I was calm until I read about colleges staying closed until September 2022

Each night before I go to sleep, I lay in bed torturing myself with the day’s news. I know we are not supposed to do that, but there are very few vices I can fully engage in when we have five people living in a 1000-square-foot apartment. Screen-time news right before bed is a vice that takes very little space and does not involve the bathroom.

Wait. You’re wondering about the five people, right? I didn’t know our apartment is actually approved for only two people. I found it out when I told the leasing company that my Ex will be staying with us for an extended time. I said, “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine. Maybe I’ll make a second castle to sleep in.”

Grace is the fifth person. She is 22. Canadian. She is in my writing course and she has a great job at a big tech company. I told her she has autism and she didn’t believe me.

I sent her lists of traits she has that make anyone who has autism know she does, too.

She didn’t believe me.

I screamed when she wrote stories that displayed no self-knowledge. “Your stories are about living with autism but because you don’t understand autism you can’t see the conflict.”

Then one day she sent me a story about how she went to three psychologists and none had information about how to diagnose grown women with autism. They were guessing. Grace wrote autism heartbreak like a pro. Then she wrote stories about looking for someone to live with who didn’t want to do shelter and stay alone.

When she went four weeks without talking to someone in person, I joined the legion of editors who get too close to the writers they work with:  “You can shelter and stay here,” I told her. “We have an extra bed.”  I told myself she would quell my loneliness and she’d help my older son do a summer project to add to his college application, which, as you can imagine, I have been working on with him for the last five years.

I told the leasing company Grace is here for an unknown period of time. And my Ex. The leasing company thinks I’m nuts but Boston is not allowing evictions during Coronavirus. And I’m thinking that five people is better than three. It’s nice and cozy with just me and the boys. But the boys need more than just me. And while kids can talk with their friends, I notice that conversations are waning as the kids feel more and more isolated. And the kids have very little contact with other adults.

My kids were very close to tutors who they saw every day and music teachers who were involved with much more of their life than a simple music lesson. The first thing I noticed about shelter and stay is the dearth of adults to give my kids another point of view besides mine.

So I’m happy that Grace has a perspective that is unfamiliar to the boys. Her parents are Chinese immigrants, and she has a real job that she does every day from our house. The boys have heard bits and pieces of thousands of my coaching sessions, but they have never heard a meeting at a Fortune 500 company. My son’s assessment: “Hey, mom. I noticed no one is screaming about it’s time for the women to stop working and have a baby.”

As homeschoolers, we have very little patience for lessons on Zoom. We tried online learning years ago and I saw how difficult is for kids to connect to the material online. The teacher’s enthusiasm is what matters most, so we adjusted:  my kids learned whatever was exciting to the adults we had access to. Excitement about a subject makes the subject exciting. And very few teachers are able to effectively convey excitement on video.

As I write this I think I should be making so much money during the pandemic because I’m great teaching on video. And my career coaching business is great because everyone has to make a new plan for their career. I could be working so much right now.

But I’m consumed with the news, like yesterday’s report on CNN: Harvard’s medical school faculty have published a paper in Science that suggests that unless we get a vaccine really fast, we will be shelter and stay until 2022. Another report shows that our initial assumptions about coronavirus were so off base that right now we don’t even know how to test for antibodies.

This means that colleges will not open for 2020 or 2021. I have a son applying to college this fall and not only will there be no SATs and almost no AP tests, but there will be no precedent for how to evaluate kids and how many to accept when school is not opening.

If your kid is ten, forget college unless they are going to the Ivy League where endowments are so big not even a pandemic can bring them down. By the time your kid is college aged we will not pretend that people need college in order to enter adult life. But if you have a kid who is 14 – 23 they will be hit hardest. If this pandemic is like a war, they are the generation that is going to war. My kids are the age the boys were when they fought in World War I and became the Lost Generation and wrote books about their world being destroyed and then shot themselves during the Great Depression.

I have to go down to our building lobby because the apartment is way too small to hold all my anxiety.

My son follows me. He says, “Let’s go for a walk mom. It’ll be okay.” And he hands me a mask.

