Last fall I wrote about my experiences parenting as both a working mom and the wife of a governor—California’s Gavin Newsom. My experiences were unique, to be sure, and yet the struggle was universal—parenting was seen as my burden and, yes, my husband’s “adorable hobby.”
In a world that feels almost entirely different now—a world of Zoom meetings and distance learning, with essential workers putting their lives on the line and with unemployment on the rise—this particular imbalance has yet to be set right. Women are still being asked to do it all. In fact, the disproportionate burden we place on women to be both breadwinners and caregivers has only become more substantial. With that, I’ve asked some incredible women from California to share a day in their lives with me so that I might share them with you too. These are women who inspire me, struggle just as you and I do, and give me hope by simply doing their best to carry on.
Last week we heard from Representative Katie Porter, a freshman Democrat who represents California’s 45th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. This week, as our kids head toward graduations—without the usual celebrations—and into summertime, I am thinking about our teachers, and in particular about teachers with children of their own. I think distance learning has given all of us a window into the extraordinary jobs that teachers do and an awareness that their contributions are far too often undervalued. So this week I’ve asked Gabriela Rodriguez, a seventh-grade teacher in rural Northern California to share her journey with us. Here, she walks us through a recent Monday in her life in lockdown, in her own words.
6:30 a.m. Woke up and gave thanks in a short meditation. I drank a full glass of water and did some stretching—otherwise I’m too stiff with arthritic pain if I don’t, and lately the stiffness has been worse. I am an immunocompromised person due to severe rheumatoid arthritis, so I have to be strict about remaining safe.
My 75-year-old mother lives with me and my husband, who is a farmer and must continue to work, and I feel the pressure and fear that comes with taking care of her as well. But the tables have turned between her and me because I can’t seem to keep her at home!
7:00 a.m. Read for pleasure! I haven’t done this in years, and it is one of my favorite times of the day. Got my large cup of coffee, and while the house is quiet, continue reading Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984. I’ve had the book sitting on my bookshelf for two years because I never had the time to read. I have been a Prince fan since I was about eight years old. I fulfilled a dream by attending his concert at the L.A. Forum in 2011 and haven’t been the same since. I have a tattoo to remind me. This reading time is gold.
8:00 a.m. It’s time to get back to reality, and I start to feel anxious about the countless parent and student emails I’ve received with questions about assignments. I grab another large cup of coffee (I’ve been caffeinating way more than usual) and get to it. Today I answered about 18 emails. This is both good and not. I average about 20 per day. It’s good because people are communicating and trying to make sense of this very challenging and new way of doing school. Not good because that means on average I’m only communicating at this level with 20 of the 133 seventh graders I teach.
9:30 a.m. Eat breakfast and continue answering emails, replying to student comments on Google Classroom. I also grade work that has been turned in.
10:30 a.m. I’ve got to get out of my seat and move. I go for a two-mile power walk—something I started doing on day two of quarantine after I had an anxiety attack on day one from watching news, worrying, and stress-eating. I forced myself to reflect and gave myself a pep talk: “You cannot do this to yourself. What can you do to help your mind and body instead?”
This walk has been my saving grace. I live on a country road that is beautiful, at the foot of the majestic Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world. The views are stunning, and this walk clears my head and reminds me to stay thankful.
11:30 a.m. Shower, and take my time doing my hair. Makeup is a different story. Since I’m not going anywhere, my face gets moisturizer, and it’s happy.
12:30 p.m. Eat lunch with my mom and daughter. I’m a mother of three. My two oldest sons are on their own, living and working in the Monterey Bay area. Both are still employed due to the essential nature of their jobs. I’m grateful they have their stability, but I worry daily about their safety.
My 12-year-old daughter—also in seventh grade, the same grade I teach—has been participating and completing her distance learning well. But she’s very social and has had a challenging time not seeing and interacting with her friends. She also dances and can’t compete this spring, or even go to dance class right now. Not having that outlet has been hard for her.
We play some music while making and eating lunch, and it’s evolved into a dance session. Today we listened to La Reina of Salsa, Celia Cruz. Her music and voice beckon you to move. Dancing has helped us stay positive and our spirits get lifted.
1:30 p.m. I had planned to work on my dissertation edits. As it happens, I’m distance learning too. I’m working on my doctorate—getting an Ed.D.—through USC Rossier’s online program. Before the pandemic, I was about to start data collection for my study, which required observations and interviews with teachers at my school. That has ground to a sudden halt. My graduation was going to be May 15, 2020, and now that is postponed. I’m the first in my family to ever graduate high school, attend college, and pursue a doctorate, so to not get to continue my work and to not be able to celebrate has been depressing, stressful, and frustrating.
Still, I try to set aside one hour each day to write or communicate with classmates, professors, and the dissertation chair, but I could not today. I feel overwhelmed by the thoughts of how I am going to conduct the collection of data for my study, and I refuse to pay for one more semester to get this done. Tomorrow is another day.
2:30 p.m. Lesson plan for next week, before our weekly Zoom meeting on Wednesday. I created a screencast video for my students to refer to for the Stay-at-Home Learning Challenge Board I put together for them. It’s a slide presentation with 15 different choices of activities, from creating a playlist that follows a theme, to creating a video of them cooking something. They have to choose one activity of their choice per day (for a total of five for the week).
4:30 p.m. Start making dinner. I’m grateful that my mom is living here because she’ll sometimes make our favorite Mexican dishes. But lately I’ve wanted to spend time cooking. I’ve rediscovered my love for it, and I’ve made some new recipes that my family claim as new favorites. Tonight it was rosemary baked chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus.
7:00 p.m. Go pick up my online grocery order, with my daughter joining me. Leaving the house is a treat—and a source of stress. Though I never get out of my car, I still feel apprehensive. I am grateful that the staff will bring the groceries to the car, and I can pay for them online. That way, not only can I stay safe, but I can help the store workers stay safe too. We stop at our favorite drive-thru coffee place Dutch Bros. She gets iced peach tea, and I get an iced, lightly sweetened mocha tuxedo. It is a highlight of our week.
8:30 p.m. We sit and watch TV as a family. I forgot what triggered it, but my daughter had her third breakdown of tears as she discussed how hard it is not to see and hang out with her friends. My husband and I hugged and reassured her, while looking at each other, not knowing what else to say. It breaks my heart because my students have been saying the same thing in their assigned weekly journals. I am concerned about how this is going to change them.
Where I live, we haven’t had in-person school since March 17. Immediately, there were some obvious concerns, and technology was first and foremost. We have students who live outside city limits, who don’t have access to WiFi. How many of them would we lose touch with? We gave students Chromebooks if they needed them, but would that be enough?
So far, it hasn’t been. Only one third of the students in each of my classes are engaging, which is a problem. I’m worried about their well-being at home too. (For many, school is one of the few places that can provide safety and peacefulness.) And I really am concerned about their lack of socializing.
10 p.m. Time for bed. My husband and I have discovered the wonderful DNice, a deejay who has been playing music for our listening pleasure on Instagram (@dnice). He has a set called Club Quarantine: After Dark. He plays feel-good, relaxing music, and it has helped us wind down—except for the times when he’s made us get out of bed and dance—and it has been a staple to ending our day on a positive note.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom is the first partner of California, the founder of the Representation Project, and a filmmaker. She wrote and directed Miss Representation, The Mask You Live In, and The Great American Lie.
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