The Kids Are Not Alright

Teenagers have been on my mind. For those of you who are parents of teenagers, or who are related to a teenager, listen up, this is for you.

I have been somewhat flabbergasted, and frankly a little shocked at times when I asked friends over the past year how their kids (teenagers) were doing, which is kind of a big question in the time of a pandemic…and some of them shrugged and said lightly, “Oh, they’re alright.” Or… “Oh you know, he’s kind of oblivious to everything.” Or, “We are really loving our family time.” At first I thought wow, maybe my kids are the only ones having a terrible time of this. Or maybe I’m overthinking this. Or maybe I’m just a terrible parent. But no. Because you know what? They are not alright. Even the ones that you think are alright, they are not.

I have read countless articles about how teenagers are suffering through this pandemic. I have cried on the phone with our pediatrician, who assured me I am not the only one. We are not the only ones. I have spent so many sleepless nights worrying about how my son is going to continue to navigate high school like this. I’ve bargained with myself, I’ve tried the unrealistic optimism approach that things will be better. I have tried to keep a sense of humor (sometimes not very successfully). But, yet, the nagging little voice. He’s not alright. They’re not alright.

Our school district is among the best, we are very lucky, and I know this and I appreciate it. They have done all they can do to keep the kids in school safely. But yet, these kids feel they are literally being punished for going to school. Or not going to school. Or seeing friends. Or not seeing friends. You see, every choice they make comes with a set of consequences, and it’s impossible to make any good (or “right”) choices. If they see friends, they risk exposure to COVID. If they don’t see friends, they are much more likely to feel sad and depressed. If they go to school, they feel weird and it’s not the greatest experience. If they don’t go to school, they are more isolated and it’s not the greatest experience. I can’t figure out how to be supportive. I’ve tried every angle, and none of it really fits – where is the pandemic parenting guidebook? Because of the depression J suffered with last spring, we have tried to allow him some freedom to see some friends (not in large groups), but his close group in the safest settings possible. It seemed the most reasonable path in my mind, and to keep his mental health in balance.

That seemed to be working, although they still obviously are giving up and missing out on a lot of normalcy. But a few weeks ago he went to a friends house, and there were people there outside his usual “pod”. One of them tested positive for COVID and all of them had to quarantine. In the week following, J had two negative tests, so he did not get infected, but he was very quiet. He stayed more to himself, barely talking, if he even came out of his room at all. One of his friends did get the virus and had symptoms. When I was driving him to get his COVID test, I asked, “You know that I’m not mad at you, right”? And he said, “No, I thought you guys were really mad at me.” And I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. You went to a friend’s house.” Let that sink in. He thought he was in trouble because he went to a friend’s house. He said that they all felt like they did something wrong, and that they were worried they were going to get in trouble with the school. If you add this pressure into the mix of kids who are trying to please, it’s the ultimate sadness.

It was at that point that I just thought, wow, how much have we burdened our kids? We have literally asked the impossible from them, and then we are disappointed when they can’t deliver. How have we made them feel so inadequate? They don’t deserve this. They feel punished for literally every action, and then they retreat. We (collectively, people in charge of them) said “Sure, you can play your sport, but it could be shut down literally any minute because of something you do (or don’t do) or because someone else who you don’t even know stands next to someone who has COVID.” I don’t know how we can support them, or fix it, or make it better. I have no advice. I do know that I get even more angry when I hear people being judgmental: “tsk tsk” these kids just don’t know how to behave.

Listen. They are doing the best that they can. WE are doing the best that we can. There are no good options.

I don’t know what the lasting effects of this pandemic will be for these kids, the ones poised to be independent and trying to figure things out about themselves in their Senior year of high school, and have been squashed. All I know is that there will be lasting effects. I hope and pray that they will put this in their rearview mirror eventually, but it’s no joke – it’s not something they will ever speak lightly about. I take the words of advice that are often swirling in my head, just have grace – a lot of it – be a good listener, and be forgiving. That’s the best that we can do.


Coronavirus Plandemic

I remember back in April, when we were at the beginning of the COVID crisis – the chaos, fear, uncertainty, saying many times to people….”When this is all over, we’ll…” fill in the blank. Go to dinner? Go to the movies? Have a party without worry? Celebrate milestones without “drive bys”?, SEND OUR KIDS TO SCHOOL?

I don’t know when it started to change, maybe sometime this summer, when the world realized it wasn’t going to be “all over”. It was going to hover over our plans, our existence, our everyday life, for a good long time. We stopped saying: When this is all over. I stopped planning for things too far into the future. It was incredibly painful to cancel everything on the calendar last spring, so by not having too much on the calendar, that doesn’t scare me so much now.

The “plandemic” has arrived. My strategy to plot my family’s life only a few days or a few events at time. I held my breath for school to actually start, I held my breath even longer for soccer practices, and games to actually land on the calendar. Week by week. Actually, day by day.