43 replies
  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Still in college, unfortunately ;) My Uni moved everything to zoom, and is now capable of doing it all zoom through until the end. As a therapist in training, my required internship is the most disrupted but even that is being overcome by training student more so they can do telehealth during the internship. Your son may be attending college from your couch.

  2. funkright
    funkright says:

    In “Donald Trump’s America” I can’t see the economy nor colleges being shut down until 2022,, much less past the next few months. I try to listen to a variety of news sources, but it seems as though the POTUS’s network is driving the message that America needs to open sooner than later, knowing full well that more deaths will result, but that the economy MUST come first. So, if you don’t want to see this occur your only choice is to replace the Idiot & Chief. Otherwise expect that there will be 100’s of 1000’s of dead or millions; all at the alter of Capitalism and its Cronies…

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      As I commented below in another comment, your comment shows a lack of understanding of the horrific ramifications of keeping the economy closed. It’s about people!

      • jana
        jana says:

        Millions of children at home, alone, scared, bored and a recipe for disaster. Vulnerable to online porn, pedophiles, violence. Where we live there are 19 deaths out of a population of 3.17 million people. This is fact. This is data. We need to open up the Nation. The models were wrong-it’s time to abandon them.

        • Bessie
          Bessie says:

          You are so very right, but sadly so many will clutch the false model simply to be in opposition of Trump. They will not come off script or be disloyal to their group think. People who are doing their research and using common sense are being bullied all over the place just because their critical reasoning happens to fall in line with Trump’s reasoning. This kind of insanity is what made me switch my vote and #WalkAway.

      • harris497
        harris497 says:

        Disagreeing with your position does not equate to ignorance. You subscribe to the idea that the economy will be permanently harmed by attempts to flatten the curve. Unfortunately, if we do not do this, we will end up like Italy, where the tsunami of victims overwhelmed the medical system. We continue to be concerned about the most vulnerable among us and that is where we should focus right now. The usual focus on self interest or politics should take a backseat. Just ask any New Yorker or folks in NJ. This virus is not like any other it is very contagious and it kills! Set your politics and focus on $ aside for a while, in honor of my dead friends and ill family members I have.

  3. MF
    MF says:

    Hi! I have to say you are great with catastrophizing. No wonder you’re a writer! Makes for an interesting plot but it’s not reality. Be thankful that you’re not a fortune teller. You/we don’t know whats going to happen in the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow much less 2 years from now. Who knows what life will e like then? We THINK we know, based on past experiences, but that’s just imaginary thinking. We’re all making it up. No point in freaking yourself out over it. It’s not real. The only thing we can do, and have ever done, is stay open and respond as best we can in the moment. Also, I have to ask: What’s up with this penchant for diagnosing women in particular with Aspergers. It’s like an obsession. And weirdly bullying. Why are you so identified with it? You’re not a doctor, right? I’m really asking because I may have missed that. And wanting all women to quit working and have babies? I just don’t get it. I wish people, men & women alike, would stop telling all women what to do with our lives just because you may have found what works for yours.

    Like your apartment. If you were brown or black, you would be getting kicked out of your apartment. What you’re doing is called overcrowding and landlords use that against people with less privilege than yourself who have bigger families and cannot afford a bigger place. But you’ll get to keep being in yours and you feel that’s your right. Next time remember that when you hear of a black or brown family being kicked out of their home for creating a ‘slum’ or ‘ghetto.’

    I think I signed up for your newsletter because you teach a writing class or I must have read one of your articles and liked it. But honestly, you sound so right wing that I’m coming to see that it’s not a good fit. At this point we have a president representing the right wing who is making all these decisions to send everyone back to work and reopen the economy before it may be safest to do so based on capitalism and consumerism (which if you want all women to quit work and have babies I guess all the men have to run out and support you), I suppose that makes sense to you. Whatever.

    EVERYONE’S life has been impacted greatly, not just yours. Our culture and values are so individualistic it seems we have lost the ability to act communally, even to save lives.

    • Mook
      Mook says:

      To MF, you’ve made about 10,000 assumptions and critical statements. I’ll just pick one… Penelope is not anti women… she just has very strong and atypical opinions… you need to read some of her earlier articles about home schooling and work life balance and it will make a little bit more sense (even if you disagree).

