my kids since they were born, I qualified for an apartment with my pay stubs, and also bought my first car at age 37, right before my kids started spring break and then their school closed. 

The coronavirus has heightened my awareness of how alone I really am. 

I met my ex-spouse in Manhattan where our kids were born and in recent years we moved to a suburb outside of Houston, his home city. Then, we moved closer to the city itself, before separating. After four years of dating and then ten years of marriage — well this summer would have been 10 — pre-coronavirus I was settling into living on my own again since my early 20s, navigating a new part of town, getting my bearings, attending book readings, taking my kids to the bayou, parks and museums, while juggling life as a working parent. When it wasn’t my week with my kids, I planned to fill time with self-care and signing up for soul healing activities. Now I’m looking at my laptop screen thinking, my kids need digital learning access while I need digital wellness engagements.

Loneliness set in when my kids aren’t here. 

It hits me hard that I need a local support system, solid friendships in my zip code, an emergency person, not only my ex-spouse and brand-new co-workers. While Houston shut down and extended social distancing, my thoughts grew dark, what if something went wrong, I don’t know anyone well enough in Texas to knock on my door if I stop answering my text messages, besides my ex-spouse and his family? Who in The Lone Star State would come to my funeral, for sure? My thoughts go deeper, and when this crisis is over I’m going to write a will.

As we are finalizing our joint custody agreement I try to give my ex-spouse space but there are moments I want to send a text message that simply asks, how are the kiddos?  What’s tough is resisting to text too much especially during these worrisome times and respect that this week isn’t mine and letting go of my children when there is a worldwide pandemic is going on.

Everything is suddenly fragile, on the cusp of disaster and loss and nothing feels secure enough, but instead of texting to get another update on the lives of my only blood-related family members in this state, I hammer into the wall a nail and hang up a framed photo of my kid’s faces. 

While the community went out food hoarding, my fears grew for when my children are out of my care, I texted their father, please avoid taking them to playgrounds or to the store right now, typing frantically let’s run errands when it’s not our week if we can. Let’s order as much as we can. 

I received a message back that we are on the same page but in another day or so their dad sends a photo of them in masks and plastic medical gloves to show how safe they were during a grocery store run. I’m not upset — during COVID-19, I’m picking my battles carefully because fighting with their dad only creates more distancing and stress — we may not be meant for each other but we have to get through this as best as we can, we can argue and hash it out when this is over — and it’s a comfort to see their eyes again.

We have to be civil right now, right now is not the time for novel long messages, I texted. Detailed conversations about childcare costs and child support have been put to a halt during the new normal of having the kids home from school, as we take turns with them. Conversations are lately about co-home schooling and sharing materials. 

Can you send along the coloring pads you have there, they are under the art table, can I borrow the extra keyboard you have, a few extra boardgames? I texted while considering what skills we each have that can be used in this desperate moment. His math-mind and his YouTube’s research with the kids on science topics and questions they ask about animals, the tallest building in the world and what happens to the water when we flush the toilet, can be amplified at this time. Me, my artistic and creative side and ability to use stickers, markers and loose-leaf paper to make a five-year-old friendly math activity, baking soda and vinegar to create a volcano, engineering LEGO marble mazes, and stapled together construction paper books for the kids to use their imagination for a writing journal. Our relationship may have eroded, we may not work well together, but we can for our kids.

When my children aren’t staying with me, I lay in bed hoping they had a vitamin today and sanitized their hands enough if they went for a short walk or rode their bikes. I imagine them sitting on the couch we had all chosen when we first moved to Texas. I imagine their sleep positions; my daughter moves like a gymnast while dreaming and my son usually hates the blanket halfway through the night. The short videos I receive of them sending me a kiss is a sign things will get better, and this new normal can work. I miss you, I will see you soon, I text back with hearts, soccer balls, and silly faced emojis. 

Right now though, they are washing the germs off and I’m telling them to brush their teeth and hurry up so we can read a book or play a round of UNO before I tuck them in. Their laughter and sneers while they annoy each other in the bathroom, is something I remind myself to treasure, their energy making every chore a dance or ninja warrior feat; and we still have tomorrow together in person, hours to fill, before letting go once more. 

These celebrities are #coparentinggoals for sure.

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