I’ve got some fun topics planned for the next few blogs, one coming Sunday in particular about dance and movement – and I think you’ll want to tune in, as the schools have now been closed until May 15th (yikes, but kudos to our governor with the “taking it one step at a time” approach). Our mental health depends on movement! Trust me, I won’t be doling out advice on mental health any time soon – but I am looking at all the ways I can keep mine in check and I’ll share them with you as I figure them out (hello chocolate).
Before I move on from the acute experience our family had with COVID-19, there’s one important voice to hear, so I interviewed her.
And again, because my interview skills are that of a novice, I didn’t hear what I wanted. (Learning as I go!)
No woman reading this right now would go back to being a fourteen-year-old girl in middle school.
Now imagine being a fourteen-year-old girl during something called “coronavirus” and a quarantine.
And to make it all a little “extra,” your dad gets said virus.
And then he has a crazy idea to shave his head for charity and ends up all over the news.
As a mom, there was no way I could have gotten this right, and I will try not to make this about me, although hard. Because I’d like to jump through the screen, show my claws, and grizzly growl at the world right now for a multitude of reasons.
(Who am I kidding, this will totally end up being about me.)
This year has probably been the most difficult yet for my daughter. She started the school year off successfully battling Lyme disease. She also began struggling socially.
Every kid her age struggles to fit in and find themselves, so this isn’t unique to her, and she’s certainly not a victim.
But she found herself under a critical eye because she’s never been afraid to voice her opinion, even if it’s loud, proud, and unpopular.
She also found herself confused, just like her peers, as to what everyone was valuing in themselves and their friendships.
We haven’t sheltered her, but my daughter still has a smidge of innocence. And I think she truly believed that her relationships would withstand cliques, boys, parties, and all the other usual things adolescents do, but at very different speeds.
Since the fall, it’s been a constant source of stress and insecurity for her. A lot of heartbreak and tears. A lot of learning who her friends are. A lot of trial and error in finding out who she is and how she wants to be in this world.
She also discovered new ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Skiing and hiking became something she did regularly and made her heart happy and peaceful.
As her parents, we take a lot of pride in that our daughter hasn’t compromised who she is, no matter what. She is very much her own person and has her own (loud and chatty) voice.
But she also doesn’t like to stand out.
So when the department of health reported that my husband, who had received a positive COVID-19 test the day after school closed, had been to the high school orchestra concert that week, she knew deep down it wasn’t going to be good.
She’s in an orchestra group chat. And as a parent of a child with social media, you know where this is going. And it went fast.
When the news broke (because way back four weeks in a galaxy far far away they were still reporting on those things), the Snapchat messages started coming in right away. And one chat member expressed to the group that the person with the virus “shouldn’t have gone and was trying to get people sick, that he consciously went knowing he had ‘corona.'” (The kids call it “corona,” so we will too today.)
This comment set the tone, and the group chat seemed stuck on that idea of his actions being intentional. (I wish I could say that it was only fourteen-year-olds spreading this, but we had already known this rumor was milling around town.)
She didn’t feel comfortable saying it was her dad because she thought the group would “tell everybody.” And our privacy was important to us initially, as we were the first and only case reported at the time (again, a galaxy far far away!).
We made it a point not to scare our children – trying to be level headed about the virus and its potential impact. In a way, we were also naive at the time, thinking it couldn’t happen to us. We told our kids that as long as we followed the guidelines, we would all be safe.
As a parent, I didn’t know until after how confusing that became for her. This conflicting notion that it wasn’t a big deal, and her dad was okay, but the entire town was having such a strong reaction and the media was reporting horrible things.
Simultaneously, on a separate group chat for her eighth-grade team, those kids were playing detective. “I heard he lives (there),” “I heard (this),” “I heard (that),” and “none of it was true.” From my daughter’s perspective, she said the “weird part” was that “no one knew who it was, but they all talked like they had valuable information.”
“What were they even trying to accomplish? Everyone thinks they know everything about it, but they don’t. We knew because we were going through it. Imagine if that was your dad, and someone said he tried to give people corona by going to an orchestra concert.”
