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.
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.