By Tessa Godoy Reyes
I’ve been feeling the weight and drag of work lately, as the stark imbalance stares me in the face everyday for the last four months of this pandemic, but I was in denial and made the lame excuse that I was just catching up with delayed work since the lockdown in March.
“Living with work,’ one friend commented on one of my social media posts. I was rambling online about how difficult it is to strike a balance between working from home and being “present” for my children at home.
But I’ve been doing a lot of work beyond eight hours, more than the 40-hour work week, which spills over my weekends. The days don’t seem to be enough to finish one task, before another urgent task crops up because coronavirus disease (COVID-19) responses need to be immediate.
I work with a consulting group that designs recovery programs for micro-retailers affected by the lockdowns, to help them restart their businesses safely and pass the government guidelines to reopen their small stores and serve their communities. But I am also a solo parent with three children — a girl and two boys — two of whom are differently abled. One is mentally challenged with severe anxiety and depression, the other is a preemie baby who has an eye defect and has not yet been properly diagnosed by a child development specialist. Guilty pangs there as I have not had the resources to bring the former to his regular psychotherapy session, and the latter to a specialist for proper assessment.
Our new normal, post-separation
Living in the city, we rented a small house that’s safe and comfortable enough for my kids. I try to pay school fees on time and struggle to put food on the table. And the bills that keep piling up! We only pay for water and electricity bills because we don’t have cable tv nor internet connection in the house. I am grateful because my kids never once complained about not having those privileges that they used to enjoy when their dad and I were still together. Neither do they complain why we don’t have the small car we used to have until three years ago when my husband and I split up.
When my kids and I decided to leave the conjugal home, I had no job and relied heavily on my family and friends. Through my friends, I returned to my old career in countryside development. Perhaps it is my “tibak” (activist) spirit and the “para sa bayan” (serve the people) attitude, coupled with my survival skills as a mountaineer that helped me through those tearful, very dark, breakdown-y moments of my life, as a mother and wife. Sabi nga nila (as they would say), never say die, no pain no gain, no guts no glory.
Lagi kong sinasabi sa sarili ko, kaya ko ‘to, kakayanin ko ‘to. (I always tell myself, I can do this, I must do this). I must admit, it was an up-mountain (pardon the exaggeration) struggle from three years ago. I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety by a psychiatrist at the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong where I was referred to by the Women and Children’s Protection Desk in preparation for the filing of a Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) case.
Being my usual self, I joked with family and friends that I am now a certified “krung-krung,” a looney, with an official PWD (Person With Disability) card to boot. At least I get to enjoy food and grocery discounts. The downside is, my older son was also diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. Then at Grade 11, he stopped school for a year and struggled socially.
I juggled full-time work and some “extra labada” (extra work) to make ends meet eight months after we left my husband in 2017. In 2018, I battled with hypertension and abnormal creatinine levels, and was treated by a cardiologist. Last year, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that affects the lungs. Stress was one of its number one feeders. I had to lighten my workload and slow down the effects of the disease. While my medical fees are fully covered by an office-paid health card, my medications were not. I had to deal with having less income but with added medical expenses. I could not travel for fieldwork and struggled with the commute to work. I spent a lot of my time in hospital corridors waiting for a doctor or medical procedures.
When Taal Volcano erupted in January this year, it was a major health issue for me. I decided to give up my fulltime job and accepted consultancy work that does not require too much travel and could be done remotely at home. Then COVID-19 rapidly spread in the country. I was once more reduced to a scared mess of a mother who had an auto-immune disease with a high probability of getting infected with the virus.
There was only one thought in my mind a few days before the Metro Manila lockdown in March, to save myself and my kids. I was scared of contracting the virus and dreaded infecting my kids. I couldn’t bear the painful thought of any of them in isolation rooms and never seeing family for a long time, maybe even never. Depression was setting in.
The first thing that came to mind was to bring my kids safely home to my parents in the province. I had no choice but to leave our rented house and all of our belongings behind.
Our newest normal, post-first wave Covid
With three kids to feed and send to school, I was earning barely enough to cover the basics. We receive measly support from my husband, now reduced between 3,000 to 2,000 pesos a month in the last year or so. Everyday I contemplate on my options and I pray… hard. I was never the religious type, but desperation makes you very prayerful. Not religious, but prayerful. There is a big difference between the two, but that’s up for another discussion some other time. I was rooting for the court hearings on my VAWC case to bring up the issue on provisional child support that had already been mandated by a court order. My anxiety was escalating that I would at times snap at my kids about their little fights and arguments, and then feel so guilty about it afterwards and tell them how sorry I was for taking out my problems on them.
