When the pandemic started a year ago my son Alex was a junior in high school. For him, the biggest impact wasn’t the distance learning, it was all the activities that were cancelled including concert band, theatre, marching band, jazz band, track, cross country and so on.
He was bummed but overall he said he was fine. “At least I am not a senior,” he said. They were the ones who endured a muted end to high school as they lost out on their last year of activities, graduation and parties.
The hope for Alex, of course, was that the pandemic would recede during the summer and life would get back to normal by fall. But, as we all know, that didn’t happen.
Life did not go back to normal this fall
Alex had always planned for his senior year to be his fun year. He had taken most of his harder classes the previous years and was looking forward to focusing on music, theatre, sports, and friends for his final year. But as fall approached and activities started getting cancelled or restricted, his enthusiasm was soon was replaced by disappointment. Sure, you can do classes online, but you can’t play in a jazz band or theatre online.
Cross country was another disappointment. He had made state his junior year and this year he was looking forward to going again and this time maybe even beating the school record. But even though he qualified for state, the event ended up getting cancelled. This not only cut short the pinnacle of his cross country career, but also ended any scholarships hopes he might get for college.
My son mostly missed his friends
Most of all, though, he was missing out on his friends. His circle of friends had been together since elementary school. They were all going to different colleges and this was supposed to be their last year together as a close-knit group. Now he was losing that too.
But still that wasn’t the worst. The hardest part for Alex was that he couldn’t really complain about it. After all, so many people in this pandemic was losing so much more than him including their jobs, security, health and even their lives.
So how could he complain about a little school inconvenience when so many others had it worse? In short, not only was he being robbed of his senior year, but he was also being robbed of his ability to feel bad about it.
As a dad what could I say to comfort my son?
As a father, I wanted to offer some advice. But what could I say? Do I tell him to look on the bright side / focus on the positive / count his blessings? Do I tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself, suck it up and be happy with what he does have?
How do you find a balance between acknowledging his feelings and not letting him wallow in self-pity? How do you help him work through his issues while still letting him figure it out on his own? How do you encourage him to be happy while also encouraging his drive to make things better? How do you guide him to accept the way things are and yet not accept the way things are?
None of my experiences prepared me for this
The truth is I don’t know if I have any advice. This is all new to me too. With everything I’ve lived through – stock market crash, gulf war, 9/11, getting laid off, and real-estate crunch – none of my experiences could have prepared for something like this.
We are one of the lucky ones. Because I know once this pandemic is over, our lives will go on. He will go to college, he will find new friends, and eventually 2020 and 21 will become something he’ll talk to his kids about. So there was only one thing I could think of to say.
I told him “Son, the best thing you can do is focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.” In other words, if you can’t do what you want, then do what you can. If you can’t hang with your friends in person, then hang with them online. If you can’t play in a band, then play on your own. If you can’t beat the school record in state, then beat it on your own.
After all, your senior year doesn’t make you, you make your senior year.