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      I’ve been reading Penelope for years, & the last thing i I’d call her is “right wing.” I’m conservative & disagree with her on many things, but she always gives me something to consider.

      Keeping the economy closed is going to increase suicides, depression, cancer & other medical deaths (no surgeries except emergencies), severely impact our food & other supply chain (limited harvesting & manufacturing), millions of people having no livelihood, etc etc. The President & Governors have to take this all into consideration. There’s nothing simple about it, & it’s overly simplistic to say is all about “capitalism.”

    • Joe
      Joe says:


      In my opinion, Penelope is not getting kicked out of her apartment because of her skin color. She’s allowed to stay simply because of a covid dispensation. Once all these exemptions are no longer in play, she’d be evicted for overcrowding like anybody else. Can’t imagine a landlord making some sort of exception that would surely get him in trouble as well.

      • J.E.
        J.E. says:

        If the apartment is only approved for two people, how did Penelope get approved before? She’s with two children, so that put them one over the limit anyway.

        • Mariella
          Mariella says:

          And why would it only be approved for two people? A 1000-square-foot-apartment is plenty for four people. I lived on 750 with two other people for years and it was more than big enough. But then I’m not American.

    • Kitty Kilian
      Kitty Kilian says:

      I agree with the others about how to judge Penelope, but I do feel your anger. Even as a European I am shocked by the Covid19 statistics in the US. How the virus is highlinghting some of the US’s big problems – segregation.

      The prognoses over here are just as bad as Penelope’s, but then again they may change with new research results.

      I cannot see how governments can keep their economies closed for much longer. They all face a huge moral and economic dilemma.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      The people who say “don’t try to figure it out ahead of time” or “don’t try to predict” don’t understand — even the very-worried may be better prepared for whatever the future turns out to be IF they have worked through a whole variety of possibilities.

      They will have been able to model various scenarios, and might have their own strategy. Even if they have to work through a whole handful.

      The “don’t worry, be happy” crowd are guaranteed not to be prepared.

    • Not that Melissa
      Not that Melissa says:

      It’s funny that you can’t understand that a woman with Asperger’s why she is obsessing about… women with Aspergers. Also you’re the one who framed neurodivergence as pejorative, SO WHO’S THE BULLY NOW?

  4. Jane
    Jane says:

    I’m sorry Penelope. So glad you have other adults around you now. Raising kids does take a community and when you can provide that it would help both the kids and the parents. As much as I would like to live on my own, I’m glad I live with my in laws and my brother in law’s family now that I have two little toddlers.

    As for college, I think they are aware of that. I hope they won’t delay admissions and just do mostly online learning and then hopefully by 2022 your son will still get to experience 2 years of being on campus and real college life. My cousin ended up taking community college and then applied for and attended university for the last two years. So his first two years in community college was pretty intense, lived at home, so not exactly experiencing the campus life until later. And I think you’re idea of bringing different people and tutors to your sons is great. So hang in there!

  5. Joe Fecarotta
    Joe Fecarotta says:

    With a website like happy wisdom, you might expect me to be an optimist, and you’d be right. But seriously, Penelope, do not sweat this. I go to a lot of conferences, and I’ve already got an email for one in August saying they’ve been approved to move forward. That’s in Seattle, mind you. Business cannot stop for much longer, nor can college, or people. The sad parts will be many: wearing masks, washing hands, and loved ones getting ill with this nasty bug, but the machine of civilization will not stop because it is a living system. That, and we’ve never been more unified as a species against something. I expect humanity to rise to this challenge, like the nuclear challenge, and emerge victoriously.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I see it this way too. There will be new things that become part of everyday life until a vaccine, like wearing a mask while out most places. I can see designers adding masks to their collections. Every desk in an office having a big pump of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Perhaps open floor plan offices being reconsidered, which I wouldn’t mind at all since I strongly dislike them. Allowing employees who have jobs they can do from home to work from home more often and places that previously had a hard stance against working from home having to change that. I’m hoping much needed, long overdue reforms come from this and people don’t get a short memory in the event of a vaccine and say “screw it” and go back to what the status quo was before.

