Yesterday our oldest daughter was supposed to graduate from High School. The ceremony was going to be at the auditorium of a somewhat nearby college because there are over 500 seniors in her class and with parents and friends attending, there is no place that large at her school to hold everyone.
There were going to be pictures; lots and lots of pictures. We were going to yell something to her when her name was called, in absolute defiance of the principal’s warning not to do so. I was going to hug her, give her a couple short pieces of advice and tell her how immensely proud I am of her. Of course, I was going to cry.
She was going to see her friends, most of whom she would probably never see again. She was going to smile for hours.
Then, tomorrow, we were going to have a huge party at our house. We were expecting over 100 people to be here. We organized the garage, painted it and put epoxy on the floor to make the garage a much nicer venue for a big bash. There would have been laughter, music, games and lots and lots of food.
The pandemic changed all of this.
Our daughter is still graduating. She will get her diploma, but in the mail a few weeks from now. Her school will have some kind of virtual graduation ceremony in a month and our neighborhood had a quarantine parade to honor all of the seniors in the neighborhood last night. We will absolutely have the big bash we planned to celebrate her graduation, we just don’t know when that will be.
The accomplishment of graduating is more important than the celebration of it. Still, she, her classmates and all of the class of 2020 feel a bit cheated by not having the graduation ceremony and party they earned. Those rituals are a key part of acknowledging the entry into a new stage of life. They know there is nothing they can do about it but it doesn’t make them feel any less disappointment.
So much of our lives have been disrupted or put on hold because of the novel coronavirus. It has made millions sick and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. It has closed businesses, laid off millions, increased hunger, ended travel and delayed celebrations. Our vulnerability as humans have been laid bare.
But so has our resilience. People are adapting to school and work at home, safety precautions at businesses, feeding the hungry and finding ways to have celebrations of birthdays, graduations and weddings.
The class of 2020 is learning a very valuable lesson in all of this. They are learning to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. Living through this, I believe, will help them in solving the complex problems of the future because they have learned many out-of-the-box ways to tackle challenges.
Our daughter, for example, had a “prom” for her and her boyfriend. Instead of hanging out with her friends, she has Facetimed them or gone on a bike ride with them. If the college she is planning to attend in the fall (University of Iowa) goes to online only or some hybrid model of in person and online, she has thought about what she might do such as attend community college for a semester instead. She is cautiously considering to go back to work at the restaurant she was working at before the pandemic.
I am so proud of her. She is smart, mature and happy. I have no concerns about her readiness to move on to the next stage of her life. I know she is going to crush it. It will be a lot quieter here when she goes off to college and we will all miss her terribly but we know she is ready and we know it’s time for her to follow her own path.
Humans are stupid.
We are easily manipulated by our basic instincts of fight or flight. Our complex brains are capable of composing a reality that is completely false. What we perceive to be true is what we believe is true even when it clearly isn’t.
Despite these failings, we humans have the capacity, unlike any other creature, to reason. We are capable of learning new things, being open-minded to new ideas and radically changing our behavior. We can find reality, but too often, we refuse to question our reality.
Lately, this has been troubling me. In particular, our country has succumbed to one of two completely opposing realities: those who support our president and those who do not. Neither are entirely right or entirely wrong but it seems most people are unwilling to accept anything other than what they already believe.
Not a day has gone by recently when this has not left me dumbfounded. For example, President Trump began tweeting and then telling the public recently about something he has called “Obamagate.” Essentially he seems to claim the Obama administration tried to sabotage his election and then his presidency by making up a story about a Russian spy operation that helped elect him president. It is ludicrous. First, if any of what Trump believes is true, Obama really sucked at orchestrating such a scheme since Trump was in fact elected. And secondly, shouldn’t the FBI want to at least check why the incoming National Security Advisor (then, Michael Flynn) was talking to the Russian Ambassador a month before the President was sworn in? I mean, if there was any chance the incoming National Security Advisor could be a Russian asset, I think we should know.
What is the most astonishing about supporters of the President is that many seem to believe most of what he says when basic logical reasoning says otherwise. The President never admits he is wrong about anything when that is simply impossible. All humans make mistakes. Anyone who claims they don’t could probably get a long list of their shortcomings from their best friend in five minutes. The President constantly complains about being a victim, but how can you be a victim if you are the leader of the free world?
Don’t get me wrong, many opponents of the President fail basic logical reasoning as well. For example, many believe Trump will postpone or cancel the election this fall. It’s not possible. The president does not have the authority to do it. Theoretically, Congress could postpone it but even is incredibly unlikely.