There’s now a fall chill in the air. With winter looming, and knowing the days are getting shorter, I have had real moments of sadness, so I started employing a strategy of coping by only thinking about things in bite size pieces to keep me from getting completely overwhelmed. I don’t know that it always works, but sometimes at the very least, it calms me down.

But when I get to question of planning for the holidays, I just stop. Too overwhelming. What’s happening THIS WEEK, I ask myself, and the answer is, soccer games, bike rides, walks, deep breaths, and cooking good healthy food. That’s a good week! No planning beyond the week. To the next high school soccer game, fingers crossed, breath held.

My sister Chris and I wrote an article together a couple of months ago about coping through the pandemic, using duffel bags as our barometer and how to metaphorically pack them with strategies that would buoy us up throughout the pandemic. Best case scenario was 1 duffel bag, worst case would be 3 duffel bags. (In case you missed it, and are curious to know more, you can read it here: )

In my proverbial duffel bag scenario, winter right now is at about a 10. So, there you go. I struggle with the winter in the BEST of times, so it’s daunting to me to even imagine coping without my usual comfort mechanisms – will I feel OK to go out and eat at a restaurant? People won’t want to gather inside, so we will be isolated just like last spring. What will I do when it gets dark at 5pm? I may just invite my neighbors over to the fire pit with many layers and 5 blankets instead of mustering up the courage for one more zoom call to socialize.

This is where I get to the Plandemic. Plandemic = no planning. I have to kind of shape my day as I feel I can, take baby steps, don’t eat the whole cake – take the small bites. Do the thing that makes me feel good.

When I listen to the “experts”, (and by the way, who the hell is an expert on living through a pandemic?) they say self care is so important. Take care of yourself. This is my coping mechanism. The “Plandemic” is going to go on for at least a few more months, so I am going to continue to go day by day. Week by week. Piece by piece. This is my self care, this is how I will stay sane.

But….having a Senior in High School during a pandemic is like WTF every single day. It makes college planning activities kind of hilarious/traumatic. (Is that even a possible combination of feelings?) There is literally not one piece of going to school right now that is normal – though I am extremely thankful they are trying. But as far as “planning” for actual college which is NEXT YEAR (!) I am going through the motions. I feel so disconnected, as if this is some mirage of activities that are not real. But I will say that young Joe has proven his resilience, and he is showing his maturity. He’s finding his way forward, so I am following. But, also saying my usual set of phrases on repeat: “I don’t know…” “Well see….” eventually I suppose there will be acceptance letters, decisions to be made, financial aid packages to weigh, and I’ll probably keep saying, “I don’t know…” “We’ll see…”

I admit that I am a bit weary of being grateful for the little things we get, as if we should be thankful this pandemic wasn’t screwed up even worse. “At least….” has become my least favorite leading sentence.

  • At least my son is in school *sometimes*.
  • At least they are having a soccer season, even if it’s not what they thought it would be. At least we get to go to the games, even if my family can’t come and watch his senior year.
  • At least my daughter is at college, even if she has to live like a hermit

At least… It’s a real struggle not to be angry, which I know does not help. But yes, I am angry that so much has to be sacrificed by us when we weren’t protected from this AT ALL, and now it looks as though this is a future sacrifice for….who knows how long.

I did briefly think of writing a book called: Parenting in a Pandemic for Dummies – but maybe instead I’ll write one called Plandemic strategies for tomorrow, or Have your Plandemic cake and eat it too. Seriously, y’all, it’s a plandemic dilemma.


No Duffel Bags


I have a pretty steadfast, predictable measurement in my life as any kind of crisis or natural disaster is looming. Ranging from the number of duffel bags that end up in my living room, I can accurately measure the severity of what might be coming. In my experience, if it’s a big 2 day snowstorm, (2 duffel bags), a category 3 hurricane, (3 or more duffel bags), or perhaps nothing at all. (No bag packing is required).

I’ve been married to a First Responder for 28 years.  My husband Joe has been a firefighter/EMT for more years than I have known him – I’ve only been involved for the last 30 of them.  As a Captain for West Windsor Township Emergency Services Dept. and also as a member of NJ Task Force 1, there have been countless disruptions to our everyday normal life.  There is a rhythm that comes with the unpredictability of this life, I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned to pick up on it, and when we face any kind of event that will disrupt us – I ask the questions I want to know the answers to, and if I don’t want to know about it, I don’t ask. This helps me manage what is in my control, and not worry about the rest.  Joe is a very calm guy. He doesn’t put on a front for me or our kids. He’s always honest with us, but he’s also steadfast and rock solid. There is a rhythm to our conversations and preparations before he is called in to work, or deployed with the task force, a bit like a music composition, taking on the tone of whatever may lie ahead.