  6. harris497
    harris497 says:


    It’s the simple acts of kindness that keep us from degenerating, and show our humanity. Your boy was raised well; take comfort in that. This won’t last forever.

  7. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    My son is supposed to be starting his freshman year of college in the fall and I have another son right behind him. Such uncertain times.

  8. MB
    MB says:

    Issue #1. CNN. Stop watching. They fear-monger.
    Issue # 2. Harvard study.

    We will all adapt. We are adapting. It will be okay.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      Yes, so many news outlets, even ones that had once been highly respected devolved into fear mongering quite a while ago. There’s no RNN-Rational News Network.

  9. Sharla Stremski
    Sharla Stremski says:

    My stepson was doing his first semester in college when this hit. He selected his college because he liked the extensive lab facilities, which are all open to all students. Now he can’t use any of the labs and all his classes are on Zoom and its really not going well.

  10. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I’m also a bit concerned about the college situation. My son will be entering as a Freshman this fall (he recently decided to go earlier than expected), and part of what he’s looking forward to is the camaraderie of like-minded kids. I don’t see that being so successful online. He’s also looking forward to having everything he needs close by on campus, which likewise. The courses aren’t the entirety of college. I think it would be a loss, and an added difficulty, for him not to be able to go to campus in the fall.

    I expect that social distancing will go through waves. I wonder if some colleges will decide, in future waves, to social distance the old professors rather than the young students.

  11. Meg
    Meg says:

    Something Penelope said a long time ago has stuck with me. She said she was surprised that more people don’t kill themselves. She said life is really hard and she is surprised that more don’t do it. And that was before. This time is so hopeless for so many. Businesses gone, careers gone, or never started. And college. No dating. Isolation. Nothing normal.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Yes, it is very bleak right now. But a lot of people believe, and correctly so, that it will not always be like this. So just enduring and being very, very patient may pay off quite well in the long run.

      Remember the old saying, “hope springs eternal.” All it will take it some improvement, an incremental movement upward. And there will be hope again . . .

  12. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    I remember a student newspaper sports editor being annoyed when I said that more people read the entertainment section than the sports. I was myself annoyed when a communications teacher said more people get news from TV than from newspaper.

    At the risk of annoying you, maybe you could read a newspaper by day, (which would handle any news-guilt) and then end your evening with re-runs of a TV comfort-show like Friends or Dallas. (Neither of which I watch)
    The traditional newspaper medium has the best facts, the most words, and no fake news.

  13. Introspect
    Introspect says:

    You invite random people to live with you not because of the pandemic or whatever scapegoat reason you’re saying about your kids, but because you have always done it – you have an itch to always have someone around who idolizes and respects you, someone you can guide and play guru to. Have you ever gone very long without a lackey living with you? Pitifully un-self-aware. I guess Melissa doesn’t scratch that self worth itch anymore for you, she seems to be absent. Need a new lackey.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      About Penelope always wanting extra people around . . . maybe yes, the lackey aspect. But I have known a few other (women) like her. And after giving it a lot of thought, I am of the opinion that each of them was attacked and did not feel safe — and were not in fact safe — when they were young, if they were ever alone. All 3 that I think of right offhand were in that situation.

      That turns into a lifelong need to never really be alone, if at all possible.

      On the other hand, I know several women who only feel safe when they ARE alone. Opposite problem . . . being among people, whether it would have been adults or other kids, was not safe when they were young. These are the women who long for solitude, and send of “leave me alone” vibes if they have to be social very much.

      Here is a question: does Penelope’s need to always have someone around, really mean always needing to have another female? And if so, is it that safety “thing”?

      After I had realized this about the other women that I do actually know, it was a lot easier to be sympathetic. Understanding helps.

  14. Derald
    Derald says:

    Thanks for this story! I recently reconnected with a friend whom I dated many years ago, and she told me she has autism. I had very few clues and never put them together, so this revelation has really changed my perspective. Also, it was she who introduced me to your work, indirectly

  15. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Another harbinger of extended togetherness: Gov. Baker has decreed that all schools in MA must remain shut not only for the rest of the school year, but until September.

