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I'm a Single Mother. Here's How My Life Has Changed During the Pandemic

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A Parenthood Paradigm Shift

As a single mom, I've spent the better part of the past decade relying mostly on myself to get by. They say no man is an island, but I've managed to function like something pretty close to one for quite some time, holding down multiple jobs at times, paying a sizeable mortgage, shuttling my son to different activities each day, and completing myriad other tasks to keep my little family afloat.

During all of that time, however, society was still fully functioning so I could at least rely on the basics that kept my single-mom world humming along peacefully enough — my son going to school each day so that I could work, being able to go to the gym to exercise regularly, and socializing with friends now and then.

Like millions of other Americans, my life has been profoundly upended by the coronavirus pandemic in a matter of mere days. Social distancing, the crash of the economy, and the shuttering of everything from gyms to schools and hair salons has been surreal at best. And while the past few weeks have been challenging, unnerving, and downright scary at times, they've also been eye-opening and remarkable. I've found myself marveling at the ways, big and small, that my life as a homebound single mom has changed.

Related: 25 Things to Buy at Costco and Sam's for Emergencies (Besides Toilet Paper)

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FaceTime, FaceTime, and More FaceTime

During the first few days immediately following the announcement that we were to begin social distancing and stay home, I found that nearly all of my phone calls with friends and family suddenly became FaceTime calls as a matter of course. While before FaceTime was something I did once in a while in the past (if my hair looked good and I had make-up on, for instance), now there was something far more urgent about actually seeing the people I was calling and making the most of the visual connection FaceTime allows. And as our isolation has progressed, this has only increased in importance.

Related: 22 Essential Remote-Work Tools for Your Business

closed for coronavirus
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Life as We Knew It Has Been Canceled

It began with a trickle and then became a downpour. In the space of perhaps 24 to 48 hours, nearly every service provider I have ever had contact with began emailing me about how their operations would be impacted, with most shutting down entirely. My son's baseball season (which had just begun), canceled. After school care, canceled. Doctors appointments, canceled. Haircuts, canceled too. Suddenly, everything we had taken for granted was being stripped away, piece by piece, and all we could do was watch.

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Revamped Spaces in Our House to Accommodate the New Normal

As the realities of the pandemic began unfolding, I began looking at my house in new and different ways, determining how I would need to change our surroundings to survive what was ahead. That meant ordering a desk for my son and rearranging my home office to be his learning space as well, so that the two of us could work side by side productively and I could keep an eye on his learning, multi-tasking more easily to help him when needed.

a young boy being homeschooled by his mother
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I'm Learning to Be an At-Home Educator

I distinctly remember the moment when it began to dawn on me that my son's school would probably not be reopening this year. A wave of anxiety and dread washed over me. Two to three weeks of home schooling had seemed lengthy and daunting enough as a single mom who must still hold down a job while homeschooling. How on Earth would I carry on for … three months (gulp)? But as hard as it has been, I'm learning to handle it as well as possible and keep him moving along with math, science, reading, and writing. We don't get to all of those subjects each day, but we do our best. And for now, that's enough.

Related: Where to Find Online Classes for Kids Home From School

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I'm Developing New Levels of Patience

Homeschooling on its own is no easy task. Homeschooling a child who has ADHD adds another level of unique obstacles and challenges. During the first few days of homeschooling, I was certainly not my best self or what my son needed. And I have no adult partner to jump in when I'm at my wits' end. My son and I have both experienced frustration with each other. But with each passing day, I'm learning to become a better teacher and adapt to my son's learning style. And he's learning to work with mom and her expectations. My patience has expanded considerably along the way, as has my empathy for those who have different learning styles.

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Facebook Has Truly Become My Town Square

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Facebook, and would often deliberately refrain from logging on in the past. But during these long days and weeks of isolation, with just myself and my son at home, it serves a more valuable purpose in our little world, providing a unique and timely connection to the community at large. I feel a slightly greater sense of urgency to check in with Facebook and see how everyone is doing: It has become my local coffee shop and town square rolled into one.

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I'm Suddenly Reconnecting With Old Friends

As the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became more apparent and the wave of stay-at-home orders spread across the country, I noticed something wonderful happening at the same time. There was a steady stream of text messages and phone calls from friends and family I hadn't heard from in quite some time. We were all reaching out to check on each other and find out whether anyone needed help. It was heartwarming to see this sense of connection and community kick into action so quickly.

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Virtual Happy Hours

It wasn't long before the virtual connecting began. Within the first week of my homebound isolation, I began planning virtual lunches with friends and virtual happy hours. And it wasn't just me, the single mom, doing these things. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I saw countless connections posting snapshots of themselves and their friends or family members on a Zoom screen with glasses of wine in hand. We are social beings, and as a society we didn't miss a beat when it came to figuring out how to rebuild amid the new rules for living, including finding alternative ways to connect with each other and share a smile or a laugh.

