Moming through the Pandemic – Stefanie: Freelance writer/mom of two

So being a mom during the pandemic is hard. Stay at home or working full time – it’s all hard. We are grateful to Stefanie, mom of two, taking time out of the insanity we are in to participate in ‘Moming through the Pandemic’. Her case is different as she has the added pressure of her husband being in a highly essential working environment. She has had to step up and help her daughters with virtual learning. Being both mother and teacher.

Thank you, Stefanie, for sharing your story!

Tell us about yourself and your family.

I am a 35-year-old pop culture and polka dot enthusiast living in Okemos, Michigan. My husband Zack and I met at MSU. We have been married for 11 years, together for 16, and we have two daughters: Stella, almost 8, and Margot, 4. We also have two dogs, our almost 12-year-old rescue Zuzu and 1-year-old aussiedoodle, Fozzie. Zack is a Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Whitmer, overseeing communications, and pre-pandemic I was freelance writing for my former office at MSU and other local publications.

How has life changed for you since quarantine began?

Much like anyone else, everything changed for us. I still remember the night of the Michigan primary, when Zack got word of the first confirmed COVID cases in the state. He had to pack up and drive to the state’s emergency operations center that very night to prep and assist with a press conference. Those early weeks of uncertainty were truly insane. Zack was working every single day for hours on end. With the pandemic and the nature of Zack’s job, my main focuses have been to help my girls with virtual learning, keep us fed and sane, and coming up with quarantine activities. Writing has definitely taken a backseat, but I’m thankful that I have been able to keep things afloat at home.

What is something positive that has come out of having to quarantine?

The “anything goes” mentality of quarantine life has really opened me up to trying so many new things, from recipes to crafts. We made bagels and soft pretzels. I got very into dalgona coffee, especially on summer afternoons. In very early quarantine, there was a lot of painting, and I started to make portraits of loved ones’ dogs. I tried rose gold Overtone on my hair, and just this past week let Stella try it, too. We tie-dyed so many shirts. We started a movie night tradition with Stella on Friday nights, giving us all something to look forward to at the end of the week. Even though we didn’t go trick or treating, I had a blast making Margot’s Branch the troll costume. In the late fall, I learned how to cross stitch and now enjoy making all sorts of projects. While I miss having a fuller calendar, there’s been something sort of freeing about not having the usual obligations each day. 

What is the hardest part about it?

Not being able to spend quality time with friends and family, of course. Summer felt like a bit of a reprieve from isolation with the cases lower and more opportunities to spend time outside. I have also missed having that precious *me* time that I used to have when both girls were at school, and date nights with my husband. Heck, even just the ease of being able to ask grandparents to babysit. I joke that there’s been a lot of togetherness this past year, but the outlets right now are few and far between. Also, some of the things I most look forward to are concerts and theatrical productions; not having the arts during this time is really tough. 

What have you learned about yourself during this time?

 I learned to acknowledge and appreciate my value as a mom and partner during this time. When I left my job at MSU after having our second daughter, I had a difficult time embracing the idea that I was “just a mom,” even though that’s exactly what I wanted. When people asked what I did for a living, I’d often lead with the fact that I used to work for MSU and now I’m home with my girls. I worried about others’ expectations, especially when I know so many incredible moms who work full time. But during this pandemic, I know that I’ve been the glue at home. I’m sure I’ve always been, but it’s really been brought to light. Whether it’s getting up at 6am to go grocery shopping when it’s quieter at the store, coming up with art projects and ways to pass the time, learning how to groom our dogs during the first shutdown, or bringing my husband some lunch so he remembers to eat, my job is to keep us all going. I’ll often remark that I’m holding down the fort at home when people ask how I’m doing. I am learning that is enough.

What surprised you the most about your child(ren) during this time?

How many snacks they can physically consume in a given day, haha. And also just how much they can’t live with or without each other. For so much of Margot’s life, her big sister was at school all day. This past year has been more togetherness than they’ve ever had. To now be at the ages where they can play together and have the same interests, there are some blissful moments where they run off and play nicely without constant supervision. Talk about a much-needed reprieve! But for the most part, the reality is there has had to be a lot of parental intervention and separation. 

What are you most looking forward to doing once life gets back to ‘normal’?

Travel! Eating at restaurants! Concerts! Spending time with friends and family over wine and good food! My husband surprised me at Christmas with a trip to Hawaii set for late summer. We’re obviously hopeful that things will be looking much better by then, even if not completely normal. The notion of that quality time together, exploring a new place and relaxing, is honestly carrying me through these tough winter months in Michigan.

What is something you began doing during quarantine that you will continue to do (or hope to) once it’s over? Why?

 In addition to some of the new crafting activities I’ve learned, one thing that came out of quarantine was coming up with creative ways of meaningful connection with friends and family even at a distance. Whether it was swinging by someone’s house with beef stew leftovers, bringing a friend a chai tea, or carving out time for a Zoom and cocktails call, these small moments really brightened my days. I still love talking on the phone, so having long phone calls or FaceTime conversations kept me feeling connected to others. I hope that continues even as we start to return to regular schedules.

Anything else you want to add?

As moms, we’re often told that we need to give ourselves and others grace, that being a mom is such a hard job. Still, I think we can’t help but look at what we’re doing, or what others are doing, with a critical eye. Then we were hit with the pandemic, and it felt like those early newborn days: overwhelming and exhausting, just trying to survive one day at a time. I think the pandemic helped us take a look around and mutually agree that we’re all just trying to do our best. Screen time and snack rules? Out the window. Wearing the same comfy pants three days in a row? Fantastic! Despite all of the restrictions we’ve faced over the last year, in some strange way the lowered expectations on us has been freeing. We’ve been able to realize what – and WHO – is really important. When things begin to return to our new normal, I think we’ll have an easier time getting rid of the things that do not serve us. Like wearing jeans at home.