My college sophomore is standing in the family room wearing the suit his grandfather bought him for his high school graduation, back when his possibilities seemed endless and escaping home for the hallowed halls of his dream college was inevitable.
“Every young man needs a good suit when he heads out into the world,” Grandpa Jim said, and he took my son to the same downtown tailor where he once took my husband at eighteen.
My well-dressed son is giving his father and me a Power Point presentation about why, since he lost his on-campus housing due to the pandemic, we should let him move into his fraternity house. He’s done the research. On a slide entitled COVID PRECAUTIONS, he shares the three-pronged approach developed by his Eta Theta brothers (Greek letters changed to protect my relationship with my son.)
#1. No member may have more than two guests at a time.
(Note: 19 brothers are slated to live in the house so we should be comforted that no more than 57 people will be there at any time.)
#2. The brothers will vote to determine if dues money should be spent to purchase a thermometer.
#3 Two random brothers will be tested weekly for COVID.
We say no. His campus is in a big city still in partial lockdown. Now I have a twenty- year-old man pumping iron in my garage like a convict in his cell. He says he feels imprisoned after months of doing what was necessary for the greater good, while his best friends take advantage of discounted airline tickets, flying to parties in Texas and Michigan.
“They’re insane!” I say, as my son shows me a video of a rave-like gathering shot at a mansion in Austin. No masks. Shared bongs. His friends enjoying sweaty mosh-pit-style dancing, shoulder-to-shoulder, cheek-to-cheek.
My son realizes their behavior is reckless, but as months go by and they continue having fun with no repercussions, he wonders how it’s fair that his summer memories are of playing cards and completing puzzles with his parents while theirs mirror a normal summer, but with cheaper flights.
Stay six-feet apart!
We invite his best friends over for a well-spaced backyard BBQ. I take orders and prepare the burgers inside so condiments don’t need to be shared. One friend says his uncle died of Covid.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I say.
“He had a good long life and we had good times together,” he replies.
“How old was he?”
When you’re nineteen, I guess that seems like a long life.
When you’re 54, not so much.
Our family’s fear of COVID had a portended start. My brother’s family was vacationing in China for the Lunar New Year. They were in Wuhan in early January and made it out on the last US evacuation flight before quarantining in Texas for two weeks. Back then we were naively confident that safety measures taken with passengers on a handful of flights from China were enough to keep the virus half-a-world away.
Wash your hands!
Pre-armed with fear from my brother’s stories, we isolated, sanitized, and mastered ZOOM. For months my pantry had been stocked for an empty-nest. That first-run to the grocery store, before the kids came home, was a two-cart trip. Checkout lines snaked through produce and beyond the cheese. Fellow shoppers were in quizzical disbelief at the Armageddon-like conditions of the soup aisle.
Don’t touch your face!
My college senior is home for our canceled Spring Break trip when “Stay-at-home” orders first go down.
“I’m going back,” she announces.
“I’d rather have you here where I know you’re safe.”
During the week she’s home, as it becomes clear the spread of Coronavirus is not contained, the one thing anchoring me is seeing both children around the dinner table. Things are almost like they used to be when we were a family-of-four squeezing in dinners between sports practices and choir rehearsals, only suddenly we have nowhere to go. Miraculously, I have both kids captive for conversation and board games. Frankly, I’m almost blissful.
Apparently, captivity isn’t attractive when you’re almost 22.
“But we have no idea how long this will last,” she replies, “My things are all there.”
So is her boyfriend.
Scenarios play out in my mind. Germs on un-wiped countertops. Boxes from Amazon brought straight into her apartment. Does she even have 409? In discussions on current events, it’s pretty clear that if the girls run out of toilet paper, they won’t have any newspaper to use.
“Take precautions, honey. It isn’t just about you. Think about your grandparents,” I remind her, choking back tears. I fill her front seat with Clorox wipes and watch her drive away.
Wear your mask!
Stuck at home after prematurely moving out of their dorm, my son and his girlfriend are communicating solely through FaceTime and texts. Five-weeks into lockdown, with both families mostly isolated and working from home, we become “a pod” so our teens can spend time together.
But that was months ago. Back when lockdown had an anticipated end-date. Back before a framework for “reopening the economy” is devised then repeatedly revised. Images on television of bustling bars across the country look foreign to us in California. I envy the normalcy of smiles.
I know that at my children’s ages, I’d have done everything in my power not to alter my near-constant quest to carpe diem. I’ve shared cautionary tales of my mistakes, but I’ve based my parenting on openness to discussion, on setting the foundation for good choices, and then letting them venture out. Is reminding them to “Wash your hands! Wear your mask!” and hoping for the best enough? It can’t be emotionally healthy to hold young-adults captive in our homes for the greater good while they watch the Instagram world move on. There’s no guidebook for parenting in a pandemic. I wish there were. With more questions than answers, I know I’m in no place to write it.