all work no pay

I Can’t Complain

But if I could …

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos Getty Images

I’ve been trying to avoid asking folks “How are you” since last summer, which was around the time many of us realized that things would not be getting better anytime soon. It stands to reason that most people are struggling on some level, if not multiple levels, and I wouldn’t want to put anyone through the trouble of having to spell out their sorrows just to catch me up on their lives. Plus, asking someone else how they are doing means being prepared to answer the question yourself, and the last thing I want to do right now is to tell you how I’m doing.

I mean, I don’t think I’m doing super well because I really, really miss my life pre-COVID and there have been a number of very difficult circumstances for me to bear during the already-nightmarish confines of a pandemic. Yet considering how much so many people are suffering right now makes it quite difficult for me to worry about my own shit. I’m still working (mostly), my family is doing okay at the moment, I think I’m in decent health. How can I complain? I can’t, right?

But if I were to indulge the urge to outline all the ways that The Virus has wreaked havoc on my mind, body, and soul, it might go a little something like this:

1. Wheels Down, Sleeves Up

I have one of those millennial media careers that comes with very little security, but relative freedom. Some of my work is a weekly parenting column and co-hosting a podcast. The rest comes from freelance projects and gigs that allowed me to travel around the country without having to pay for it (a huge deal for someone who grew up too poor to take vacations), meet interesting people, and spend time in my favorite place on earth: hotels. Where do I spend time now? At home, of course. Mostly in the kitchen.

It isn’t that I’m cooking for a large family, just myself and my 7-year-old who only spends 50 percent of her time here. That’s 1.5 people, and I only eat once a day, yet there are always, always, always dishes. Did you know how much children eat? A fucking lot. And then there’s all the dishes. It takes SO MANY DISHES to cook one meal, three of them in a day are taking me down even with a dishwasher. Putting things away, cleaning surfaces, it never ends.

But there is not only enough food to eat, but there is a dishwasher, which is something my mother did not have when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure the rule is that if you’ve got an advantage that your mama didn’t, you shouldn’t complain.

2. A Dream, Currently on Hold

There’s no good season for a pandemic, of course, and while I’d argue that it’s almost always a necessary time for a racial uprising — specifically one that forces the United States and its residents to face up to the white supremacy that functions as doctrine in this nation — the concurrent timing of the two took place during what I thought was to be a new beginning for me.

In late 2019, I moved from New York City to Los Angeles because I want to sell a TV show. It’s an entirely new industry to me, and it would mean getting the sort of opportunity that is rarely made available to POC with decades of skin in the game. Not easy at any time, but now?

It isn’t that it can’t happen now, but it certainly is difficult to pursue a new career on the side of the existing one, while also balancing the, you know, whole deeply depressing and emotionally overwhelming nature of a deadly global pandemic with a side of racial uprising and a failed white-supremacist coup as the cherry bomb on top. Do you feel your creative best right now? Must be nice, I have dishes to wash and my brain hurts.

At least the weather is much better here than in New York, right? No complaints!

3. Half Mom, Half Alone

Single people who live alone and mothers of school-aged children have oft been cited among the groups of people hit hardest by the pandemic; some would argue that the former has it worse because they don’t have anyone around at all, while others might feel that the challenge of keeping a child(ren) alive, in school and in decent spirits while also caring for herself is infinitely harder. Well, lucky me: I get to wear both of these hats.

As I mentioned, my darling daughter divides her time evenly between my home and her father’s, an arrangement that predates COVID-19.  It’s not that I would want more or less time with her, or by myself. It’s just that the quality of both my parenting and solo time often suck now. The other day, she said, “I’m cold. Can you take off your skin and put it on me?” That’s how pandemic parenting feels, like opening your skin and allowing your child to crawl inside for warmth, except your skin isn’t enough to cover the both of you.

When she’s (in) here, I’m doing battle with her desire to play (with me) all day, and my legal responsibility to make her attend school and capitalism’s refusal to just let me take a “bye” year on earning income to take care of us both. By the time I’ve cleaned up the house and gotten back on a solid work schedule after she’s left, it’s usually about time for her to come back.