As a fourteen-year-old, I imagine that would be embarrassing.
While we dealt with a thankfully short-lived backlash from the town, we had adults who were putting those fires out for us.
My daughter did not have that support at first.
I can tell you with 100% certainty that if it were your son or daughter, mine would have shut it down immediately. I’m not on a high horse, and I’m not saying she’s perfect! Far from.
But this is one thing I know she would do.
I know this to be true because that voice, and her ability to say “you’re wrong” is the same quality that has made her controversial by some peers this year. She’s learning at a young age who (and what) is worth her efforts and how to express herself more effectively, but it’s been her biggest challenge.
(Guys, she’s bossy, and she owns it!)
So kudos to the one girl that finally after it had gone on too long spoke up and said, “Enough. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re spreading rumors, and this person could be reading this right now.” You saved a classmate from having to watch it play out endlessly, and as a mom, I am eternally grateful for you.
On the flip side of the public speculation, the private reaction from her close friends also upset her.
In her words, she felt that her friends thought, “they would die if they were around her when that clearly wasn’t the case.”
Or they asked if they “needed to be tested since they were around her.”
Listen, I know these girls were scared.
But as her mom, I also know how their fear made my daughter feel.
That’s a hard one to manage.
Because as I’m telling her that people say things out of fear and her friends care about her, her feelings in being the direct recipient of that fear were valid and way more important to me.
To make matters worse, when kids started reaching out to her directly, she said it felt insincere. “If you’re not going to talk to me in school, don’t say you’re here for me, because you’re not. And any other time, you are not going to be here for me.”
What can I say? Girl’s got a point. I don’t disagree with her.
(But I also know: Middle school, confusing time, would never go back!).
Regardless of who reached out, no matter what someone said to her, she felt no one could relate.
Her friends could say “he was going to be okay,” but even she didn’t know he was going to be okay.
As he got worse, she said she “understood he could have made it onto a ventilator.” She didn’t visit my husband for days. I asked her why, and she said “he just laid on his side,” and when she would try and talk to him, “it seemed he couldn’t talk back.”
I find it fascinating that we look for all these physical signs of the virus, and it was his silence that scared her most.
She didn’t want sympathy.
Or negative attention.
Nor did she want people to feel bad or to do things because they thought they had to.
And she didn’t want the looks of: “they’re the people with ‘corona,’ while going out to get the mail, and people are crossing the street because they don’t want to walk past me.”
She wanted people to think my husband was fine – that she was okay.
Her feelings were confusing at home as well.
“My brother had anxiety attacks. My mom was trying to handle everything and get through. And then I was just stuck in the middle watching everyone else’s world happen while I was just standing there.”
She watched me cry when I wasn’t looking because the more days that went on, the harder it became for me to hide my own fear of the unknown, and she wondered to herself, “should I be crying? Maybe it hadn’t hit me?”
I knew in some way she was struggling, and I felt it was vital to express whatever it was that was happening in her head, so I had told her to write in a journal.
When she sat to write, she thought, “I have nothing to write. Maybe I’m not concerned enough. Maybe I need to be more concerned.”
At the time, we were all in different physical locations in the house. We weren’t together. We just tried to get through the days. It was that realization that made her finally break down.
“I didn’t like that. So I started crying because I didn’t know how I should feel about it. I had no one to relate to. I couldn’t call someone and ask, ‘Hey, were you crying when your dad had corona.’ I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t want people commenting on everything we did, or asking questions about us. I wanted to go back to normal.”
And she didn’t come to me because she said she “didn’t want to add another thing for me to worry about.”
If she only knew the level of worry a mom has room for in her heart.
Another frustrating thing she expressed was my friends. She felt that we were a “donation stop.” She knew they were trying to help. But that made the situation seem worse to her.
“The fact that people wanted to know where we lived, that people wanted to be tested who weren’t even with us, people were calling us and then dropping off food” made her think that my husband “was going to die.”
The attention was confusing for her.