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I've Discovered New Ways to Help My Son Connect With Friends

Living life as an only child can be isolating under the best of circumstances. Being stuck at home all day and night has amplified that. I watched in despair as my son melted down when he learned that school would not likely resume this year. But we've quickly adapted on this front, as well. Within a week, he had his first Skype call to connect with a school friend and my heart filled as I listened to them laugh and giggle together, the first such joyful laughter in days. Not long after that, we installed Messenger for Kids and he has been able to connect with still more friends, allowing him to rebuild his social connections virtually, as well.

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YouTube Yoga Here I Come

While this may not seem like a big deal to some, one of the most devastating moments for me was the announcement that my gym would close and I'd no longer be able to attend yoga classes. For me, yoga was about more than just exercise. It was another way to get out of the house as a single, working mom and have a few moments of peace, respite, and human connection. With that too being stripped away, the weeks and months ahead seemed far bleaker. I have discovered that I can survive and do yoga workouts on YouTube for free. Yes, I know, many of you already did this. But it's something the old me would never have considered.

Related: 12 Ways to Work Out at Home and Stay Motivated

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My 7-Year-Old Is Getting a Crash Course in Conserving Resources

As a journalist who spent years covering sustainability issues, my son was already fairly savvy and aware of things like recycling and taking care of the planet. But in the new world of coronavirus, those lessons have been advanced at warp speed. "Only two pumps of hand soap please, because well, who knows when we will get soap again." "Don't use so many paper towels to wipe that spill up please, there's no paper towels available in the stores these days." My son has taken to regularly stomping off saying, "I can't wait until coronavirus is over."

Related: Do Diluted Detergents, Soaps, and Shampoos Still Work?

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Nature Walks Are Now Our Daily Routine

Taking a daily walk has suddenly become a major part of our routine, and this has been one of the most positive outcomes of our coronavirus lockdown. Each day I now spend an hour just walking and talking with my son. When he was at school from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., we never had time. We've lived in our neighborhood for more than two years now, but during the past two or three weeks we've explored it on foot in ways we never did before, walking its many nature trails and through the canyons surrounding our home.

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Increased Thriftiness

Gone are the days of whipping out a credit card whenever I was low on cash and needed to buy something. The economy is on rocky terrain; jobs are no longer a given; and I'm a single income household, which means there's no safety net or back-up income for this family if mine dries up suddenly. As a result, I've profoundly changed my behavior. I have lasted two weeks with just $12 in my checking account by stepping up my efforts to make do with the food and household supplies I have, making it last longer, and not being so wasteful. And that's a good thing no matter what's going on in the world.

Related: Over 50 Store-Brand Foods That Deliver Quality and Savings

online groceries
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I Spend Loads of Time Searching for Toilet Paper and Paper Towels

Amusing as this is (not), I spend at least some portion of each day, or every few days lately trying to secure home goods online, hopping from Target to Amazon and Whole Foods, and every possible retailer in between to try and secure paper towels, toilet paper and groceries. It's not fun.

Related: 14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply — and 4 to Skip

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I've Learned Just How Resilient My Son Can Be

For kids this is a scary time, and being trapped in a house for hours and days on end is an added challenge. But I've truly enjoyed how this time has also opened my eyes to my son's own strengths and resilience, and I've watched those strengths grow over the past few weeks in ways that have brought tears to my eyes. He has set about mastering his basketball skills diligently each day, spent hours quietly improving his ability to draw dinosaurs and dragons, and even dived head first into assembling robots, all without complaining about the lack of a playmate.

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I've Grown to Enjoy This Time for the Beauty It Offers

Sure, isolation and upheaval have been hard, particularly as a single mom with no one to share the load. In fact, it's been overwhelming and exhausting. My days are more jam-packed than ever between getting my work done and leading my son through homeschooling, while also trying to squeeze in exercise time for me and for him, as well. I am now his basketball coach, teacher, cook, playmate, and more all rolled into one. But I've also grown to appreciate our days together and the way our lives have also suddenly slowed way down. Before, I would see my son for 45 minutes in the morning before school and perhaps two or three hours at the end of the day. Now he's my daily companion all day long. I'm quite sure that when our lives return to normal, I will miss having him by my side.

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I've Opened My Eyes to What Really Matters Once Again

As a cancer survivor, I had long ago established a pretty grounded sense of what matters in this life and in this world. But the coronavirus pandemic and all that it has brought with it have refreshed my sense of priorities, perhaps stripping them down even further. We have a house. We are healthy. We have food. And we have each other. That's more than enough.

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Appreciation for the Small Things

With everything that's been suddenly eliminated from our daily lives, and the uncertainty over what the future holds, I have even more gratitude for the simple things that remain and that I had taken for granted: a sunny day, walks in nature, and being able to listen to a chorus of frogs croaking joyfully together at dusk near a stream. These particular pleasures have become even more poignant in just the past few days, as all the public trails where I live have been closed by government officials amid worsening coronavirus fears.

mom with son outside
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I Have a New To-Do List for When This Is All Over

When this is all behind us, it may be hard to return to life as we once knew it. But there are also changes that have come of this time that I hope I will remember to hang onto. My to-do list going forward will include: Continue the long walks with my son. Continue connecting with others in new and different ways. Continuing doing more with less for the sake of the Earth. And continue to appreciate the simple beauty of a sunny day.