    It’s traditional in MA for public school to start after Labor Day. So Baker is probably thinking about that. But private schools and colleges frequently start before Labor Day. That means the camel’s nose is in the tent now – some schools will have to reschedule (at the least) their fall semesters. Baker’s edict doesn’t mention colleges, and they’re probably scrambling to figure out what to do.

    Also, this probably means that all summer camps are not going to happen. Almost all private schools and colleges run summer programs these days, or at the least rent out their campus to multiple groups for that purpose. If the schools are shut, then the summer programs must be cancelled too.

    Parents, it’s just you and the kids for the foreseeable future. Take care of Generation C.

  16. Dale
    Dale says:

    I pity the teenagers who were about to start dating. However, 2022 may be optimistic. The figures for Ohio are that maybe 0.1% of the population have had Covid-19 and at that rate herd immunity is 50 years away. Will there be a vaccine by 2022? Maybe.

  17. Diedre
    Diedre says:

    You’re being way too fanciful and optimistic. Your business is going to suffer. We all are. People aren’t going to be able to pay your high fees. It would be insane to pay for something like coaching when you have to Save money. Your best bet are cheaper classes. The kids are totally screwed. Who do you think will pay these trillions back? My kids are tweens and I’m freaked out even for them. You’re lucky to have a crowd.I think you do this bc you feel so guilty about home schooling and socialization. It doesn’t seem like your kids have many friends and you blame yourself but they seem totally happy. You don’t seem to have many real friends and get off on interaction with clients which is real relationships too. You stop paying tutors though those “friends” vanish. You can’t feel guilty about that. You’re not responsible for social interactions Penelope. No every successful woman isn’t an aspie. What is aspie about Sheryl Sandberg??? She’s not butch either. We like to diagnose in others what we have. Not every language disorder is autism. Not every social awkwardness is autism. Does your older son consider himself autistic? Younger? You meet all the criteria for bipolar and some for bpd. I don’t see the aspie but I don’t know you. I just don’t know aspies as emotional as you or as in tune with their own feelings. As an aside Will you and the Ex reunite? It’s like Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. I’m pulling for them!!

  18. Mariella
    Mariella says:

    I’m 23 and finishing up my Master’s right now, I only have a paper and my thesis left to write, so I was planning on spending this last semester at home anyway. I was going to finish my studies in September but I’m definitely going to extend that and stay at uni for one more semester (which is possible where I am in Europe). No way am I gonna try and find a job in the creative sector this autumn. However seeing as I am an English major I always knew my degree was mostly for fun and not all that useful so I was always prepared for possible having a really boring, low-paying job that has nothing to do with my degree, so I guess it’s not as bad for me as it is for many other graduates who HAVE to finish now, had counted on a good salary etc.

  19. Maya Williams
    Maya Williams says:

    Dear Penelope, Just found your website because I found an old article, I think from 2010? you wrote titled: HOW SCHOOL AFFECTS FUTURE EARNING POWER, I kept it and everything you said holds up to the test of time for me – Except your 1st point and I’m wondering if you’ve followed the data or shifted your viewpoint on the benefits of early classroom/Head Start programs? Because follow up research on Head Start programs shows that any value for kids is over by 3rd grade. And early reading/academics taking the place of more important social skills and general development in the child and away from time with a variety of ages and adults isn’t useful in the long run for brain development.

    There is also brain science that shows that if a child is taught to read before their brain is ready they may adapt and use a part of the brain that will only take them to again about the 3rd grade level. Up to that time they are basically learning to read (reading to learn to read). When it’s time to start reading to learn, they can’t abstract, they’ve learned to read with a lower part of the brain that was available and have great trouble (basically have to relearn) to read with a higher part of the brain to be able to read to learn.

    I’m highly influenced by the Vancouver, BC based work of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, MD who wrote Hold On To Your Kids, Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers. https://neufeldinstitute.org/resources/hold-on-to-your-kids-book/ Gabor Maté, well just google him and enjoy tons of amazing youtubes on human development.

    PS just found your online presence – super duper.

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