It has been a year of living differently.
When I was young, my mother was a homemaker. When my dad died, she went back to work, sort of. Part time work was her jam, and she cobbled together a variety of ways she lived in the world while I was at school. My grandmother stayed with us during the winters into spring and often was there after school while my mother worked evenings.
I never knew what she did with herself during the day, but during Covid I have more of an idea. She cleaned, kept the yard up, shopped for groceries, cooked, grew food, sewed. Made things. She was grieving so I also think she sunk into some loneliness.
I’ve been working from home since April of 2020. My husband was at home until January of this year, and he has a close-by office with no one around so he was able to do some of the time there. My kids have been at home, with virtual school. We are lucky enough to have enough space that we are not on top of each other and all get privacy.
I’ve spent the last year in a different combination of ways, of being. I’ve cooked-a lot. I’ve kept the house clean. I’ve kind of supported the yard, but gardening isn’t my thing.
I’ve parented A HELL OF A LOT.
I’ve worked full time but the hours have drastically changed. I work mostly every day. Some days more than others, some days at weird hours. Sometimes at night, sometimes early in the morning.
I don’t mind working weird hours, or non traditional hours. I’ve found a physical rhythm that feels natural. I am much more introverted than I knew. Mornings are bustling early, but not physically so. Hunger comes at 10 am, a break at 3 pm, I want to exercise at 4 pm, I get creative around 7 pm.
Offices don’t work like that. I never did work like that even when I was in an office. Modern offices, and shops too, are built on a non-human efficiency system and human bodies don’t work that way. (No one in retail gets to sit while they work. Why? If a hard working person has a bad back or injured leg, why couldn’t they sit at their checkout station while they are scanning groceries? Because it looks like they are lazy? Because you give them an inch of humanity, they’ll take a mile? Could you stand and work for 8 hours a day 5 or more days a week for minimum wage and feel good about it????? Why shouldn’t they get paid a living wage and afforded human comfort??)
How will we, who have been out of offices (where we get to sit all we want) on Zoom (where one might sit), be when we return?
I’m seeing lots of articles about workers who don’t want to return, workers who are pushing back on returning, companies who want to seize control back EVEN THOUGH the workers have been working and producing. Of course, I myself admit that in person meetings beat the hell out of Zoom, but why not create a hybrid model where workers get to commute part time and work at home the rest.
I’m also seeing articles about groups of workers who will all be virtual and thus could live anywhere and work anywhere.
There have been countless cis women parents who have had to make the choice to leave their jobs either out of single parenting or because their job, for whatever reason, was considered the sacrificial one. This has ramifications in so many ways.
As the partner in my family with the most flexible job (in terms of how I worked/when I worked) I became a much more house-holderish person and I personally wish we had a system that supported any parent staying home to manage a house and kids. Stay at home parents should receive SS benefits of some kind, access to insurance, or get some form of monthly income and access to skills training when they are ready to return to work. Don’t make a stay at home parent subordinate to the breadwinner for their insurance and their salary. We do parents and children a grave disservice in our current system, but then that might be the efficient, patriarchal, capitalist point.
Finally, I’m seeing posts and pictures of people who aren’t working because unemployment pays more. The former employees are putting up signs in their business windows pointing out how poorly they were paid and treated. Why on earth would anyone work a job where you are considered “unskilled” (and I mean do YOU know how to do that work? I don’t. ALL jobs require skill), paid not enough to live on, and denied health benefits when you could make more at home while perhaps doing a million more personally important things. Many of the people on unemployment also had to take great risks working in public. Many got sick and some died. No one feels safe enough, as a group, to really return.
There has been a long shift happening where the gap between wealthy and poor has grown too wide to see across. Where housing costs are out of reach for average people-most everyone. Where corporations create working systems that are horrific and inhumane and eventually will roboticize many jobs because you don’t have to worry about robots peeing in bottles on their 2 minute breaks. And what will we all do, as workers if work isn’t the most important thing? How will we live?
I’m grappling with this with my own children, both of whom are like…what iis even out there for us? Get a job moving widgets? For what? Why can’t we all live together in a compound forever? I honestly don’t know what to tell them, other than…we may have to “pod forever” regardless.
There is a reckoning coming between employers and employees and this horrible virus will have had a hand in highlighting just how bad employment policy can be out there. How poor the pay is, how bad the benefits are, how unsustainable using human beings as capital for money hoarding billionaires is and I think there will be a few years more of upheaval. Meanwhile, there are loads of people who didn’t get to stay home, and that’s singularly because of the economy. Who got to work from home and who had to keep exposing themselves to risk is stark. That in and of itself is a toxic divide.
How will we all be? How will we reintegrate and can we hold fast to keep power and share the power in our own hands? Can we stop or tear down or convince this nouveau robber-baron, hyper-capitalist 1 percent to just RELAX already and play fair (they’ll still be billionaires I promise! Just others will have a living wage!).
I honestly don’t know. I do know that this year has changed me a hell of a lot. I think it’s a change that will stick. I know my worth in ways I did not before. I know my fears more intimately. I understand power more thoroughly. And I don’t want to go back to how it was, back before this horror started. We can, and must, do better.