Hi Mom, so sorry to bother you! This is day care calling and we know you said to call Dad first, but we somehow don’t have his number.
We need you to come pick up your little cutie. She is a close contact of a child who just tested positive, whose name we can’t reveal but yes, it’s the boy whose parents just went to a concert. You will need to test her the moment you get home.
What’s that? You don’t have any BinaxNOW at home? OK, on the way here why don’t you frantically drive to every CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart even though you know it’s pointless. Don’t beat yourself up for not ordering kits weeks ago, when the nice woman next door suggested it. Between work Zooms, and making plans for the family Christmas trip (subsequently canceled) you were busy!
Yes, yes, we do understand that you’re already stressed trying to schedule boosters for yourself, your husband, your father-in-law, and your twin 16-year-olds, who do not consider this a priority, so good luck trying to get them to commit. But even so, please do arrive within seven minutes to retrieve your daughter, or we will, so regretfully, have to charge you $1 per minute.
But mom, don’t forget to take a moment for yourself, too!
The treadmill beneath our feet, it races ever faster, and, sociologists and research tell us, no one feels the speed more than mom — despite the fact that dads have started doing more at home during the pandemic.
Already the family nurse, human resources professional, homeschooler, and food services director, mom has taken on yet another role: medical practice manager.
There are CDC isolation vs. quarantine policies to memorize and enforce. PCR tests to schedule. Close contacts to notify. Behaviors of distant, but not distant enough, relatives to monitor.
As Christy Moran, a woman who is handling COVID-related duties for her 8-year-old daughter, her boyfriend, and herself, and also working with her ex-husband with his COVID-related obligations, and running her own health care business, put it:
“The cascade of how many areas in life are affected by COVID testing and monitoring is a logistics nightmare,” she said.
For Kerry Callahan, the logistics recently involved keeping her second-grader mainly secluded in her room because she was the dreaded “close contact.”
“She keeps testing negative every morning at school, but you don’t know,” said Callahan, of West Boylston. “What if she tests positive tomorrow?”
Callahan has been handing her daughter food through a quickly opened door to lessen the risk of infecting other family members, including a sister with chronic lung disease, but even so, it felt wrong.
“Am I a bad mother?” she asked her husband.
Two years into the pandemic, sociologist Arielle Kuperberg is not surprised that women are — yet again — seeing their responsibilities grow. “If you look at the literature on the division of labor, it’s the women who often do the invisible planning work of managing the house,” said Kuperberg, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the Council on Contemporary Families.
“The work of managing birthday parties and holidays and doctor’s appointments is usually women’s work, so when a new kind of doctor’s appointment or homework comes up, it’s the job of the person who always does it.”
Jessica McCrory Calarco, an Indiana University sociologist who has been studying mothers and issues related to COVID, said the pandemic has amplified both the number of health decisions mothers need to make as well as the stress.
Preliminary data from her survey of 2,000 parents across the country found that in heterosexual, two-parent couples, mothers were twice as likely as fathers to say they were the primary decision maker for their children’s health and safety.
In a related study — involving interviews with 250 families with young children — mothers told researchers that not only were they the ones primarily monitoring their children for COVID-safe behaviors (hand washing, mask wearing, etc.) but they were often managing the fathers as well, Calarco said.
In interviews, many mothers spoke of the additional emotional labor the pandemic has foisted upon them.
“I think it comes back to the entire mental load,” said Leora Kimmel Greene, an event planner from West Roxbury, who has a 5-year-old and a baby who does not like having her nostrils swabbed every time another member of the family comes into contact with someone who has COVID.
Kimmel Greene is trying to keep her children safe while also being mindful of their developmental and mental health needs.
“It feels like your whole life is a game of whack-a-mole now,” she said. “You solve one challenge, but then the next thing pops up.”
For Courtney Moody, whose two children are too young to be vaccinated, the medical practice manager role extends beyond the walls of her own home to the 23 relatives from Rhode Island she’s hoping to see over Christmas.
Moody is on full-time duty reminding her extended family to get booster shots, schedule or buy tests, and mask up when they leave home.
She knows her reminders are not always appreciated. “Yes, Courtney,” her mother said, sounding exasperated, when asked if she was masking.
“I know it’s probably a few steps too far — I’m annoyed with myself,” Moody said. “But I have to do what I can do.”
Such is the life of the medical practice manager.