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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

I've officially reached the 'conundrum' phase of pandemic parenting

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Did I say I was not going to write about pandemics in specifics anymore? I think I did. But that was probably like a year ago and I’m older and foggier and, oh yes, COVID came for Christmas. No, no, no, it’s fine, really. We’re fine. We were able to get through the bulk of it by convincing ourselves that it was just strep throat. Just strep throat. Holy hell, when did I ever think I would say those words together?? Oh, it’s just strep. Or, it’s just the flu.

‘Tis but a flesh wound.

In case you’re living under a rock, well, me too. I didn’t even know we were getting a new variant this year until it landed in my living room. Perhaps I allowed the “Avoid the news” pendulum to gain a bit too much swing to one side. Hell, I didn’t even know the Kardashians went off the air and, yet, are also coming back, but maybe not now, I don’t know.

Honestly, I’ve been, maybe, a little too focused on the 16-year-old who lives with us and how, it seems, that his group has gotten a bit forgotten in the last half year. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Class of 2020 and how they were shafted out of real graduations and had to start college virtually, yes. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how our elementary school children are showing major gaps in progress. Some are still arguing over whether kids should be wearing masks to school or learning virtually or wondering why the administrators can’t seem to get anything right (quite frequently, the same people having these arguments are also not raising their hands to help ((was that out loud!?!)).

What about that mid-range group? My son hasn’t had a normal year at school since seventh grade. What about him?

As a family, we went into our two week winter break with high hopes of goofing off with friends. We were so looking forward to it after the craze that wrapped up our last 29 months of 2021 and then ... (cue the violins) ... our cohorts came down with COVID. My husband’s best pal around buddy happens to be married to one of my best pal around buddies who are the parents of one of my son’s best pal around buddies. When we get two weeks to pal around each winter, we hit the movies, shop, grab lunches, play board games, make crafts, and enjoy the bliss of charcuterie and wine.

When we got word that they were going to spend their time off with COVID rather than us, it was a kick to the gut.

Hello? Does this count as cheating?

As it turns out, we went man-down in our home almost immediately, as well, when our son came down with, first, a bad cold and, then, definitely strep. Surely. Had to be strep. I didn’t know there was anything else loaded in the chamber. We did take a stab at getting a swab and, in a lucky turn, my husband sweet talked a local Q-tip handler to shove one up the kid’s nose, unofficially. Just to see. The test came back negative for COVID. Obviously. Because it was just strep, right?

When our eldest child started showing the same symptoms, we leapt to get on the swab schedule. Same symptoms equals the same diagnosis, sure, but given a chance to heroically jump through hoops? Sign me up. Plus, we do, on occasion, recognize that neither parent in our home has a degree in anything medically. We did manage to get in for a test (scheduled four days out) and began mainlining the kid with Advil and Tylenol while making a list of antibiotics to pick up next time we head to Mexico (just kidding, Declarations Department).

Our eldest child aced the COVID test. 100% positive. Oh dear.

We had reached Stage 2 of Pandemic Parenting: Conundrum.

After 22 months of avoiding this plague, it had shown up within our four walls. Should we have been surprised that it happened the very day that we finally allowed our son to have a sleepover? No, not at all. We had basically performed a full line of questioning and provided tips on social distancing each time he interacted closely with his friends during that last twenty-two months. Clearly this very spontaneous invite, only given due to incoming snow and living on an amazing sledding hill, would kick off a Murphy’s Law turn of events.

So yes, without sounding like I’m bragging, we essentially invited another family’s child into our COVID hostel. If that’s not a failed parenting flex, I don’t know what is. We weren’t trying to build a super spreader shack, but there we were. As soon as the test results came to me, via text from the doctor’s office, I rang up our guest’s mother to sheepishly share the news. Sharing is caring? Was this a friendship destroyer? Turns out not. She and I had both retired our decision making brains months ago and, therefore, spent the following few hours debating the best course of action while the boys enjoyed the snow, devoid of this potential turn of events information.

Our conversations went like this:

Should I bring him home immediately?

Should we let him stay another few nights to quarantine here?

What about Ibuprofen smoothies? (NO, DO NOT DO THIS. THIS IS A JOKE)

Should we cancel the local Episcopalian services (as the friend’s father is the priest)?

Should we cancel any incoming visitors to our homes?

What about appointments?

Should we take all items off the calendar? When? Now??? When symptoms show???

What if the symptoms never show? How long do we wait for them??

We eventually landed on, “It is what it is.” School would likely be out for the week anyway, thank you, Mother Nature. We decided that if her son was going to become a carrier, he probably already had through the combination of a previous, though outdoors, exposure and then having already spent a video game filled night in our germ factory. This sleepover was one of the most normal activities that had happened to these boys in nearly two years. TWO YEARS! Since March of 2020, we have broken parental records droning on and on about distancing and hand washing and masking and coughing only while hiding under a desk or sneezing only behind a curtain.

Could we not just get through a twenty-four hour reprieve in which our teenage boys could latch onto one day of going up and down a snow covered hill? As teenagers, there is no telling when this kind of innocent joy would be deemed as too childish for them. Could we not just let them have this one win?

That is the conundrum.

Could we not just let them be normal for this moment?

Yes, we decided, we could.

We could go back to doing all the non-normal, normal things after this day of delight. There would be rooms to quarantine in, there would be meals to slide through doorways, there would be glimpses of a masked child venturing to the bathroom. But that would all be tomorrow. Today, we decided, we would just let them carry on.

Last seen, there were two sixteen year old boys building a snowman in the driveway.

It was adorable until I overheard the discussion on how they would be destroying it upon completion.

Last heard, we (the moms) felt an odd sense of relief in finally having a pandemic conversation that did not involve full out panic.

We had moved onto a pandemic conundrum.

That’s not nothing.

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