I blame the purchase of the XL twin sheets for setting off the COVID bomb that blew up my son’s college plans. We waited to make this symbolic purchase, not knowing whether his school would be online or in person. We hoped for the latter and were cautiously optimistic when he received his roommate assignment.
Another email explained the strict social distancing rules that would be enforced in the resident halls. We wondered how college students would abide by the “no gathering” and “constant mask-wearing” expectations.
My husband and I whispered about the worst-case scenario of sending our son across the country for college. What if he gets sick and we are unable to be with him? We made peace with it all and allowed ourselves to get excited about the next phase of our lives, and his.
The email that told my son his semester would be online was crushing
The day after we purchased the dorm bedding, my son got the email. He told me it went down like this: He was upstairs playing video games (which is how he spends most summer days during COVID). A notification from his university caught his eye. He paused the game and saw the subject line, “Important Fall Update.” His stomach lurched. A series of swear words exploded in his head.
He clicked on the email, skimmed through the flowery background crap, and zeroed in on the sentence written in bold type: “We have made the difficult decision to hold all undergraduate courses online for the fall semester.” Boom!
It came as a crushing blow to our whole family: me, my husband and our son. We had weathered the disappointments of senior year cancelations. Even found some positives. The drive-by graduation was a heck of a lot more fun than the traditional ceremony.
But sending him off to college was what I had worked towards for the last eighteen years. Reading to him every night starting as a newborn. Praising him when he began devouring chapter books on his own. Enduring the meltdowns brought on by “busy” homework in grade school. Finally, witnessing him blossom into a teenager who loved to learn inspired by teachers who made him think.
I wanted him to have the experience of living in the dorms and making life-long friends. He is more than ready to move on and in his words,“Get the hell out of here.”
I wasn’t ready to look for silver linings
This summer, I have not seen much of my son even with all three of us quarantining together. A few days a week, he gets up early and goes for a socially distanced run with friends from his cross-country team. On these days, I cheer to myself because he is socializing and getting exercise.
On the other days, he sleeps until noon, makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich for brunch and disappears from my view until dinner time. I cringe thinking the grilled cheese days have been extended through the fall.
I did not want to find the silver lining in his fall semester of college being moved online. I wanted to wallow in sadness. It made me think of our beloved family pet, a beagle named Bernie, who lived to the ripe old age of seventeen. When he came across something putrid like a dead squirrel or dung, his big decision was, do I eat it or roll in it?
I wanted to roll in my disappointment. Get on my back and wiggle around, grinding it into my skin. Emerge with a big brown streak and wear it like a badge of honor. The problem with the stench of self-pity is that it repels people.
I did what all moms do, I rallied
Instead, I did what all we moms do. We rally. I took a shower and cleaned myself up. Reminded myself that, unlike many, we can afford to pay our mortgage, and we don’t know anyone who is sick.
Others are also suffering disappointments. Summer travel plans have been canceled. Our niece’s wedding was postponed. Friends with younger kids are figuring out how their school year will work. So, I dusted off my mom jeans and put them on one leg at a time.
Our family has had a long-standing routine of eating dinner together. Before COVID we would have gulped our food down and dispersed. Quarantine allowed us all to slow down a bit and linger around the dinner table. Allowing conversations to grow.
“How are you feeling about going online?” I asked my son.
“It sucks, but what else am I gonna do?”
“You could take a year off and work or change schools?”
In the end, he decides to stick to the plan. “It is just a few months,” he says. “Maybe by January, it will be back to normal.”
We developed quarantine traditions
After dinner we watch Jeopardy! together. It comes on after the news, which is always in the background as we eat. When quarantine first started, my husband and son had chocolate chip cookie bake-offs after dinner. After packing on the, “COVID ten,” we backed off of desserts. My husband and son replaced their friendly baking competition with battling out who could answer more of the game show questions correctly.
Alex Trebek: “Heads up! It’s a downright dirty 11 letter term for malicious attacks on opponents”
“What is mudslinging!” shouts my son.
“Show-off,” taunts my husband.
My son gives his dad an “I’m-gonna-beat-ya-tonight” kind of smirk.
And he does. He crushes the Government & Politics category. Mr. Jones, his much-loved high school government teacher, would be proud.
An evite for a send-off for one of his good friends comes. The invitation outlined the social distancing guidelines because this is what partying in 2020 looks like:
It will be held outside at a local winery that has plenty of space for social distancing, allowing for gathering of family/friends in groups of less than twenty-five. There will be “no touch” DIY appetizers. Masks will be worn when people are not eating and drinking.
At dinner that night my son murmurs, “I am afraid I am going to get left behind.” My husband and I look down at our food. We pause before speaking. My shoulders sink.
“Not everyone will go. More schools will move to online,” says my husband.
“It sucks,” is all I can muster.
We continue eating in silence. I ponder the future and wonder how we can comfort him as we watch friends trickle on to their new adventures.
Later, I share with my son my feelings of wanting to wallow in disappointment like Bernie when he rolled in something gross. He laughs and acknowledges that is exactly how he feels.
My job as a mom is to listen
My job as a mother is to listen and support. He is an adult now. I need to put him in the driver’s seat so he can pursue his dreams. Weighing the online option on the scale of good and bad does not change reality. Acknowledging that it will be different and focusing on the end goal of learning and gaining knowledge will equip him better than dwelling on the if only’s. I remind myself that suffering builds perseverance.
I pray my son emerges stronger and a more determined individual after our COVID challenge.
His generation will gather the shards and start gluing them back together. I hope the end result will be better than the world that exists today. Maybe the country his generation creates will be one where all people have the chance to thrive—enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Come November, the Class of 2020 will vote for the first time, giving voice to a new generation and new hope.
I gather the XL twin sheets and stash them into the storage closet. We sign-up for parent orientation via Zoom. We hunker in and take it one day at a time.
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