The Mental Gymnastics of COVID on Parents

It seemed like we were in a pretty good space. Healthy and active kids. Busy but joyful Christmas. Ice skating daily outside during the break. All seemed like a nice little time away from school and a break from work. The random deep cough of the Little Guy, especially right after physical activity, nagged at me for a couple days. And so I did a home COVID test (negative) and a second one 24 hours later as recommended (negative) and thus felt pretty comfortable hosting the grandparents and sister and nephews for New Year’s Eve.  Felt pretty comfortable taking the younger boys to see SpiderMan No Way Home on the first day of the New Year. Felt pretty comfortable until about 11:00 pm when Super Tall Guy called me from his room with the words, “I don’t feel good.”

Thus began the mental gymnastics of COVID which are so incredibly draining. Thoughts of what testing to do? Where to go to get testing? When can we get appointments? What’s the best timing of when to do testing? Who have the boys been around? Who do we need to notify as contacts? What upcoming events and plans need to be cancelled?

At 11:41 that Saturday night, I got an appointment for COVID testing for Super Tall Guy and The Little Guy and off we went to join hundreds of others in the parking lot of a vacant mall the next day. And then we started the waiting game for the results. Normally, this service kicked back results in 12 hours. This time, we waited through Monday, what should have been the boys’ first day back to school. We waited through Tuesday, through Mr. Ornery and I getting tested since he had started with symptoms and I figured I was DEFINITELY exposed to plenty of snot. And then the dreaded, but somehow expected, red bar showed up when the phone pinged me that the results were ready.

Thankfully, I had been to the store to stock up. Thankfully I have lots of friends around texting to see if I needed anything. Thankfully, a friend dropped off chicken noodle soup that first day, which not only tasted great but felt like love. Thankfully, other friends and neighbors have made dinners and dropped off treats that have brought joy. Thankfully, I also have many friends that I can text and ask questions of and bounce thoughts off to help me think through all the scenarios. Thankfully, I have everything we need….except the peace and quiet I was expecting of boys returning to school at the end of break!

It took another three days for results of the middle child to return positive as well. Three boys, fully vaccinated, with COVID. Thankfully, their symptoms ranged from bad cold and exhaustion to barely a cough in the youngest. Thankfully my test came back negative so I could leave the house to restock bread and milk. But being surrounded by illness, and experiencing some slightly stuffy nose (Am I stuffy? Am I imagining this?), I just keep wondering when I will get it.

So the mental gymnastics continue. How are the boys doing? Are their symptoms resolving? When do they go back to school?  Literally every night I lay in bed counting on my fingers: “Okay, so symptoms started Thursday, so Friday is day 1, Saturday is 2, Sunday is 3…..” and then next boy, “Sunday is day 1, Monday is 2, Tuesday is….” Will I get it as well? When will I get it? Might be nice for me to have it and be done with it. How will the boys get caught up on school work since they haven’t had the energy to do the remote learning that they could have done? So much time spent in numerous calls and emails with teachers and school nurses.

And then there’s the emotional struggle over and over of keeping kids home and isolating as they start to feel better. No, you can not hang out with friends. No, we won’t be going ice skating or to the swim meet or to the store or anywhere else. No….No….No…..slamming against But, Mom….But Mom….But Mom…No….No….No….(repeat).

COVID brings not only physical illness but mental strain to the whole family. Even if this Omicron variant is said to be “mild,” it has caused quite a bit of disruption. It has required an exorbitant amount of time and energy in this family. It has occupied my thoughts and my heart.

So yes, I can be thankful that we are all vaccinated and have weathered this storm pretty well. I am tremendously thankful for the support of family and friends. But I also have to acknowledge that my experience this past week is being played out in thousands and thousands households across the country every single day. And for some of those families, the physical and emotional strain is much much worse. And the physical and emotional strain on our health care providers and health systems is currently much much worse than previously.

And my heartfelt plea is that we all continue to try to do the best that we can to protect one another through vaccinating ourselves, masking up when out of our homes, keeping kids masked in schools during the surge, putting in the mental energy to make wise decisions, and continuing to be kind and gentle with one another.

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