In June of 2020, through tears and uncertainty, my husband and I piled into an RV with our three boys and two dogs. Due to an unexpected job transfer, we were leaving behind everything we knew — our beloved parents and siblings, our precious nieces, our dear friends, colleagues, and school community. Video chats and social media provided the platforms for our farewells. We were grateful to have a job and a place to live, and we tried to focus on this privilege as we chugged across the open highways.
The several-day trek from Texas to California was a blur. I am not sure that I ever stopped silently crying. One of our dogs would not stop loudly vomiting from car sickness, and perhaps from sadness, too. Every millisecond that we drove, I deeply felt the growing distance from our childhood home, and I could not fathom starting fresh in a new state, during a pandemic.
As parents, we are often charged with putting on a brave face for our children in the midst of the unknown. I did not want to be brave. I was afraid of exposure to the virus, and worried about our boys fostering new friendships. Somewhere near the border of New Mexico and Arizona, our middle son asked if I was ok. I deflected and calmly asked how he was feeling, though I was on the verge of hysterics.
Eventually, we made it to the Bay Area. I could pretend and say that everything fell into place, but that would not be true. Along with anxiety around wildfires and smoke for weeks, our boys did not meet one classmate in the first 6 months of moving. They had no one to text questions about homework, and no one to ride bikes with to explore our new surroundings. Many days were spent quietly, almost eerily, with each of us doing what we could to keep our heads above water. We were incredibly lonely.
Before moving, we had a nightly routine, where I would ask the boys to tell me one thing that was “smooth” about their day, and one thing that was “chunky” (an ode to peanut butter). I often learned the most about them in these precious minutes before bed. Then, I would read aloud as they drifted off to sleep. They might be embarrassed if I share this, but I was still reading to them before we moved to California — they are in 6th, 7th and 9th grades. We have read countless, magical books over the years. We were almost done with a popular trilogy before our fateful RV trip to California. The bookmark remains where it was in June.
As a mental health advocate, I have read the research around the social and emotional needs of youth during the pandemic, and children’s resilience in light of stressful situations. I was a bereavement group facilitator for years, and I know the importance of taking time to process feelings, and the non-linear and personal path of grief. But as a parent, and as a human in the midst of a pandemic, I was overwhelmed. The world is heavy around us. Many of us are carrying indescribable anguish over the loss of loved ones, the loss of our livelihoods, and what can feel like the loss of our dreams. I am not immune to these feelings.
As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Slowly but surely, we started noticing the helpers around us. Recently, a teacher sent an email to our middle son, who is in 7th grade, with her son’s contact information, so they could connect on a platform to play a popular game. A helper. A fellow high school parent noticed my written comment in a school board chat about being new to the area, and she asked for my contact information. A helper.
My family and I have learned to be proactive, and have begun asking neighbors to take a socially-distanced walk or hike. The boys have been brave and asked classmates to connect virtually. Every outreach has not always been met with success, but we keep trying, and we are doing our best to remain positive. We have thrown ourselves into collecting items for those dealing with food insecurity in our area, and we have donated various goods to local organizations. We remind ourselves of the kindness around us, and we look for the helpers.
I find hope and purpose in my work at Born This Way Foundation, where each and every day, the team identifies helpers, and connects them with organizations and individuals who have unmet needs in their communities. Kindness is in our DNA, there is a never-ending supply of it, and there is so much to be done in this world.
My family’s eyes are opening to the connections that can be cultivated during a pandemic, even if we cannot be physically together. We are volunteering virtually, and plan to send handwritten letters through Love For Our Elders to seniors who are isolated during the pandemic. The boys are packaging meals for those experiencing homelessness in our area through 10,000 Lunches. By helping others, we are helping ourselves.
Tonight, I will grab the book I last held in June, and my family and I will make new memories and traditions in our home. I will continue asking about their days, and we will continue helping those around us. We are all connected. My boys used to plead with me, “one more page, please,” and that phrase holds such a deeper meaning for me now. I urge us all, during the hours when it feels like too much, to remember that we need you here. Join us, one page at a time.
I have taken the #PleaseStayPledge. Will you join me?
For further resources and to learn about our work, please visit https://bornthisway.foundation/get-help-now/