Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Dear Parents in COVID-19 Quarantine

Dear Parents,

By now, if you weren't already a stay-at-home parent, you probably are, quarantined from the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the world. You might feel like your life has gone straight to hell and that you're never going to make it through this. Your kids might be getting on your very last nerve. Wine has become your best friend and that thing you start looking forward to as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning.

Sound about right?

Well, get over it. What you're dealing with is difficult, for sure, but I'm here to tell you there is an entire population of parents in this country who are viewing your "horrible plight" and rolling their eyes in disgust. I am one of those parents.

We are the cancer parents. People who have dealt in the past, or are dealing currently, with having a child with cancer. Children whose immune systems are completely shot due to chemotherapy and/or radiation. Parents who know that something as innocent as touching a door knob and then scratching their nose is enough to cause a fever and a week in the hospital on IV antibiotics, praying the entire time that it doesn't get worse and that the antibiotics do what they're supposed to.

My 10-year-old son, Keeghan, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2006. After weeks of intense chemotherapy and 32 whole-brain radiation treatments, all in a span of 6 weeks, his immune system was nonexistent. We were a military family, however, and had to move from Texas to Washington, DC. Two cars, three adults, and a 12-year-old sister managed to get Keeghan moved without ever spiking that dreaded fever. We were an army of Germ Warriors, always ready with hand sanitizer and a hand to lend to open doors so that he stayed free of deadly - yes, DEADLY - germs.

I emphasize that word for a reason. The first funeral I ever attended for a child - and I have been to a few, sadly - was for a 7-year-old little boy. It was not the cancer he was fighting that killed him. No. It was the sepsis he contracted when his immune system had nothing left and he was somehow exposed to some germ...probably something innocuous that you or I could fight off easily. His little body was so depleted from chemotherapy though that he could not fight it off.

Seven-year-olds should not die.

Because of cancer, I had to homeschool both of my children. I began homeschooling when they were in 5th and 7th grades. To say that it was difficult is laughable. I had no idea what I was doing. I figured it out though. Here are some lessons I learned along the way:

- I did not have to actively "educate" them from 8am to 3pm - the hours that they were normally in school. They did not receive seven hours of one-on-one attention from their teachers at school; therefore, why should I think they needed that much from me? We spent as much time as was needed on the lesson. If they finished a reading assignment in 30 minutes when I had an hour blocked off for it, that was ok.

- some subjects can be taught without a textbook, under a blanket while cuddling on the couch. Oftentimes with a cat in the cuddle somewhere. That's ok, too.

- flexibility is key. Because Keeghan was going through chemo, some days were better than others. If he wasn't feeling up to math, we didn't do math that day. Go with the flow of the child.

- making activities fun creates wonderful memories that you will never forget. Trying to keep things regimented creates horrible memories that also will not be forgotten. Trust me when I say that it is better to have the wonderful memories years from now than it is to have the horrible ones.

You might think what you are dealing with is the worst thing you've ever experienced. Cancer parents would beg to differ. My son died in 2008. We just passed what would have been his 24th birthday. My daughter is now 26 and on her own. I am watching from the sidelines as so many of you "suffer" through this quarantine with your children and I am jealous. I am so incredibly jealous of this gift of time home with your children that you have been given. You have the opportunity, right now, to create lifelong memories with these incredible little humans you created. Don't pass it up. Don't look at it as some kind of punishment. This virus spreading around the world is a horrible thing. There are positives to be found in it though if you only take the time to see them.

Take advantage. If for no other reason, take advantage of this time for me, so that I can experience it vicariously.


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