I feel that the pandemic stole something from all of us. There seems to be a time gap, as if we are somehow simultaneously stuck on March 13, 2020 and also catapulted into 2022. Right before the shutdown, I was a mess for sure. Now when I look in the mirror I still see a mess, but I know that I am trying. I want to believe that it isn’t just me feeling this way.
Looking around lately is shocking. When did my babies get so big? How are they 14? How is Rebecca already taller than me? And, wow, they are so smart! Can you feel this mom’s pride? In Judaism we kvell (to feel or express pride about something or someone) about our children.
In 2020, sixth grade was off and running. Each of the kids had been finding their place. I was finally letting go of them a little bit, which was so hard. I let go of planning playdates because … moms don’t do that at this point. Ben would go to a friend’s house after school to do homework and hang out. Rebecca was finding more of her kind: the sarcastic, eye rolling kids with a touch of oddness and awkwardness. I loved watching Olivia sing in chorus and enjoy performing. I adored watching all three of them, seeing their joy of freedom. Even if they pushed, I was OK with it because that was normal.
I forgot what the trajectory was like for kids at this age because COVID derailed so much. Benjamin, Rebecca and Olivia got 20 weeks of 6th grade in person before the world shut down. The blossoming and growing was short-circuited by a virus. Any chance for a social life was over. Any chance of stretching wings and pushing against parental boundaries evaporated as fast as the hand sanitizer we were all using. Just as my trio was feeling more confident with middle school, their world came to a hard stop.
The logical progression should have been for them to get more and more independent. That just didn’t happen. The shutdowns depleted their smiles, laughter and joy. We skipped from Benjamin, Olivia and Rebecca being happy(ish) to being a sullen and depressed mess. The family, community and nation did not know how to make all the isolation feel acceptable. Mental health at large took a hit so hard I wondered how it would be possible to ever get beyond COVID. All joking aside, there is definite PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from all that we have all been through these last few years. Every person I know has been affected by this insidious virus.
Eighth grade was done in person and there were some opportunities to be social and push at boundaries again. I am so grateful that they were able to go back to school after half of sixth grade and all of seventh grade done virtually. I have nothing but respect for the teachers who braved a very stressful and impossible situation to educate all children. I heard one parent say that teaching during the pandemic was like learning how to build a helicopter while flying it.
Fast forward, and these amazing kids are entering high school! I feel like boundaries have been tested and a never-ending stream of hormone-induced fighting has tried my patience. This is when I know I am a mess as a mom. Feeling almost two years of change happening at once and then multiplying that by three makes it exponentially more stressful. At times, I don’t know how to navigate all these changes. What helps me feel better is this: No one else knows how to navigate this situation. There is no book or GPS for this specific adventure in parenting.
In no way do I pretend to have great parenting skills. I’ve tried a few different things and found that there are ways to be effective. My floundering is obvious, and I know it. I am a proud member of the odd and awkward club. What helps me smile is the days my kids seek me out and want to spend time with me. I can smile when I see them being kind to one another. I kvell because my children amazing and I love them so very much.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 14-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.