Before I became a mom, when I envisioned arguing with my teen, I thought we’d fight about sex and drugs, not whether she should turn on her camera for class. When I made this comment on Facebook last fall, my friends thought I was just joking. But to be honest, I would be thrilled to catch my 15-year-old daughter smoking pot right now — at least I would know what to say!
When it comes to successfully guiding my daughter through a plague, I’m stumped. By her age, I was no longer a virgin and I was a frequent customer at my high school’s pot locker. My daughter is actually attending the same high school I did, but she’s not sure whether the pot locker is still there. That’s because she’s only set foot in the building a grand total of six days since the pandemic began, for a two-hour-and-45-minute class each time. No, that’s not hyperbole for humor. It’s just the sad math of hybrid learning at an overcrowded New York City public school during a once-in-a-century health crisis.
Even after a year of Zoom and quarantine and death and illness and masks and social distancing and protests, I feel almost as clueless as I did at the outset of this mess. But I have gleaned a few things. I’ve realized that it’s hypocritical of me to demand my daughter stay motivated and focused and on top of her school assignments when I have trouble getting up for work and staggering to my desk just a few feet away from my bed. There are days when I can barely make it through without crying. While doom-scrolling on social media, I see so much loss, of both lives and livelihoods. How can I ask my teen to prioritize her GPA when she would get more out of marching in the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter”? How can I ask her to focus on the future when we have no idea what the new normal will be?
That’s why I’ve been jealous of my friends with college-age kids. So many of those young adults wisely took a gap year to work or indulge their interests, or just to process everything going on. High schoolers don’t have that option. I truly believe my daughter would have been better off pursuing her passions this year (art, acting, and aerial silks) than trying to master Algebra II and AP World History via Zoom — with her pajamas on and her camera off. I do not blame her teachers. They are working overtime to engage their students under insanely challenging conditions. But even the most innovative educators aren’t able to overcome glitchy technology and the trauma hanging in the air.
Because these teens are traumatized. Hell, we’re all traumatized! And, Florida spring breakers and underground NYC sex parties notwithstanding, we are still in the throes of this thing. Yes, vaccinations are speeding up, but the trauma won’t abate anytime soon.
That has changed me as a mom. I used to be a type-A parent with a straight-A student. Now I’m more focused on her grins than her grades. I insist she take walks, not tests. To invoke Courtney Love, I want her to live through this. The mental health crisis these teens are facing is real.
Some of my mom friends think I’m crazy. They’re still obsessing over SAT scores and college acceptance rates. They balked when I said I wasn’t even sure whether my kid was interested in college anymore. As long as she doesn’t sink into the couch or man a pot locker, I’m open to her taking a different path than I anticipated. And why not? Our whole way of life was upended by this. My husband lost his job of 21 years (thankfully, he’s found a new one). I was at half pay for three months and am still at reduced salary. Many of our friends and relatives are suffering from long-haul COVID, and we lost a family member last fall. Why should I ask my daughter to pretend it’s business as usual when everything — education, work, health care, social justice, Reddit-inspired day trading — looks nothing like it did a year ago?
If school does not reopen full-time in-person this fall (a possible scenario in New York), I’m not sure what we’ll do. Maybe I’ll homeschool. OK, who am I kidding? Maybe I’ll hire a tutor. I was open to my daughter dropping out and getting a GED, but her father is wary of a “good enough diploma.” Ultimately, she may just have to muddle through.
And she’ll get something valuable out of that. While pundits and other parents gripe about so-called learning loss (which may not even be a real thing), there’s only one thing I want my daughter to learn from all this: resilience. It may not be one of the three Rs we grew up with, but it’s just as important in the long run. I don’t know what her life will look like on the other side of the pandemic, but as long as she’s still standing, I’ll consider my pandemic parenting a success.
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