a marble cake kind of life


This article is a part of our new blog series titled, ‘One Day in the Life of‘. 

Today is my working day. Since the stay at home took place in Boston (US) where I live, my partner and I have taken shared care responsibilities for our child. I am confronted with the task to fulfil the work of five days in three. Today is the first day so I need to be as productive as I can.

Productivity. I think a lot about this. It is a strong cultural concept in the US. Time is money -they say- and I have to fight consciously when I catch myself pouring gallons of guilt over my existence.

 View from my window in the early morning

I get up at 6 am, shower, shave and put on perfume. I wear clothes as if I were commuting to the office. It gives me a sense of purpose. I look at the mirror and I look pale and tired. Our child woke up at 1:30 am last night and was chatting and singing for hours. After two hours of me telling stories about ducks and squirrels and singing lullabies, he said, “all done papa” and fell asleep. As I get dressed, he opens the door and asks about my pants and my shirt and wants me to explain what I am doing. He asks about wearing pants too, jeans, specifically.

Then, I go over to make breakfast for the family. We sit down to eat at 7:20. I think about my grandma who might be drinking coffee and listening to loud music in Colombia. She has been confined to her home for the past two months. She will be 80 in January and I am getting used to the idea that I will not be there with her to celebrate.

At 8:40 am, I make an exit from family life, after cleaning the dishes, talking about lunch and dinner with my partner and making arrangements of the day. Mainly, when it is okay to come to the shared office we have as I might be on a zoom call. Or perhaps, she needs me to take care of our child as there is a meeting that she cannot miss. She is a consultant and a PhD student, so her life beats at a different rhythm.

This all goes to disarray quickly as our son comes into the room or he needs to be held or wants to see the faces on the screen. He is getting used to drawing while on zoom calls.

As a gender advisor, I spend my day reading and providing inputs on a variety of issues and I constantly feel heavy, overloaded. The emotional labor is a recurrent element of my work. Sometimes, it is the result of the awful, cruel news. I read how the US government has separated 900 children from their parents and sent them back to places in Central America. They look like me, we speak the same language, they are disposable. It is outrageous. Sometimes, it is about the hard situation all of us face-health, income, anxiety, uncertainty, ups and downs. I catch myself chatty and happy in a zoom call and then silent and absent in the following one.

It is not lunch time yet.

I see the sun outside the window, but I don’t make it outside the house. No time. I must be productive. I think about the quote on my fridge “the average worker bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime”.  Is there something more important than bees? What am I being productive for? What is productivity anyway?

There are two hours of quietness as our child naps. I check WhatsApp to see how my family in Colombia are doing. They are in different places with different issues, hopes and worries. Sometimes, I don’t have enough energy left to write back, to send a voice message. It is too much.

By 5:30, rain or shine, I close my computer and venture to the living room. I take care of my son while my partner cooks. This division of tasks helps us to get a breather after a full day of caring for him and allows him to have a parent that is ready to engage with drawing and toys. A win-win.

Dinner goes until 7:15 and the ritual of bath, story time and bedtime unfolds. I spend the following hour or so cleaning the table, doing the dishes and planning the meals to come. This is my me time. I get to listen to a podcast or call my sister or simply be in silence.

There is a huge difference between the days that I work from home and the days I care for my son. Before life was like a layer cake, now it is definitively marble cake. Marble cake, I wish I had some of that with ice cream!

It is 9 pm when my partner emerges from the universe of our son’s room. Now it is the time to talk about the house, the bills, the budget, the what ifs, the day-care options, the weekend plans, who can work when, the “I am so tired, is it already 65 days”? We tackle whatever is urgent: a load of laundry, a conversation about life insurance or how to support those in our family who are anxious, depressed or finding their way to the end of their lives.

Next thing you know, it is 11 pm. I have three books on my night table that I really want to read, but I can’t.  I can’t get myself to it. It feels like getting off a car racing at 200 miles per hour and trying to dance. I might get 5-6 hours of sleep if I am lucky. I think about tomorrow and it will be the same as I work tomorrow too. But I know, it will bring new urgencies, new problems and new moments of awe, of hope and beauty and laughter. Moments of real human connection with my family and those at the other end of the screen. A new bright day, or perhaps another long night. One day at the time.

Sebastián Molano is a senior gender advisor at Oxfam America and the leader of Defying Gender Roles. You can find him on twitter – @Defygenderoles and @Juansemolano.

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