This is part four of a four-part series.
There’s a lot of caregiving in Ayelet Haimson Lushkov’s life. She’s the mother of a 3- and 1-year-old, and she also teaches undergraduate and graduate classes at UT.
“It does feel like there’s a lot of people who need things from you as a parent and as a professor,” she said. “COVID really intensified that.”
Haimson Lushkov and her husband are both professors of classics at UT. Before the pandemic, her children went to the UT Child Development Center, but when campus closed, the center closed, too. She and her husband had to transition to teaching classes online with two little kids around.
“It’s hard to maintain the emotional bandwidth to constantly answer to the needs of your own kids while also remaining sympathetic to a student who might not have the right internet connection or has a relative who has COVID or who is just stressed and worried and confused,” she said.
‘No good choices’
The couple struggled to give lectures via Zoom and finish the spring semester with the children crawling on them.
When the center reopened at the end of August, Haimson Lushkov didn’t feel comfortable sending them back. To keep their spots, she and her husband had to pay the tuition.
They realized they couldn’t still teach, meet with graduate students and attend faculty meetings with the kids in the house, so they hired a babysitter to come by a few hours a day.
“We will effectively be paying double for child care,” Haimson Lushkov said “It’s a tremendous privilege that we are able to do that.”
She said they’ll have to dip into their savings, so it will be sustainable only through December. By then, she said, she hopes cases in Austin will have dropped and she’ll feel more comfortable sending the kids back to day care.
“It feels like there are no good choices right now,” she said. “It feels like a lot of the choices that parents are having to make have cascades of consequences that are not what we want.”
Haimson Lushkov said she wishes there was a more universal investment in early education.
“It’s just a difficult and frustrating situation to live in,” she said.
‘It feels like you’re always failing’
Now that the semester has started, Haimson Lushkov is seeing how her choice is playing out. On one hand, she says, she is happy they didn’t send the kids back to day care; at least one child there has tested positive for COVID-19.
But she and her husband are struggling to meet the demands of work while the kids constantly vie for their attention.
“It’s just constantly feeling like you’re always failing at something,” Haimson Lushkov said. “I’m either not prepping for my courses enough, or I’m not paying enough attention to my children.”
She teaches a course that is supposed to introduce freshman to college-level writing, research and discussion. Haimson Lushkov says she feels pressure to make these students have a good experience taking the class online, since this is their introduction to college.
“I can’t give them the standard experience,” she said. “I’m trying to overcompensate in other ways like making things look nice and … focusing on community-building and thinking of ways of getting students engaged so that they don’t just get lost behind their cameras. But that doubles the prep time.”
And time is limited right now. The babysitter comes by for only 20 hours a week – between her live lectures, faculty and committee meetings, and prepping for classes, that goes by quick.
The 3-year-old has already left the babysitter and interrupted their lectures. Haimson Lushkov says she knows her daughter misses her friends and old routine and is getting sick of staying at home so much. That wears on her as she tries to stay on top of her work.
“I’m pretty sure in a week I’ll be a wreck,” she said. “I’m already feeling it. We have a lot more faculty meetings and random demands on our time that pop up. I already feel I’m running to standstill work-wise, I expect it will just get worse from here on out.”