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'Sometimes I would just ride in silence': Amid virtual learning, moms are missing social interactions, solo time of school drop-offs

Erin Donnelly
·7-min read

Back in the "before times," pre-pandemic, Elizabeth Gillespie, a social media strategist and mom of two living in Westchester County, N.Y., would spend her mornings driving her older daughter, now 4, to preschool before heading into work. It was a hectic routine that relied on help from nearby grandparents, who handled school pick-ups and babysat her younger daughter, now almost 2, but one that, more than a year since her last drop-off on March 13, 2020, Gillespie says she sorely misses.

"I miss drop-off routines," she tells Yahoo Life. "I know some people dread drop-off — like, waiting on the line, dropping off their kid — but I've always been one of those parents who enjoy it."

Gillespie, whose daughters are now at home with her and her husband, says drop-off presented an opportunity to catch up with other parents and talk to her daughter's teacher about activities, schoolwork and opportunities to volunteer or get involved in the PTA. As a newcomer to her town, making those social connections was important.

"It was kind of part of my morning routine," she says. "Get on the line, drop the kids off, talk to other moms, learn about community things that are happening, book fairs, you know, 'who's signing up for soccer?' or 'did I miss the deadline for this or that'?

She adds, "I mainly miss drop-off for the social interactions that I would have with other parents. Being new in the area, I was trying to meet new people and meet other friends. All of that kind of stopped and we haven't been able to do any of that."

The drop-off routine had another unexpected perk: the window of kid-free time it gave Gillespie as she headed back home or into the office. Post-drop-off, she'd use that time to sneak in a workout at the gym, get a headstart on dinner or household chores or just "catch up on something that you normally couldn't do when your kids are there." The absence of that "me time" is glaring as she and her husband juggle working at home with both kids underfoot.

"When your kids are home all the time, as soon as work is over and I come out of that office door, they're like, 'Mommy's here — let's play,'" she says. "But you know, Mommy has to make dinner. Mommy has to clean up the toys that you left. Mommy has to then probably catch up on more emails at night because maybe she took you for a little walk during the day... There really isn't time for self-care."

There really isn't time for self-care.

Veena Crownholm, a freelance lifestyle host, has undergone two major life changes amid the pandemic: a move from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colo. and the birth of her second son, 7-month-old Max, whom she describes as a "total pandemic baby." Amid it all, she's missing the routine and social buzz of her drop-offs and pick-ups.

While Crownholm's older son, 10-year-old Eddie, has long been homeschooled, she says they typically "rely heavily on outside classes and extracurricular activities," including gymnastics. For much of the pandemic, those activities were put on hold, and those that have since resumed now require limited parent contact, masks, COVID questionnaires and other precautions that make catching up with other moms unlikely.

"Part of my pick-up time with all these different activities was socialization for me too, with other parents," she tells Yahoo Life. "And so I would come in, like, 15, 20 minutes early, we chat, you know, maybe figure out a play date or different things like that. Then maybe the kids would play after their class for a little bit. And then we go home. And so we really miss all of that."

"I would say definitely pre-baby, pre-pandemic, when I used to drop Eddie off at classes, it was my me time," she says. "So whether that's working uninterrupted, which is golden, or taking my beloved Pilates class that I used to do... Even just going to the grocery store solo was amazing. So it was really just my me time [for] whatever it is that I wanted to do, or maybe run errands really quickly. I used to plan those things around his schedule so that it wouldn't take away from the time that I had with him."

Rachel Lauren, the Austin-based founder of the DEI consulting firm Diversified, can relate. As an adoptive mom to three kids — two daughters and a son aged 4, 5 and 6 — she co-parents with her ex-husband, Lauren admits that she doesn't necessarily miss the 45-minute drive in to work after dropping her children off at school now that she's working remotely. She does, however, acknowledge that the commute gave her a much-needed moment to herself.

"Even though 45 minutes can become a chore, that 45 minutes, in retrospect, was time that I was able to just like, listen to podcasts, listen to music, think about things," she tells Yahoo Life. "Sometimes I would just ride in silence and just think and drive. And so I do miss that. I also think that because I work from home and then I have to get the kids and everything is happening at home. It can become really, really taxing to just be in the same place. Where, where you live, where you work, where you eat, where you raise your kids — it's all the same place."

Unlike the other moms interviewed, Lauren's children have resumed in-person school as of this past September. Even so, the drop-off and pick-up routine is dramatically different under COVID-19. Whereas parents were once able to interact with teachers as they waited for their kids, pandemic precautions rule out any contact. Parents instead place signs in their car windows indicating that a teacher can bring their child out.

"We're not allowed to be outside of the school or in the school," says Lauren, who, as an active school parent, longs for the pre-pandemic days when she could walk her child into their classroom and see firsthand what they were doing in school while connecting with teachers and other parents.

"They would love for me to see the work that they did," she says. "And being able to talk to other parents, even occasionally deciding I want to go have breakfast with them at the school or have lunch with them at the school ... those are things that I can't do."

"Having time alone in the car can be incredibly grounding and re-centering.

Lauren Cook, a therapist, speaker and author, says it's understandable that moms are feeling a pang for the little breaks, however, rushed, they carved out as part of their pre-pandemic routine — especially as the current new norm of telecommuting and virtual learning under one roof means there's no buffer between mom duty and work.

"Having time alone in the car can be incredibly grounding and re-centering," Cook tells Yahoo Life. "Whether listening to music and getting a chance to sing or sitting quietly listening to a podcast, it's an opportunity to regulate our nervous system. We can have some space to emotionally process and it's done within the safe confinement of our car, which often feels private (even though strangers may see us through the window).

"It's an opportunity to practice choice, which helps us feel emotionally empowered," she adds. "Even if it's something as simple as making a call, listening to an audiobook or staying silent — that choice to be in the car in the way that feels most comfortable to you is a form of self-care."

—Video produced by Nurys Castillo

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