Solo parents want to get as much work done as fast as we can to have more time with our family. Instead, we end up being plugged online 24/7 with so little time to take care of ourselves and our family.”
The struggle to NOT break down and beg my kids’ father to show mercy in these times is very very real. Despite the pandemic, he never even once asked if the children would be able to go to school nor offered to pay for their schooling. My two younger children have been asking me when I would enroll them, but I’ve been shunning the topic for a month now. A friend suggested I search online for public schools that offer distance learning and modular learning, instead of trying to stress myself out with looking for private schools that I could barely afford. I finally found one last week and I was so happy because it offers SPED (special education) class for my youngest son. My eldest, who’s an incoming college freshman, have again deferred schooling but he welcomed the reprieve and decided to pursue his musical interests.
After three months in the province, we are now back in the city because I need to go back to fulltime consultancy work to provide for my kids. I found a smaller but more affordable house that has enough space for their activities and for a work-from-home set-up for me. Workload has immediately gone back to normal and I had to quickly adapt to the new concept of “living with work” and doing the house chores and the family’s weekly errands (now reduced to once every two weeks) in between, all safety measures I can think of in place.
School has not yet started so I have been working many days late into the night and even on weekends as I was assigned additional workload. But one night my five-year old spoke up about my work schedules. “May I borrow my phone, Anton? I need to work and send email please.” He gave me this look then said, “Mommy, bad yun! Ang work dapat sa aga. Bawal sa gabi. Papayat ka. Magiging eskalatan (skeleton) ka!” (Mommy, that’s bad. Working should not be until night time. You will get thinner. And you will be an eskalatan!)
I am sure many working parents/moms/solo parents like me could relate very well. We want to get as much work done as fast as we can to have more time with our family. Instead, we end up being plugged online 24/7, glued to a chair in front of a laptop the whole day, with so little time to take care of ourselves and our family. We experience a lot of overtime, over days, which overspills to weekends.
In a Facebook post by a psychiatrist Dr. Randy Dellosa, he says “Isa sa mga rason kung bakit nakaka-stress ang WFH set-up is, nawawala ‘yung line of distinction between “working at home” and “being at home”. Nag-me-merge sila kaya tuloy nag-i-intrude ‘yung issues ng both sides sa employee.” (What makes the Work from Home set-up stressful is that the line dividing “working at home” and “being at home” is gone. They merge and intrude on employees from both sides.)
In this newest normal in the aftermath of the pandemic’s first wave, I have to balance my work to provide enough for my kids. Being their teacher in this new learning set-up, I have to adapt as classes are about to start. That means having a study corner in our tiny house, scouring for cheap second-hand gadgets, securing internet connectivity or opting to go for full modular learning instead, and allotting time off work to assist them. I may be a good operations and communications strategist in my line of work, but I am struggling to manage three young individuals with different sets of needs. So help me God.
Sana marami pang maisulat na mga kwentong sumasalamin sa sitwasyon ng mga katulad kong mag-isang lumalaban sa buhay. Dumarami ang aming hanay; nakikita ko ang ilan (mapa lalake man o babae) sa mga korte, sa trabaho, sa lansangan. At marami rin akong nababasa online na mga istorya ng kanilang buhay, kadalasan ay dumadaing at humihingi ng saklolo; nakakadurog ng puso dahil wala akong magawa para sa kanila kundi ang ipagdasal na sana maging okay din sila. Sana kahit papaano, maging maayos na ang takbo ng ating buhay at magkaroon ng sapat na trabaho sa “new normal” para makabangon na tayo sa pandemyang ito. At higit sa lahat, sana mamulat na ang mga mamamayan natin sa tunay na kalaban. Ipagdarasal ko ng taimtim yan. WWW
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A journalist by profession, Tessa was a field reporter and TV anchor in Baguio City in the mid-90s. She became a youth leader in 1999, serving as chairperson of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement’s (PRRM) youth arm that espoused reproductive health, climate change, and environmental protection. A mother of three, she works for programs on maternal and child health, community-driven development, local economic development, bridging leadership and governance.
Banner image: Leonard G. Reyes