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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Read, Write, Cook, Repeat: The Intertwining of Pandemic Parenting and Scholarship

Christina Michaud

Keywords: parenthood


Categories: Parenting and Possibility in Impossible Times; (De)Constructing Writing; Arting/Crafting/Making in a Crisis


Before 2020: I teach college writing, first-year writing seminars on social justice, academic writing for multilingual students. I write in all the associated teacherly genres. Non-tenure track, but good job security: students always need to learn how to write. I like to say I could never teach high school because I need to be able to treat my students as adults. I like the independence (that they have) and the respect (that I give them). I have kids, but I’m not a “kid” person. I scoff at homeschoolers—I don’t have time for that, and I’m not my kids’ teacher, anyway. I’m at my desk by 8:30 in the morning, teach my three classes, meet with students, write papers and conference proposals and syllabi for new classes, meet with more students, then go home to make dinner and shepherd the kids into bed. I like my independence.

Then, 2020/2021…

7:00 a.m. Breakfast. Kids used to eat cold cereal or toast at home, plus the free breakfast at school when they got there, but now, mid-pandemic, all on Zoom school from home, they want “real” breakfast. Husband loves “real” breakfast too, makes passive aggressive “compliments” about how he’d like “real” breakfasts all the time. What is “real” breakfast? Used to be writing emails on the subway to school by this hour. Why am I thinking about overnight French toast, a million ways to make eggs as long as they’re scrambled (can’t deal with the picky nine-year-old), or what actually is the point of breakfast when everyone comes into the kitchen to get cookies all day long?

8:00 a.m. Virtual orchestra for the nine-year-old and five-year-old. Virtual homeroom for the twelve-year-old. Nine-year-old has her cello in her room, twelve-year-old is in his room—from whence he rarely emerges. . . do I actually have a son? Have I seen him for more than five minutes a day in. . . months? Five-year-old has her violin next to me. I start work—first I write those emails, an hour late. Then a conference proposal for antiracist teaching, a reading list for a faculty seminar on equity in grading, a memo (how can a “memo” take so long to draft and revise?) for faculty on curricular changes. Husband wants a third cup of coffee but doesn’t know how much sugar to put in. “You make the best coffee. You know just how I like it!” I don’t want to know. Make the coffee—it’s quicker that way. Less talking. More writing. Next to me, a note in a descending scale is audibly flat. “Stretch your third finger, sweetie.” Back to the conference proposal.

A young white girl sits on the floor in front of a low desk, with an iPad on Zoom, in a kitchen, with workbooks and markers near her. You cannot see her face.


9:00 a.m. Virtual orchestra ends. I’m still singing E C# C#, D B B, A B C# D E E E in my head. I don’t play the violin. Does the five-year-old remember it this well? Husband finally in shower upstairs. Nine-year-old comes down asking for cookies. Take a break. No writing now. Do a puzzle with the girls, or read to them.

9:30 a.m. Nine-year-old in virtual school. Get five-year-old set up with grazing tray of blueberries, apple slices, clementine wedges, chunks of cheese. She eats actual food when big siblings aren’t around. I can write while she eats.

A partially-finished puzzle is on a metal tray on a dining room table, with a red chair pulled out from the table before it. There are bookcases and other chairs beyond the table.


10:00 a.m. Five-year-old has half an hour of virtual kindergarten. Prop the iPad back up, fix the volume, tell the teacher we can’t see her screen, oh wait, yes, now we can. Then I get to help with literacy. Magic E. No, that one’s a short vowel. When you see a double E, you say. . .  I-N-G says ing. Your lowercase “p” needs to sit on the bottom line and go below it. She’s learning to write, not quite sure this left to right thing is all that. Bottom to top works too, why not?

A young white girl assembles Play-Doh letters to spell her name (Helen) on a low desk, with a drawing of a violin (and the word written vertically from bottom to top) on the floor next to her. You cannot see her head or face.


