It was my son’s first day at a new preschool. The teacher and I discussed his entry ahead of time, and I followed the script. I stood in the doorway while she led him up to the front of the classroom. She propped him up on her lap in her special storytime armchair, opened an oversized book, and asked him to point out different farm animals. As his eyes scanned the huge cardboard page of happy-faced animals, he reached up and grabbed onto his hair—his reflexive sign of distress. Then he glanced at me across the room, and his bottom lip started to quiver.
I smiled too brightly, waved too enthusiastically, and called out, “Have fun. See you later!” I turned and walked away before I could see his tears.
It’s going to be OK, I reassured myself. To prepare for this moment, I had read articles about preschool separation anxiety.
Then came his first day of kindergarten at the neighborhood school. It was a balmy fall day, and he and I walked together holding hands while brainstorming about the wonderful things that would happen in kindergarten. When the schoolyard came into view, he slipped his hand out of mine. As we stepped onto school property, his pace quickened and mine, respectfully, slowed down. He took his spot in line by the designated entrance, just as we had practiced at kindergarten orientation. The school bell rang. Before the door opened, he looked over his shoulder, caught my eye, and waved gleefully, his whole body bursting with excitement, so much so that his lunch box banged against his thighs.
I smiled too brightly, waved too enthusiastically, and called out, “Have fun. See you later!” I then turned away before he could see the quiver of my bottom lip and tears in my eye.
It’s going to be OK, I reminded myself. I had read accounts of mothers and the kindergarten empty nest syndrome to be ready for this day.
Thankfully, everything has been OK to date. My son and I have made it through the major developmental milestones. I expected his transition to college to be difficult, but it wasn’t. He was up for the new challenge, and it was time to pull back in my parenting. In preparation, I had sought advice from other parents of college students on the typical pitfalls of freshman year. Confident we had a script for first-year college success, I thought we were ready for anything.
The unforeseen COVID-19 crisis, however, has drastically changed our script.
Like so many other students, my son was exiled from campus in March and returned home to finish his course work online. And while this was not the challenge he was anticipating, it has been a very challenging time for both of us. Boredom, frustration, exasperation, and anxiety colored our confinement, and each of us had moments when we looked at one another and our bottom lips have begun to quiver while our eyes have filled with tears.
Is it going to be OK? While watching the news and perusing social media, we confronted devastating stories.
I reassured us both, though, that in the long term things will be OK. In the short term, however, there are still too many unknowns.
The near future holds bitter disappointments for my son and his peers including canceled internships, unfunded grants, and rescinded summer job offers. Then there is the looming specter of online classes in the fall. My son is adamant he does not want to re-enroll if this is the case. Instead, he thinks he may want to take a gap year. What this might look like will take quite a bit of planning.
Here I can help him, in a new, different iteration of my role as a mother.
Together we are trying to think strategically not just about what he might find engaging, but also, what might make sense in the post-confinement life landscape. Virtual platform expansion, medical research, government social services, and start-up delivery services seem like promising fields to pursue. Concert and event planning, not so much—in the short term. We brainstorm possible options, realizing neither of us knows for certain what the next few months will look like. Still, we are collaborating together—in ways we have never before done—to create a plausible plan.
For now, we are both working hard to give each other space in otherwise claustrophobic circumstances. We are also trying to lift one another up in each of our individual moments of feeling down. And we are genuinely trying to reassure one another that it is going to be OK; we will get through this. While we haven’t read the script about these times, together we are writing our own.