I am lucky—but still


It's been the same holding—as in, barely holding on—pattern here for several weeks now. Last week I had my first vaccine, mind you, and there are tantalizing rumours of school reopening soon. At the risk of getting my hopes up too high... Well, screw it because hope has been in short supply this year. During this latest (third, but who's counting?) lockdown I have done very little writing, including this neglected blog. When schools closed their doors, learning shifted online. My son has been a trooper, given the numerous obstacles in his way: Autism, ADHD, possible PDA and LD. At one point he compared the stress of remote learning to "carrying bricks on his back," and yet every day without fail he sits in front of the computer from 8 till 3. And so have I, out of necessity. Needless to say, it hasn't been unicorns and rainbows. We have been at each other's throats almost daily. This isn't a first for me. I briefly homeschooled when my son was in grade four. There's a good reason why I quit. While we are both doing our level best, we are not at our best. Our days start off ok before invariably sliding into the pattern of me coaxing him to do work, him refusing; him not reading instructions then failing or otherwise having to redo said assignment; both of us winding up bitter and beyond frustrated by 3pm.


I am one of the lucky ones. And yet, somehow it doesn't feel like luck. As the daughter of a nurse, I was frequently reminded growing up that someone, somewhere is always worse off than you. At this very moment some little kid is dying of cancer or has just lost a parent, so how dare you complain? Gratitude is an important mindset, it absolutely is, but the fact that you have it better than someone else should not invalidate your experience. I am lucky, and my son by extension is lucky, but still. (But still is my son's go-to expression at the moment. And now it is mine.) I am lucky, but this still blows. And I can't wait to leave the teaching to teachers and to be a plain old mom again. Until that time, I hover and monitor his every lesson, providing clarification, encouragement, and a generous dose of nagging. Since I can't focus enough to write, let alone sell anything I write, I have taken to spreading a towel at the other end of the dining room table where he is schooling. I spread out my brushes and acrylics. Then I paint. It's no coincidence that my subject matter is ridiculously bright, to the point of being lurid, flowers. By some saving grace that makes me feel justified, I have managed to sell a few paintings during the lockdown.


The rest of the time is spent on domestic chores. I have always done these chores, but in the absence of other "work", the void is palpable. No wonder housewives of yore longed for something more. Supporting my family is valuable work, I know this intellectually, but my soul is left wanting nonetheless. I obsess more than is healthy or warranted on My Purpose In Life. Not necessarily Success by the textbook definition, yet I so badly want to find meaning beyond the domestic realm, even at the height of a pandemic. So no wonder I took comfort in an audiobook by Malcolm Gladwell while I was (oh, irony) doing the aforementioned chores. Outliers basically takes all our preconceived notions of meritocracy then systematically pokes holes in them. For starters, there is no such thing as an overnight success. We tend to perceive success as a stroke of genius when in reality it's often a product of golden opportunities, great timing, intense practice, and the rallying of a community. Bill Gates, one of the dissected specimens in Outliers, is undeniably smart, yet even he admits he got lucky. He is proof that the playing field is rarely level. The fact that he's a white American male notwithstanding, as a geeky middle schooler Gates happened to find himself at the right place at the right time. He had access to a computer via an affluent camp when such access was simply unheard of. That access (privilege) in turn enabled him to devote his 10,000 hours and then some, to become the computer whiz and Microsoft gazillionaire we know today.


In all likelihood, the recipe for success consisting of 99 perspiration and 1 inspiration holds true in every field. The Beatles obviously had talent in spades, but they honed that talent by playing gruelling back-to-back gigs in Hamburg, Germany in the nascent stages of their career. In other words: there are no shortcuts. You need innate talent, sure, but mostly you need to put in the time. Stephen King is another good example. In his memoir, he famously revealed that he only takes Christmas Day off. Even now, when he has a solid career and about five hundred books under his belt and could easily afford to retire forever, he does not. He works and perfects his craft because he clearly loves it and doesn't want to stop. That kind of drive made me question how committed I am to writing, fiction in particular. I don't write every day. Not even every second or third day. And I physically refuse to wake at dawn as some do just to get my word count in. The truth is, those hardened souls will succeed long before I will. Because they persist.


But still...I am lucky. My own incredible privilege allows me to support my son at this critical juncture, and it is bittersweet because I know other parents cannot afford to do the same for their kids. It is a massive advantage that I hope will mitigate some of the learning loss my son will sustain as a result of Covid. He has special needs, so the playing field was never level. Maybe having my support will lead to better (or at least not worse) grades, improved study habits, even some academic pride. Who knows, maybe one day in the very distant future we will look back and be grateful for this extra time spent together at home. At the very least neither one of us will ever complain about having to get up early to get to school on time. There is always something to be thankful for.