But, like, at least she leaves, right? At least I’m not doing it all by myself. How can I complain? And some people are doing this with two, even three or four kids? Plus, at least I have a child to be tired of; there are a lot of people currently questioning if, when, or how parenthood will happen for them, and I will definitely not complain about the best person I have ever met. Even though she put hair gel on her face last week and let me take her to the doctor thinking it was a skin-eating allergic reaction of some sort. You know, during a pandemic and all.

4. Fucking Virtual School

I will admit to feeling uniquely unqualified and disinterested in being a part of my child’s classroom experience. See, I hated school from like third grade until I went off to college, but I thought that was something you got over as an adult. Nope! I still kinda hate it, math most especially, and I would like as little to do with it as possible, except now, the school lives in my house. I like my daughter’s teacher very much — I simply do not wish to be in her, nor anyone else’s, elementary-school classroom for longer than the duration of a parent-teacher conference or volunteer hour. Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult to pursue a new field, keep my old gigs, and perform as a short-order cook while also supervising my child’s performance in the internet classroom that I did not wish to enter.

On the other hand, some of my friends in other cities have had to deal with schools reopening and the anxiety of sending kids who come home germy under normal circumstances out into these COVID-ridden streets just for some education. We have internet in the home, we have headphones, and the hand of the law is not going to allow me to simply say “Girl, fuck school,” (like I may have inadvertently done on one occasion this spring — it ended up being a really lovely day though!), so there’s no point in complaining. It is what it is.

5. The (Temporary!) Death of My Love Life

A first date once asked me about my hobbies and I had to stop myself before I answered honestly: “This is my hobby.” Pre-COVID dating gave me something pleasurable to do that existed outside of my commitments to my loved ones and my work, something that belonged exclusively to me and whomever I was kicking it with at the moment. Plus, my once-healthy love life was a big “fuck you” to everyone who acts as if single mothers — especially Black ones — are unworthy or unable to have one.

Early in the quarantine, I spent a good amount of time on the dating apps, which led to virtual dates, talking to cute guys for hours at a time, and, yes, having a bit of video/phone sex (something I’ve never had any interest in previously, as my time was otherwise occupied with better things, such as actual sex). But despite the effort, I didn’t meet anyone I was wildly interested in. This might have been a good thing, as I got to watch some of those guys, along with a couple of preexisting crushes, do exactly what I would have done if I were a childless person: jump into a relationship and cohabitation situation much sooner than would be advised otherwise.

But I can’t be jealous, I’ve already had my chance to do such a thing — that’s how I ended up a single mom in the first place! There’s no reason to complain, and so I will not.

6. Who You Gonna Call? Literally No One.

The world has been much too much for months — more Trump shit, more tragedy, more infections, more violence, more work to do, more inconveniences and losses at the hands of social distancing, more bad news — without ceasing. The relief we’re experiencing at the inauguration of a new White House administration is best compared to getting health insurance in order to cover a set of preexisting conditions, as opposed to being some sort of cure for them; the decrease in stress and anxiety is deeply felt and insufficient all at once.

Alas, as President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” which is a really beautiful way to describe a lopsided relationship; it almost makes our inability to count on government support sound virtuous. No one is coming to save us from our dishes and our kids, no one is going to make sure we can still pursue our dreams, and we’re basically just lucky to have a current president who didn’t literally tell us to drink bleach.

But as much guilt as I may feel over my relative privileges, as much sympathy as I have for those who have been impacted more devastatingly by the events of the past year, those aren’t really the things that make it hard for me to bemoan my own situation. It’s more about the futility of the exercise.

Complaining will not cancel Zoom school, it will not put me back on a plane, nor will it allow me to have sex with an acutal person again. It will not shorten the list of concerns that predated the pandemic, which has gone from “difficult to manage” to “SOS HELP WTF.” It will, however, force me to be honest with myself about what I’m up against right now, and I think I’d rather not do such a thing. It’s not like it’s going to make me feel any better.

I may scream into a pillow,  or stare out into the void, or get stoned out of my mind, or even weep a little. But I won’t complain.

How am I doing? My best. Next question.