I asked my daughter if maybe she realized she’s more private than she thought:
“When I’m going through stuff, I want to figure it out on my own. I want to do this on my own. I want to get through this by myself. I don’t want help. That’s also very me in the real world too – I don’t want help from other people. I want to get where I am. I am here because I worked hard to be here, not because somebody helped me to get here. Not because I know people who helped me get here.”
Fierce. And fiercely independent.
(And maybe she is taking my independent woman thing, and my husband’s “the world owes you nothing” lectures seriously.)
I know that one day, probably very soon, she will look back and be thankful for those who reached out and for the support from the community, because she is our bleeding heart and would do the same thing in her own way.
But she’s fourteen.
Feelings are still new to her – and new emotions are always so much more intense and confusing.
And these feelings are new to us as adults. Add to that the many layers of real-world we have, plus whatever deep-rooted stuff is brought to the surface. (Wait, maybe that’s just me!)
There is just no way to get this right.
But is it my job to get it right?
A common theme in our house is we are always trying to fix things (and I don’t mean stuff around the house, because those things somehow never get fixed, ha!).
But we’re always trying to fix each other’s feelings and problems. With good intentions, of course – who wants to see their loved one suffer?!
Why do we do that?
I’ve been so caught up in trying to make it so that my kids don’t remember that terrifying time their dad got “corona.”
We are trying to change our family’s narrative of this pandemic. And we are indeed successfully adding to the story: My husband took his recovery and used it to fuel a fundraiser for a food bank. We’ve had movie nights, played games, had family walks. The kids planned themed dinners like “black tie night” and “dress as your family member” night. And we really have had so many laughs!
But the other part of that narrative: This situation totally and completely f—ing sucks. They miss their family, their friends, their teachers, their coaches. Forget about all the privileged things they have to give up – because I can manage canceled vacations and sports seasons. But those personal relationships and human connections can not be explained away.
At one point, I asked my daughter if she felt relieved that her dad is better. And her response was this:
“Honestly, I haven’t felt a sense of relief yet. Every time things calm down, things start going again. I just want everything to go back to normal. I want to go back to school. I want to go back to swim. Swim was my therapy. I think about nothing when I swim. I can’t see anyone that’s not in our four-person house. I feel cooped up. And I can’t do anything but think. Nothing has calmed down. It’s changed, but it hasn’t calmed down. My mind just keeps on going.”
I went farther and asked her if there was anything positive from the last month:
“It’s great that we raised money and stuff, but the whole thing overpowers that. I think I’ll walk away saying I hope that never happens again. I never want to relive this. As much as I want to find the positivity, I’m not finding any.”
And then, because I just can’t let it go, and I’m looking for a shred of hope in her, I asked what she thought she’d tell her grandchildren one day about the pandemic:
“Nothing. I wouldn’t want to talk about it.”
She’s nothing if not brutally honest.
I mean, she may change her mind as she gets older (is that me being optimistic again?). But there are indeed people who lived through a terrible time in history, and they don’t talk about it. This is her terrible time in history.
The reality is, my kids aren’t going to just forget about all the negative, no matter how many tallie marks I go for on team positivity. I’m trying to keep score and win at a game I’ve never even seen before – and the other team is killing it right now.
I had to ask one final question, and it was, what advice would she give to other kids her age?
“Just keep going. It will end. It will be over. That’s all I keep doing is just keep going.”
We sat on that thought for a minute as the house got chaotic again. The boys came in from walking the dogs; my son was bouncing all over the couch, my husband was yelling at him to close the door, the dog was barking – pretty typical for a brief moment.
And then my daughter looked me straight in the eye and said: “As much as I love my family, I need a day where I leave in the morning and then I sleep over somebody’s house, and then I don’t come back until the next day.”
I think she felt bad for saying that truth out loud. Because she started to follow up and say, “I mean, it’s great…”
But then she became silent.
So I took that moment, and I tried to fix it like I always do.
“It’s not great. There’s nothing great about it. I think its fine to say, ‘this is not great.'”
Because this just f—ing sucks. And it’s so not great.
The other team is handing us our asses right now.
But I do love a good underdog story.