Global pandemics and children have something in common: they have lots to teach us if we’re willing to learn. We’re all wading through fog and debris as parents, caregivers, and loved ones of the children in our lives. What follows is a chronicle of our family’s most recent learnings courtesy of the school of life.
Raise your hand if the word school makes you shudder, shake your head, laugh, cry, or pray. Or, name your feelings, and know you’re not alone. With a senior in high school, a junior in college, and a first-year grad school student, we’ve been going through a full range of stressors and emotions. For the last several months, four of us have lived at home while my oldest lives with my dad in town. We’re an atypically tight family where my kids still love to spill their feelings out to me. I know I’m blessed by that.
My two younger girls have been best friends since forever. My middle daughter, Kaia, did what she does best – take care of people. Kaia spoiled me with dalgona coffee and daily lunch and dinner. She and Jaiya went grocery shopping and ran all of our errands. Kaia made bagels, pretzels, and apple hand pies from scratch. The girls enjoyed picnics on our back lawn. We enjoyed our time together here at our house, where we felt safe. Every night, as we gathered in our living room to watch our nightly Korean drama, I’d look around, thank and praise God, and think: this is special. I need to remember this.
After five months together, the time came for Kaia to return to college. Yes, all of her classes are online, but she’s a junior with a full scholarship, so her apartment and roommate were the promises of this year that she clung to throughout the summer. She’s didn’t need our money, so I felt like I couldn’t tell her, “you’re not going.” We all helped her prepare mentally and with plenty of wipes, sanitizer, and masks. I cried for days before she left; I didn’t try to hide it. I was scared and sad. Even typing this evokes tears.
All five of us drove up to move her in, and because she didn’t want us to be sad, David and I left quickly and let her sisters help her get settled. The first night without her, I sobbed through cutting cauliflower. The next night, I cried as I prepared zucchini. Each day, I cried a little less. I’d been through this before; I’d get through it again. Not in a global pandemic, mind you. But still, I had to get it together.
What we didn’t expect was that ten days later, I’d be driving back to school to bring Kaia home. She experienced severe depression and isolation after realizing that some of her peers were not interested in making intelligent choices regarding COVID-19 safety precautions. The shuttle her apartment offered stopped its service at 4:30 pm instead of 11:30 pm. Kaia doesn’t have a car. She wasn’t near a park where she could walk. She lost four pounds in ten days and had fears of harming herself. In one of our conversations, Kaia admitted: “When I was at home, it felt like I was doing all of this stuff for other people. Now I realize you were letting me do whatever I wanted.”
Wow. She figured that out, huh. I thought to myself. Kaia chose the menu for our meals every day and wrote it on the whiteboard on our fridge. She went to Spring Grove almost every day to walk, usually with Jaiya in tow. She exercised every evening with Jaiya in our dining room. She set our daily schedule around the things she wanted to do. It took her leaving to realize all of that. In her cute little apartment with mini lights and art prints, she discovered that what she needed most was her cats, her park, and her family.
Here, Kaia could find the control we all seek as we walk through this pandemic. We want to find our corner where we can be in charge, visualize an outcome, and make it happen the way we see it in our minds. We’ve all got something to mourn that we’ve lost. Most days, we want to figure out a way for something to work and feel okay about celebrating small victories. Sometimes that thing is planning a meal or walking three miles. Sometimes that thing is laughing with your sister at your dad, who does dad things. We celebrate and cherish victories of all shapes and sizes.
It’s been four weeks since I brought Kaia home. Thankfully, she’s thriving again. The transformation began immediately. She’s healthy, happy, stressed, struggling with online classes, cranky, and generally back to the Kaia we love. Best of all, we’re going through both pandemics together. Her roommate wishes she would return, and she still feels FOMO thanks to social media. She’ll mention the thought of going back, only to say some form of “no way” in her next breath.
I’m thankful for all of us being open to the Spirit moving in our lives and being brave enough to say yes to what’s important to us regardless of what others think. Teenagers and young adults need acceptance from their peers more than their families, so I know moving home was a bold move. I thank God every day that Kaia has a source of strength we can’t see or understand. Yet we can choose it every day. Amen.