Family

“Why Would You Lay Off My Mom, of All People?”

When Suchada lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic, she had to explain it to her 10-year-old son.

Boy peering around a door to his mother crying next to a briefcase.
Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Suchada, 43, and Otto, 10, live in Chula Vista, California. Suchada, an interior designer, lives with her husband, Sean, who is in the Navy. They have three kids, and Otto is the middle child.

This is part of “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.,” a series of conversations between parents and their children about how their relationship has changed since the beginning of lockdown.

Suchada: When we moved to San Diego, your dad was stationed on a ship. He was deployed a lot, so it was really me and you three kids. Then, about three years ago, he went to shore duty and was able to spend a lot more time with us. It was really good timing because that was about the time I graduated from interior design school and started working.

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When the pandemic hit, we had a lot more time together than we were used to, which was a big adjustment. Then I was laid off. And your dad, who teaches firefighting classes for the Navy, wasn’t allowed to go to work. So we were just home a lot, not really knowing what to do. We’ve done COVID home improvement projects.

Otto: A few days ago I made some cabinets.

Suchada: Yeah, we’ve been putting together Ikea cabinets and just kind of sprucing up. But it wasn’t always the easiest. When I lost my job mid- to end of March, it was my first design job, and they laid off 10 percent of the company. I was panicked because I’d only been there about a year and I didn’t have extensive design experience and I was thinking, “How am I ever going to get another design job? What are we going to do? I have these student loans that we have to pay off.”

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Otto: I was kind of like: “Why? My mom’s great. She’s great at what she does. Like, why would you lay her off of all people?”

Suchada: Then there was the depression with that too. For the first couple of months, we sat around and we watched a lot of Netflix and ate lots of junk foods. We definitely put on the COVID-19 pounds. I worried so much about like, “How are you kids going to do in school? How can I take care of your needs?”

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Otto: I could tell you were stressed, a bit. Usually I just tried to keep myself occupied, like watching TV or playing on my Switch.

Suchada: We didn’t want you to know that we were worried about money or anything like that. I was just trying to keep you busy. That’s when you started violin lessons, and your sister started singing. Your brother found a new virtual piano teacher. I got you guys doing Spanish. I was working hard to not let you know how Dad and I felt about what was going on in the world. We’ve dealt with a lot of stress in our lives. So, I think your dad and I have this thing—we just keep on going, whatever’s happening.

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Otto: When dad went on deployment, how long was that?

Suchada: The first one, he was gone for nine months, and the second one, he was gone for six.

Otto: He stayed away for a long time, so I didn’t really see him much. Now I definitely see him way more, and it does feel a bit better because we’re all here. He still goes to the base, but he works for a shorter amount of time.

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Suchada: It’s wonderful to have my partner home with me. But we definitely have had to work through just seeing each other so much more and realizing like, “Oh, so that’s how loud you watch the television every day?”

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Otto: At the beginning, I was kind of happy. We didn’t have any school. When it got further into it, I’m like, “Oh.” It did get more boring. At first it was, “Yay.” Now it’s just kind of flattish. Sometimes I do get a bit of a headache just staring at my screen. My sister and brother and I are all in the same room right now. We all just do school in the living room. Usually we’re just sitting in different parts of the couch, or someone might be sitting in, like, we have a hammock—

Suchada: I’m laughing because I set you all up with desks. I set up little stations for you where you can plug everything in. I think the desks maybe lasted a week. One time I tried to tell you guys that you needed to sit at the desks, and you took all the cushions off the sofa and put them on your chairs.

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Otto: I did that in the kitchen.

Suchada: So you could lounge basically like you were on the couch, but at our kitchen table.

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Otto: I just took like four kitchen chairs and then laid out some pillows so I could get comfortable.

Suchada: Eventually I started a new job and it was hard to pay attention to what you were doing in school. So you started migrating to your bedrooms, and then I’d realize the Nintendo Switch would be on, and then we started noticing maybe some assignments weren’t all turned in.

It’s been tough for me as a parent to find that balance between understanding that this is really just kind of a bonkers situation for everybody to be in, allowing you to have some comfort, wanting you guys to have the best education you can, and also, because of your ages, knowing that you need to grow up and take responsibility for yourselves. It feels like walking a tightrope sometimes.

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Otto: At the beginning of the pandemic, it was super annoying because we were going to do a ton of activities. The county fair was coming. We were going to go snowboarding with our cousins.

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Suchada: You kids haven’t seen your grandparents in two years.

Otto: The hardest moment was probably just not being able to see one of my friends.

Suchada: Your best friend since kindergarten. It seemed like the restrictions were loosening up, so you were going over to his house. But then things started turning again and the hospitals were filling up. One of my really good friends is a COVID nurse, and she was just like, “Suchada, we’re doubling up rooms,” and I was like, “OK, we’re all staying home.” It’s hard to tell you kids that.

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Otto: We did get to see Trevor when we played Roblox on our computers. We use this app called Discord where you can chat with your friends.

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Suchada: Navigating all these apps has been a real challenge too. We’ve had safety talks about the internet before, but this has been just a whole other level because that’s really your biggest outlet to talk with your friends, through video games.

Otto: I started to bake. Last month I made these keto cheesecake bars. My brother says he’s allergic to them. My sister doesn’t like them. My mom and dad just haven’t eaten them.

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Suchada: You didn’t clean anything up. There have definitely been more chores since COVID started. We’ve had a housekeeper for years. But we had to look at our financial priorities and we decided, especially when we’re home this much, we really need to be responsible for taking care of our own house. It’s been hard for me as a mom to admit how little I’ve prepared you kids for doing some things.

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Otto: I’ve also learned how to use an iron.

Suchada: Yeah, you were actually excited about that. There are times when your dad and I are like, “OK, we’re taking off.” We’ll leave to go get food and we’re just happy we can be in the car by ourselves for like half an hour and just by ourselves. And there are times when 7:30 hits and I’m like, “OK, it’s half an hour before bedtime, but goodnight, guys, I’m shutting the door. Don’t come in, don’t talk to me.”

Otto: Some nights I can tell you don’t want to deal with it anymore. Other nights I think you’re just going to bed because you’re tired. Sometimes we all just get annoyed at each other. But I do think that we like each other a bit better now.

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Suchada: In a lot of ways we’re closer. Overall I know that when you and your brother and sister go out in the world, you will always have each other’s backs. You love each other. But day to day, your sister comes in like, “What’s up, buttheads,” and you boys are screaming at her that she’s out of tune singing and that she’s super annoying. And all of that gets to us. It’s hard. It’s like, “OK, everyone just shut up and go play outside, I don’t want to hear anymore,” but then I’m grateful.

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