Story by Ashley Barrientos / Lifestyles Editor
As a woman in America, a mother of two and a teacher at Smyrna High School, Olivia Looper was already accustomed to facing adversity every day before COVID-19.
But 13 months since the pandemic was first identified on U.S. soil, her identities have intersected and converged beyond what she was used to, each aspect of herself obstinately piling and lumping more obstacles onto her already-full plate.
The most significant change in her life since then: worry.
Looper is unable to work from home as a full-time high school teacher. With nobody to stay home with her two young daughters, she had no choice but to send them to school as well.
Being a mother already comes with predetermined anxieties and apprehensions– but being a mother of two girls attending a school in one of the most extremely high-risk counties in Tennessee unraveled a new exhaustive level of worry previously unbeknownst to Looper.
“I have to worry about masks, making sure they have extras in their backpacks, communicating with teachers and making sure that there’s no contacts and that they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” she said.
In addition, Looper has been faced with constant dilemmas of sacrificing convenience and assistance for the peace of mind that comes with limiting contact with people outside of her family’s social bubble.
When case numbers surged dramatically in December, Looper and her husband, who is also a teacher and a baseball coach at their high school, made the decision to minimize their bubble even more: they stopped asking a close family friend to pick up one of her daughters from pre-K every day.
“It was just one less contact for us to worry about,” she said.
This decision, while it may seem to be of little importance, placed more pressure on Looper to fulfill her maternal duties.
Additionally, now that baseball season has recently begun at Smyrna High School, Looper is dealing with the stress and new responsibilities of having her husband coach the school team.
With COVID-19 precautions in mind, baseball practices are running longer than usual to avoid congregating all 45 members of the team at the same time. Four other coaches help too, but it’s still not enough to shorten practice time.
“It takes much longer to go through the things that they have to do. So, getting home later for him puts more responsibility at home at night. Which is fine– that’s just where we are right now.”
These seemingly small changes have caused a ripple effect in Looper’s daily routines, adding new responsibilities to her ever-evolving, simultaneous role as a mother of two children attending school and as a woman in a workforce that expects much more from them than they do men.
“Mothers are the ones who have been taking the burden,” she said.
According to National Public Radio, American mothers spend nearly twice as much time on housework and caregiving as their husbands.
While Looper’s children are still attending school, they, at one point, had to revert to distance learning due to COVID-19 exposure within the family.
“The first two weeks of being at home and having to do distance-learning… was a madhouse. Everybody was learning at the same time about what to do, and it was all a lot at one time,” she reflected.
The experience was not exactly fond for her or the family, and she expressed her concern for other mothers having to deal with that situation.
Additionally, being a teacher in a high-risk county where reported deaths and test positivity rates are on the rise has not been an easy feat to conquer.
Rutherford County, where Smyrna High School is located, has reported 49 deaths and a 13% increase in test positivity in the last two weeks. The New York Times and NPR have ranked Tennessee as one of the most dangerous states for COVID-19, labeling the state as “extremely high-risk.”
“I feel like there’s very little communication among us. Like we’re all just here doing what we have to do. There’s very little encouragement in a sense. There’s very high expectations that have not decreased at all on teachers, and that’s created a sense of resentment,” Looper said. “And it’s not just here…it’s kind of everywhere right now. People are very quick to get angry at each other for something they messed up on.”
Tennessee is also ranked eighth in the nation for the most at-risk teacher populations for COVID-19 according to a Reuters study. This may be a result of the state’s poor health care system and lack of school funding.
Several teachers in the state have raised concerns about Rutherford County’s decision to continue with in-person learning after a second teacher in the country died from COVID-19 in December.
Looper also commented on the leadership displayed by national and state leaders as well: “I think it’s a sense of ‘I have no control but I do have control over this and so this is how I’m going to exert control.’ And I think that can come across as unmerciful and ungracious sometimes without meaning to.
However, there have been some silver linings for her too.
Looper has found that the pandemic and isolation has led her to be more mindful of the joys in her life.
“Having kids is really hard. People don’t talk about that very much– they talk about how they want babies and babies are really cute. But what they tend to forget is that those babies turn into sassy children,” she said fondly.
She appreciates parenthood in several ways, saying that teaching her daughters how to push boundaries and deal with attitudes is a special privilege.
“But there are moments of being a parent that are not enjoyable,” Looper confessed.
She claims that quarantine has taught her to focus more on savoring parenthood and understanding her children on a deeper level.
“Understand your childrens so that they don’t feel like such a burden on you when things are difficult. Learn to know them in a way that you can enjoy them in life side by side with them instead of just seeing them as a burden all the time.”
With her first vaccine shot completed, Looper is feeling cautiously hopeful for the future, hoping that the pandemic’s hold on the country will ease up in the summer so that she can take her family on a hiking trip to Colorado and finally go out to eat with her husband again.
She also wants to relish in the lessons in love, patience, and adversity that the pandemic has taught her.
“When life stops the way that it did for nine months, you kind of have to figure out how to enjoy it.”
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ashley Barrientos, email email@example.com.
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