Four months, one hundred twenty-three days, two thousand nine hundred fifty-two hours passed since our world, in Pensacola, Florida, changed, almost overnight. Some days it feels like only yesterday and some days like so much longer. Every morning I wake wondering if this is going to be the day we experience the breakthrough that leads us back to normal and every night I go to sleep praying that tomorrow will be the day. This new normal is so surreal, like The Twilight Zone. In the beginning, it reminded me of post-hurricane times, no school or virtual school, no outings, limited supplies, but with air conditioning and internet. For a little while, the downtime was filled with home projects, reading, or just relaxing. Now the days seem a bit longer and filled with uncertainty. One of my older kids recently said, “One day we will be telling our kids about the days when we didn’t have to wear masks and people had large weddings and receptions.” She was kind of joking, but kind of not. The reality is we do not know how or when this pandemic will cease or what our new normal will look like. Yes, first world problems still. I can look around me and see how very fortunate I am, life could be far worse and for that I am grateful. My sadness is not for me, it is for my children and their peers.
My children’s, the young adult ones, lives changed so dramatically, seemingly overnight. The professional school and college experiences look very different now than they did four months ago. These young people should be “enjoying” the prime of their lives, learning about their chosen career paths, pursuing their passions, making friends, making mistakes and learning the valuable lessons that accompany them, and seeing the world. Instead, they are studying from their high school bedrooms, seeking out wi-fi in socially distanced coffee shops with masks on. They do not know if they will return to school physically and attend class virtually from their dorm room or apartment or if they will instead spend this year of school in their high school bedroom at home. Uncertainty abounds. Yet they persevere and roll with the uncertainty far better than their fifty year old, set in her ways, mom and younger brother, Matthew. Matthew wakes up many days asking, “Is it virus day?” He understands there is a virus (illness) that we can catch (or give) and that the virus is what keeps us from going to school, going on vacation, visiting family, seeing a movie in the theatre and requires us to wear a mask. He does not love the mask, but he wears it. He actually underwent testing for the virus, not once, but TWICE. Try explaining to a fifteen year old with autism why a perfect stranger in full hazmat gear is about to walk up to our open car window and stick a cotton swab up his nose to his brain and that he must remain perfectly still while he does so. Fortunately, he survived with negative results both times. In the beginning of our quarantine, Matthew loved the time at home. He attended “school” with Mrs. Mommy, we rarely left the house except for french fries, chicken and coke with no ice, and we did Mass online. His perfect world. He trained for this social distancing thing for years.
Yet, as we began to re-open our city and our state, he enjoyed getting out of the house and not “staying home all day.” Going to the beach, enjoying in-person piano lessons with Mrs. Stephanie, eating in a restaurant, and attending autism camp became fun. A child who normally avoided social interaction when possible really looked forward to camp and this made my heart so happy. This new-found attitude gave me pause that his return to school, at a brand new and new-to-him school, in the fall might not be as difficult as I feared. Unfortunately, everyone enjoyed these new freedoms too much and we are now experiencing a surge unlike our city or state has seen before. This new surge and the related risks make me question the return to school and normalcy. I fear that we will face many more “virus days” and normalcy, when and if it returns, may look very different than it did before.
I hope and I pray that in four more months, one hundred twenty-three more days, two thousand nine hundred fifty-two more hours, we will look back on this time and see the lessons learned and prayers answered. I hope everyone can find some good, even those who have lost and sacrificed so much. I know I will be, and already am, grateful for the gift of time with my immediate family, memories made, stories shared. I am grateful for the healthcare workers who care for the ill, for the grocery workers who keep the shelves stocked, for our local politicians who have made difficult decisions with all of our interests in mind, for the teachers who are preparing for our return to school, for all of those who continue to make our days better and brighter. Mostly I am grateful for a full nest at home. We rarely experience a full nest at the Parra house. For a few weeks, the nest is full and joyful noise abounds. In the midst of the chaos, there is joy. There is joy to be found even on “virus days”, you just have to look for it.