12:00 p.m. How many cookies and cups of coffee was that? They’re over, at least, and it’s lunch time. Never used to make lunch. Kids ate the free lunch at school. Husband went out at work, I’d grab something around campus. I am desperate for the nice guy in the sushi burrito place with a daughter the same age as my son, or the cashier in the campus food court who’s been there since 2003, or the friendly woman in the convenience store whose daughter used to take piano lessons at the same place as my nine-year-old did. I want them, their small talk, to eat their food, and to write emails on my phone while I wait or eat. I used to pay money for other people to hand me ready-made food? What world was this? There is no writing at lunch. Grilled cheese! Quesadillas! Leftovers! Someone will complain about something. Ignore complaints, make husband more coffee, and read aloud to all three kids when they’re briefly at the table—biographies, poetry, nonfiction, things that are bigger than our family, our house, our tiny worlds.

1:00 p.m. Lunch is over. Big kids back in virtual classes. Five-year-old plays on the floor next to me while I write. Back to the slides for that presentation. Back to that memo. Is it friendly enough? Don’t want to sound like a dictator. Start a letter nominating a colleague for a teaching prize. Five-year-old climbs on the couch, falls asleep next to/on me. Great. I keep writing.

A white woman sits propped up on pillows on a couch, typing on a laptop, while a young white child plays on the floor next to her. You cannot see her face.A young child sleeps face-down on a couch next to a woman who is using a laptop.

2:00 p.m. Have to wake up the five-year-old to go to my library appointment. Can only go to the library once a week in a half-hour window, by appointment, and I cannot miss it. Curbside pickup, holds only, but still, the library is life. Two cards, maxed out, 40-50 books each week. Haul the five-year-old and the returns there, turn around, come home. She’s reading aloud to herself in the bike on the way home. Did I teach her to read? Did she teach herself to read? The first word she ever read was “Zoom.”

A young white child in a bike helmet sits buckled into a cargo bike seat with bags of books under her feet, reading a book on her lap. You cannot see her face.

2:30 p.m. Five-year-old has forty-five more minutes of virtual kindergarten. Art. Music. Mandarin. Science. Gym. Different each day. Somehow she actually knows her teachers’ names, somehow, actually sings Mandarin next to me after class. Don’t stop to wonder how. I’m writing again. Memo done at last (friendly tone achieved—I think) and sent out. Slides mostly done.

3:15 p.m. Virtual kindergarten is over. Another cookie break for nine-year-old. Is my twelve-year-old still alive up there? Do an art project with the five- and nine-year-olds. I am not arty. Never owned paint pre-pandemic. Now, haul out the paints and markers, here, paint some rocks, yes. Then we can go on a walk where we avoid people and hide rocks in parks and hope someone someday finds one and isn’t too afraid to touch a rock someone else obviously touched. Nine-year-old may have absorbed something from the summer of 2020. Social justice rocks, her idea. (Five-year-old does blobs instead.)

Five painted rocks are arranged in a circle; three say “Black Lives Matter” in rainbow letters and two have colorful circles.

4:30 p.m. Art is over. Can’t write now. Read more to the girls. Have to start thinking about dinner. Can I make something that makes a lot of leftovers that everyone will actually eat? Is it possible? No, don’t bother trying. Husband will still manage to come (home? Up?) late to dinner even though his “office” is in the basement these days. Better bake some more cookies, too.

8:00 p.m. Five-year-old and nine-year-old in bed. Twelve-year-old playing video games. Has he done any homework? Does he have any homework? What is homework, anyway, or is it all home. . . work? Husband doing. . . something on his computer. Work? Or more video games. Either way, I can write on the couch for two hours now. First time the five-year-old isn’t on me or within two feet of me all day. Focus. The letter for my colleague has to be amazing—she deserves the prize, but I need to convince the committee of that. Like my students, I make a claim. Think about my readers. Make an argument. Give reasons. Use evidence. Anticipate and respond to counter-arguments. Write. Write. Write. Will I ever go back to the office or classroom again? Write. Write. Write.

A young white girl smiles at the camera, sitting on a couch holding a piece of paper on which she copied down the famous Amanda Gorman quote (“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it”).

(Spoiler alert: She learned to read and write, probably despite me.

My colleague did win that prize.

And I did get back to the office and classroom.) 



Christina Michaud is an associate director of the Boston University Writing Program, where she focuses her research and teaching on multilingual writers, metacognition and reflective writing, and antiracist pedagogies.