Too many of us are allowing our basic instincts to override reason. Instead of thinking critically about something we see on the news or social media, we have tended to take what we hear as the truth when it confirms our reality and false when it doesn’t. While this has always been a failing of human nature, modern technology has allowed us to remain completely immersed in a reality that reinforces that reality, rather than challenges it. And if your perception of reality is not challenged by any media you consume or person you associate with, you have created a reality that is not real.
Those of us who are fortunate to live in the United States have a lot of freedom to speak our truth. A free-flow of ideas often produces greater results for everyone. Unfortunately, a consequence of freedom of speech is deliberate misinformation. Humans, however, have the capability to discern the truth, we just have to try.
It is currently 9:15am on a Wednesday in mid-March. Normally my four kids are at school, my wife is at work and I am home alone putting off whatever it is I had planned to do today. But with school closed for the foreseeable future as well as my wife’s office, everybody is here. All. The. Time.
We have taken seriously the advice of health care professionals of “social distancing” by remaining at home as much as possible. It is a lot more difficult than it sounds. My kids want to hang out with their friends. My wife is constantly finding something I forgot to get at the store when I stocked up last week. We’re all already starting to get bored.
Life, however, must go on. My kids still need to learn. My wife still needs to manage her team around the country selling food (she works for Conagra Brands which sells Slim Jim, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Birds Eye, etc). I still need to procrastinate.
Our school district moved to “e-learning” for the next two weeks. I decided to create a schedule at home for them that mimics school so they had structure to their day and were relatively quiet while my wife took conference call after conference call. The kids report to “class” at 8am and do assignments from their teachers on their school-provided Chromebooks until 11am. They have lunch and “recess” (basically, go outside) for an hour then get back to “class” until 3pm or they’re done with their work. After they have a snack, they go to “practice” much like they would any regular day except it is at home and they can do whatever they want as long as it is physical activity, preferably outside. They then take showers and have some free time.
Two days in and they are ready to rebel.
E-learning is extremely flexible by nature. They want to take advantage of this flexibility by structuring their time on their own. They are teenagers (or nearly) so they are loathe to follow Dad’s rules. However I believe to maintain a culture of learning they need to maintain a similar structure to their regular school days. Plus, I don’t want to have to spend my entire day asking them if their work is done. Or started. So, the structure is as much for me as for them.
Despite their grumbling, they are sticking to it fairly well so far. In our house we have always had a specific room dedicated as a “classroom” so they spend much of the day in their which is kind of ironic because they rarely use that space for homework on typical school days. My wife and I set up the space, complete with a couple desks and a white board, for them to use, originally as a place for them to play school or do artwork when they were younger and now to do homework. It has a door which is nice so that my wife isn’t disturbed by them and I can ignore their complaining.
As much as I am trying to make things as normal as possible, it is definitely not normal. This “social distancing” is a grand social experiment no one has any idea how it will turn out. I expect it to last for months, not a couple weeks. How will we be in a few months of being together, just the six of us? At least I like all these people, so I’m starting from a good place.
The kids miss their friends and their sports. I miss my few hours of alone time. My wife is just missing out since she is the only one doing serious stuff around here. “Why can’t I get a quasi-vacation?!” she wonders. Ah, somebody’s got to make the dough so we can eat. Thanks Honey!!!
For us, I’m not worried. We are fortunate to have saved wisely the money we have been fortunate to earn. We are all healthy and thus at low risk for serious health concern if we do get the coronavirus. But I am worried about a lot of others. So many, estimates are 40-50% of Americans, do not have enough money to afford a $400 unexpected expense. Our government has been woefully inadequate in testing so we have no idea how many are currently infected and thus have no way to realistically contain the virus’s spread. Many are going to suffer extreme financial hardship and some are going to get very sick.
The human spirit is enduring and we will find our way forward. I personally am doing my best to remember this time together is a blessing, not a curse. Far too soon our kids will be off forging their own paths. But right now, I have them here and I am trying my best to take advantage of this time together playing games, talking and laughing.
As I am finishing this post, the second e-learning school day is coming to an end. Our high school senior is making tilapia for dinner and then we are watching Frozen II on Disney+, all of us on the couch together. It’s an example of how COVID-19 is changing life for everyone and how we are getting through this together.
Father of 4, Husband, Catholic, Historian, published author, LGBTQ+ ally, runner, sports fan (he/him/his)