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Jodie Patterson on Parenting in a Pandemic After Testing Positive for COVID-19
by A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez
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May 4, 2020

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Jodie Patterson on Parenting in a Pandemic After Testing Positive for COVID-19

Editor’s Note: Find the collection of COVID-19 coverage on BlackLove.com here.

Jodie Patterson and her children (Photo courtesy of Jodiepatterson.com)
Jodie Patterson and her children (Photo courtesy of Jodiepatterson.com)

It’s hard not to fall in love with Jodie Patterson’s story. (If you haven’t already, check out her first book, “The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation.”)

She’s a multi-hyphenate mom of five who’s held many titles, including but not limited to writer, activist, and even acrobat. In “The Bold World” she writes her coming of age story in the voice of someone who dares to define their family — and themselves — outside of racialized and gendered expectations. Much of that shift results from working hard to make the world a better place for her transgender son Penelope and becoming a well-known LGBTQI ally in the process.

Now, Jodie is on the board of the Human Rights Campaign, has been appointed by the United Nations as a Champion of Change, and often provides public speaking on topics ranging from identity and beauty to entrepreneurship.

As one can imagine, surviving the constant stream of demands from work and parenting meant developing a life of structure with little room for deviation. She never could have imagined that contracting COVID-19 would disrupt her sense of routine – forcing her to slow down and re-evaluate the purpose of productivity during a pandemic.

[In early March] as the first headlines about COVID-19 in the United States began rolling in she was still speaking and attending conferences. The small steps — wiping down surfaces, keeping her distance, and avoiding physical contact – to stay well were there. Like the rest of us, she was unaware of the risks in the small interactions. 

Related: What I Wish I Knew Before My Entire Family Contracted COVID-19

After two months of nonstop travel, she was drained. But for some reason rest didn’t help. (Now she looks back and wonders if the exhaustion was from overworking or sickness.) 

“I just couldn’t get out of bed, I had an enormous amount of pain in my head and a really splitting migraine like a knife was jabbing into my head and the same pain in my spine,” she recalled.

As her symptoms multiplied to include chills and a strange pulsing sensation in her upper body, and a loss of sense of smell she decided to go to the hospital. She expected to take the COVID-19 test for the heck of it, receive medication for her migraines, and go home. 

Jodie Patterson (Photo courtesy of Yumi Matsuo Studio)
Jodie Patterson (Photo courtesy of Yumi Matsuo Studio)

“I was trying to be responsible in that moment not thinking that I would actually be sick, I just thought it was the responsible response to have in a moment where COVID-19 was a possibility.”

But the test was positive and the “imposed isolation” at the hospital meant she didn’t have a choice but to be away from her kids – particularly her youngest three boys. Her hospital stay meant being away from her children for two additional weeks on top of her work-related separation which meant it had been a full month since she’d seen them.

It was hard. But she did what she could to have joyful moments despite her circumstances. 

When she wasn’t on FaceTime with her children, she was writing almost ten hours a day – journaling and working on her next book – and doing exercises to avoid “going berserk” being by herself. Cleaning her hospital room helped her keep from panicking, as well.  

Yes, there’s fear happening. There’s death happening. But there’s also something to learn and those who learn it will be better off on the other side.

She wasn’t instantly better upon returning home and took an additional week to work through some of the trauma that accompanied being hospitalized. 

“I’ve recognized that hospital stints are traumatic. There’s trauma in being sick. There’s trauma in being a hospital patient and a hospital number. There’s trauma with people controlling your body while you’re in the hospital. There’s trauma in being apart from your family. There’s trauma in not knowing where your economics will be when you get out.”

She doubled down and started seeing her therapist twice a week, virtually of course.

Jodie Patterson and her family. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Patterson)
Jodie Patterson and her family. (Photo courtesy of Jodie Patterson)

Surviving outside of the hospital would require a reconfiguration. Some aspects, like reestablishing a routine and increasing sessions with her therapist were easy. Other parts, like the productivity centered managing of the household would be harder. A shift was necessary to ensure she had an environment where the children were supported but she also had the space to recover from the last few weeks.

“I decided it was probably too frustrating to parent in the way I would normally parent – like homework, did you brush your teeth, and making sure they ate well – so I picked one thing to do with each kid during the day,” she explains. 

Related: Teaching Tools to Help You Homeschool Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

What started as a way to make parenting more manageable post COVID-19 has become a vehicle to engage with her children like never before.

“Engaging before could have disrupted family productivity and family efficiency. Right now, in this moment what we’re learning is that efficiency is not going to get us out of this. It’s humanity that will get us out of this and empathy that will get us out of it.”

Their new family mandate views laughter as a daily ritual. Only two of the five are home these days – the eldest two are in their twenties and another is at dads because Jodie wanted to have support for his 10th grade math. 

Jodie believes that up until now, we’ve had a misunderstanding of time because we’d been too busy with constant movement to notice. Intentionally participating in her son’s interests has shifted the way she parents. She insists the new method isn’t just easier on her, it’s better for our families too. 

“I think the slowness is appreciated by our children. If we have the ability as parents to shift as well, we and our children will be on the same page in this moment. And it’s a page we need to be on,” she says before making sure to acknowledge that many families, particularly those on the frontlines may not have as much flexibility. 

She’s calling us to use the intermission of life that we’re witnessing and rethink the way we’ve been living.

She believes that we can only survive this new climate through honoring the things that nurture humanity — imagination, creativity, collaboration, empathy and stillness — and it’s a matter of life and death. She’s calling us to use the intermission of life that we’re witnessing and rethink the way we’ve been living. 

Amid homeschool and healing she’s still finding ways to nurture herself. Therapy, running, and clipping her dogs fur one inch at a time — yes, you read that right! (She’s also awaiting the release of her first children’s book, “BORN READY: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope.”)

Jodie’s adamant that there’s something to learn in this moment and we’re gonna make it out together or not at all.

“Yes, there’s fear happening. There’s death happening. But there’s also something to learn and those who learn it will be better off on the other side.”

Related: Self-Care for the Whole Family in the Time of COVID-19

Jodie Patterson (Photo courtesy of Jodiepatterson.com)
Jodie Patterson (Photo courtesy of Jodiepatterson.com)

Her second adult book will focus on radical parenting and why the architectural nature of mothering and family building are key to raising good humans regardless of the state of the world. The highs and lows of the last few weeks have kept her inspired with things we need while parenting in hard times. 

Jodie believes the key to Black families, making it through, is in honoring our imaginations and working to envision how to remain flexible and thrive in our new normal. 

She acknowledges that parenting – especially during a pandemic isn’t easy. (We witnessed that firsthand as my own kids threw full tantrums during our phone interview.) 

But she was quick to point out that we’re playing an important role in cultivating the next generation of change makers. That task comes with trials and pride.  

“You’re raising independent folks. You’re also raising activists. And with that comes loud mouths, over talkers, opinionated [kids]. And that’s a part of raising an activist.”

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