As we’ve been wrestling this past month with the onslaught and unpredictability of the COVID-19 crisis, I have found myself thinking back over the past disruptions, I guess trying to help me find a way to cope a little bit better –  and here are a few.

9/11.  There was no time for talking because this all happened so fast. Off he went, we had a 3 year old preschooler. He was not yet a member of the NJ Task Force at that time, so he did not go on a lengthy deployment to NYC. Even though our lives were very disrupted, I felt very lucky.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast.  He was actually out in New Mexico just beforehand attending a class, and he and his colleagues were watching the events, knowing they would be most likely sent out with their team.  He flew home, packed everything up (3 plus duffel bags), turned around in about 12 hours and left with the task force for New Orleans. We talked hurriedly as he re-packed everything. Shannon was just about to start kindergarten and Joseph was 2.  I remember standing in our kitchen as young Joseph held on to my leg and Joe made several trips out to his truck with his bags.  Since this was before the age of social media, I literally glued myself to cable news each night after the kids were in bed to keep up with what was happening.

In Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Irene in 2011-  we knew this was coming and was going to hit NJ. He always makes sure we are prepared before he leaves, so he got the pump all hooked up and ready for the basement in case it flooded, and showed me how to turn it on.  We got big jugs of water to put in the bathtub (we have well water, so if we lose power we don’t have water either). We secured the rest of the outside, and then he went to work.  There was a lot of flooding, and we lost power for several days.  It was late August and Shannon was about to start 6th grade, and I remember going to orientation at the middle school while some neighborhoods (including ours) were still without power.

In the boat on Route 1 during Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – this one scared me probably more than the previous storms, but I figured we had been through a hurricane the year before, so we could get through this one. (2 duffel bags). Joe left for work before it actually hit, once again everything was secured and ready, but I wasn’t prepared for how scary that wind would be overnight.  The kids and I slept in our bed and I couldn’t convince myself that a tree wasn’t going to fall on the house. Sandy was a wind event, but no flooding for us, and there were trees down everywhere. The power was out for almost two weeks, we had to get a generator because it was October and we needed the heat on. I remember sitting in my car charging my phone and doing conference calls with the staff at McCarter Theatre, where I was working at that time, to figure out when we were going to be able to open back up again.  The rhythm of this one was chaotic, unpredictable, and pretty dark.

His most recent long term deployment was for Hurricane Florence in 2018. The NJ Task force went to North Carolina, and this started with another bit of chaos since I had a work trip to Florida that I had to cancel, first because I was worried I’d get to Florida and not be able to get home, and though our kids are now older, we couldn’t have him leave without knowing when I could get home.  This was 3 duffel bag trip, and a calmer rhythm in our conversation because the storm wasn’t coming for us at our home.

Packing up to leave for his North Carolina Deployoment


So here we are in 2020, in the midst of this Global Pandemic.  This started several weeks ago with less worrisome conversation, but now is a serious silent undercurrent of concern at all times. As with everybody in this country, it has affected every facet of our lives, bringing Shannon home from college early, Joseph – a high school junior stopping every single activity that brings him the most happiness, (including soccer which is the center of our lives at the moment).  I am not traveling anywhere for work for the foreseeable future, when usually I am gone for several days each month. Life is very disrupted.

Yet there is not one duffel bag in our living room.

It’s unsettling to me, as the rhythm is off – we know that this crisis is out there, but he is home. There is no deployment, no marathon overtime hours, though all the phone calls that usually accompany those plans are happening daily/hourly.  His shifts have been moved so that he actually is working less frequently, which means he is home even more.

We take our job seriously as a first responder family. I am humbled by it, and this responsibility has always helped me to keep everything in perspective as well as understand my priorities. His job, and supporting him always comes first without a doubt. When our kids were young, my mom used to worry enough for both of us, she would ask me a million questions, and I would somehow be fine with all of it (which I think drove her crazy). I could handle the unpredictability; I found my way in understanding that I could not control the circumstances, but I could control my reaction to them.

But this is all out of control. There are no duffel bags to gauge the severity or longevity of the event. No context. I can’t say to myself:  Well, the last time there was a global pandemic, we did XYZ….  I am in uncharted territory, and not quite sure how to wrap my brain around the hour to hour changing landscape. I worry about every time he goes to work, yet I know worrying is not helpful.  My rational self knows what I need to do, but the irrationality of everything coming at me is sometimes overwhelming.  I have no doubt that every other family with a Doctor, a Nurse, an EMT, a Firefighter, a Police Officer or any other first responder or essential employee is feeling unprepared as well.  We don’t have a rhythm or a compass right now.  But yet, I know you are out there, and we are connected. We know what to do when we have to do it, and we know how to prioritize. We’ve got our support systems. So, I say with conviction, no matter what happens in the next month, we got this.

And maybe I’ll actually look forward (maybe) to the next time I see a duffel bag.