You need a COVID contract

“If one more person uses that airplane metaphor, telling me to put on my oxygen mask first, I will cut them. There is no mask. The masks are on fire along with my sanity.”

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask
Photo by Anna Shvets on

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting on the kitchen floor watching the 5 overpriced honeycrisps roll with wild freedom, taunting me as I held the broken grocery bag. My grocery trips have become the substitute for my weightlifting classes as well as to scratch the childish itch to make less than 2 trips from the car to the kitchen after grocery shopping. Both are failing me.

There on the kitchen floor, I hit my COVID bottom. I sobbed the tears of broken woman who just realized she could not in fact, do it all. I think I had been laying on that cold smooth bottom for weeks, in denial, fueled by the fact that it was still July and summer stretched out in front of us. Then August rolled in at the same time as the honeycrisps rolled away from me like a giant middle finger.

You may have seen the viral out of office message from my new hero, Khara Jabola-Carolus,

THAT! In one “hilarious because its true” email response, was able to name the crazy clown in the corner. The elephant in the room. The thing we are all desperately running in circles to avoid acknowledging. We are all real humans, hiding in plain sight, desperate to work as though this is 2019 and we are buying new backpacks and lunchboxes for the schools our kids will not actually be in. They will be sitting at our feet, tugging at our shirts, and struggling to make sense of their small worlds crashing around them as we professionally pitch our mission to foundations, lead all-staff meetings, and hold space for our teams own fears, while holding the hands of the people that need us the most.

If we are forced, we will always choose our children, our aging parents, our families. We will choose even though it may mean we lose our paycheck or the years of professional capital we have fought to build through breastfeeding, maternity leave and sexist workplaces. And now we are out of choices.

Unless we create a COVID contract.

If one more person uses that airplane metaphor, telling me to put on my oxygen mask first, I will cut them. There is no mask. The masks are on fire along with my sanity.

So. The COVID contract.

The contract is the brainchild of a good friend who is great at brutally calling me out. Power walking and crying, I told her about the apples. She stopped walking. She took me by my shoulders, got closer than 6 feet, and unapologetically (and kind of scarily) told me to just stop it. Stop it. Stop ignoring that we are living through a pandemic and there are no more ways to contort the hours to do anything well. No more. Stay alive. Keep kids alive. Stay sane. Stay in business. That order. That priority.

Then I cried in public.

The next morning, I wrote the following to my team AND my board leadership:

I am staring at the beginning of the school year, riddled with anxiety. Worried that we will see an uptick in cases. Worried that parents will be asked to work 40 hour work weeks and lead remote learning with children 8 hours a day, leaving us burned out and devastated. I am worried those without children will feel overwhelmed with helping the team out when others cannot. I am worried we will not feel safe enough to share when we need help, or time off, or to acknowledge that we will not be able to get the work done like pre-COVID times. If we fall apart, we cannot make the changes this world needs right now. We are living in a pandemic. We must not and will not operate as business is usual. We will not hide that we have families and our own spirits that need to be cared for.

Open Communities Internal COVID Priorities, in order of importance

  1. Above all else, my goal is to make sure we all get to the other side of this alive
  2. Every employee feels supported, heard and feels secure in asking for help
  3. We can honestly communicate when we are overwhelmed, burned out or need things to taken off our plates
  4. Our best today may not be what our best was last month or last year. We will have great days and some others that are not so great. Our goals and expectations will be different. We need to openly communicate that with each other.
  5. We will hold each other with grace, understanding, and support.
  6. We will stay open for business to help all those we can within our best abilities. We will raise funds to the best of our abilities. We will create and maintain partnerships to the best of our abilities.

The common theme here is that you all are my top priority. I trust that you will do what you can, when you can, to the fullest extent that you are able.

Without you, there is no Open Communities. Without Open Communities, there is no Housing Justice and Fair Housing.

There. That’s it. That is the contract. I asked for edits, additions, or comments. There were none. I spoke with my (all female) board leadership, waiting for some push back or talk of meeting goals. There were none. The responses were one of kindness. Of shared human experience. No one told me to put on my own mask. We all lived.

Women are leading countries and seeing the most successful outcomes to this pandemic. And now we will craft the human response to the COVID workplace. The COVID Contract.

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