Tiptoeing around the Class of COVID-19
“Mom! We’re out of avocados!” my 22-year-old daughter, Anna, bellowed. “And where are the goat cheese crumbles?!”
People all over the globe are covering their faces and hands before entering grocery stores to buy life-sustaining food staples for their families sheltering at home, only to find them sparsely stocked. But in Anna’s world, being out of avocados is an emergency.
A month ago, I picked Anna up from Syracuse University, where she is a senior fashion design major, because the school had shut down due to the coronavirus crisis. I was looking forward to the five-hour drive home with her, catching up and joking around.
But she was in a mood. I listened to my audiobook. She texted friends, ate trail mix and slept.
At home, the rest of the family and I tiptoed around Anna and her mood. Previous history had taught us that normally playful, entertaining, vivacious and talented Anna could turn into a selfish, entitled, narcissistic prima donna at a moment’s notice. As a kid, she had milked her victimhood as the middle child, so we knew the global pandemic had given her a new excuse for self-pity.
Admittedly, she was getting daily emails from her school containing very bad news, so we kept our distance.
“My Senior Fashion Show was canceled! I’ve been working on my collection for two years! I won’t have photos for my portfolio!” she wailed. “My friends had so many fun things planned for our senior spring! Now we’ll never see each other again!” she moaned. “Graduation is postponed! It won’t be the same! I wanted a party!” she barked. “Fashion industry sales are predicted to drop 30%! Internships and jobs openings are being canceled! What am I gonna do?!” she bellyached. “Who ate my turmeric quinoa bowl! You know gluten gives me inflammation! And how many times do I have to ask — can someone please buy oat milk?! Ugh!” she blared.
When we weren’t hiding, we cautiously teased Anna, nicknaming her “Pandanna” to signal that our otherwise lovable family member was temporarily under the influence of an inflated sense of importance during the pandemic.
Our tiptoeing continued for three weeks while we sheltered at home, until the tension reached its peak. While carrying laundry upstairs, I found Anna and her sister, Lilly, locked in a circular argument. Something about “never want to hang out” and “always on your phone” and “literally a thousand times” and “so selfish” and a lot of that adjective that rhymes with “itchy.”
“Lilly, Anna is under a lot of pressure and needs her space. Anna, even though you are stressed about graduation and your future, it doesn’t give you the right to be [rhymes with “itchy”] to your family,” I said.
The next day, Anna was in the kitchen making a salad for our family dinner. This rare act — preparing food for more than just herself — showed that she was making an effort to be nice. As the rest of the family sidled past each other between the sink, refrigerator and cabinets to set the table, Anna sliced radishes and cucumbers in silence.
Then I realized that she was crying.
“What is it, honey?” I asked, reaching for her arms.
Fat, glossy tears tumbled down Anna’s cheeks. “It all happened so fast. If I had known what I was going to miss, I would have made the best of my senior year before the virus outbreak. But it’s too late; we’re never going back to school. I might not find a job. It’s all so hard to accept.”
I hugged my daughter, said it would be OK, and told her she would have to use her unique imagination to create alternative experiences.
“Pandanna” wasn’t throwing another selfish tantrum. This was Anna, overwhelmed with the genuine sense of loss that has been earned by every 2020 graduate — the Class of COVID-19. Certainly, these young men and women are talented enough, resourceful enough and strong enough to overcome this challenge. But there’s no tiptoeing around it — they’ve earned the right to cry.