Born @ 27 weeks
2lbs 7oz

Friday, September 18, 2020

My Son's Mental Health - How I Missed It

The pandemic, while all-together terrifying…. we have a little guy at home that makes our situation a little unique. Our son has narrow airway disease, COPD, asthma, weak lungs and chronic breathing issues. Collectively, our family was the first to admit we weren't traveling, in fact, in early March we began to shut down.

C19 shakes us to our core. On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being the boat-rallying, Trump-thumping, Covid crushers that don’t believe in the virus) we are a (negative) 5. We mask. We play outside. We have hand sanitizers in every car door. Playgrounds, sleepovers and the idea of going back to school evaporated almost as quickly as the toilet paper last Spring. 

Michael and I are good decision makers, even during uncertainty. We moved to the mountains. Team Richter packed up (a backpack each), all the gear two cars could carry, Meatball (dog) and Ms. Pickles (cat) and moved this summer. We rented a tiny, humble two bedroom condo, where we would spend the next six weeks. 

Essentially, we created our bubble. While the mountains were our refuge…. We didn’t talk about the pandemic or feel isolated in our homes. We were outside and hiking and fishing and biking every single day. We played tennis and swam without reservations. We only knew one other family… 
and it was g l o r i o u s.

Without realizing the impact, this single decision allowed us to remove having to say “NO”…




“No, you can’t go over to xx’s house. No, you can’t have a sleep over. No, you can’t go inside and play their Switch. No, you can’t go get ice cream with your friends.”
No. No. No. No. 

By making our perimeter small, we eliminated frustration and worry, exhaustion and angst, disappointment and despair and created a new, very small world. Granted, our kids were bored, even loaded with activities. They asked for neighbors and face-timed with friends but nothing major. We powered through this new norm. 

This was not an overwhelming decision for Michael and myself. We have been here before. The year Shaw came home from the hospital, we were in total isolation… for a year. That time, we put all of our things in storage and moved to Hilton Head for three months. 

We know this recipe and strangely it works.

In August, we completed a poll asking if we would send our children back to school, given the choice. After excruciating conversations exhausting every outcome/path/choice/reaction/consequence, we opted out of in person school. I talked to the Principal, amongst all of the ‘what are you doing’ and ‘what if’ and ‘but what…’ We decided we would go to school virtually.  We were the first of anyone we knew. 

It felt empowering to make a decision, followed by immediate relief. We took the ever-changing facts, included the input and expertise from a team of physicians and specialists, coupled with the support of our friends and ‘virtually’ pulled the trigger. 

Weeks later, more information would unfold and our school community was faced with a personal choice, virtual learning or in person. 

My phone blew up – be it from the constant text messages from different friends in different schools and different grades and different groups, news notifications, school updates. It was a frenzy. “What should we do?” “What are you going to do?” 

The noise was deafening. 

Selfishly, we knew. We answered questions with confident repose like:
“We will wait a couple weeks, once all schools go back and just see what happens.” "We will not be on the front lines." "We do not have enough information to make these decisions."

When asked, “But kids need to be with their peers…”
I would respond, “They are 9 and 10 – they are going to be just fine.” (I likely internally rolled my eyes at the dramatic intonation).

When I received a panicked call from a friend saying, “You saw it first! What have you decided to do?”
Calmly (almost in denial) I would say, “We will just figure it out. We will balance. It will be a lot and we’ll get through it.” 

When the buzz of pods and cohorts and hiring teachers and racing the world to get in the right space began, (Friends, don’t hate me – I said to myself, “This is just another place Moms compete." and quickly, opted out. It felt competitive and ridiculous – so many of my friends, not even working, were hiring teachers…. No judgement, but how hard is facilitating elementary school for a couple hours?)

The panic ensued. 
I braced and steadied. I was confident, as the world spiraled.

Dear friends, I was wrong. 

The first day, both boys cried. The buildup. The technology. The isolation. Seeing your friends for the first time in six months, but not being able to speak to them. Not being heard. Not knowing how to unmute. (If you see those tshirts that say, “You’re on Mute.” I want one). Sitting in silence. Internet glitches. Brain breaks lasting minutes. ZOOM ISN’T WORKING!!

The second day, I cried. 
Cried because I sat at the kitchen table, fielding my own work, but stationed purposefully where I could hear anyone that got kicked out, was tic-tic-ticking on something they shouldn’t be or someone that needed help. My brain switched from Professional to Mom to Teacher to Tech to Teammate to mush and back every thirty seconds. 

It was my idea to host a ‘lunch bunch’ for both my boys and their best friends that Tuesday. I just sent a note to the Moms of each of the 3-5 boys, asking if they could have lunch together (virtually, of course). What a treat. They could talk and not be with a facilitator and be silly and just catch up. 

I couldn’t get it working. The Ipads, the wrong email addresses or just my frazzled brain. It was a flop – and coincidentally the ONLY things my kids had been looking forward to. Simultaneously, my cell phone was ringing with work calls and my heart was racing… and it’s just lunch. Just fucking lunch.

I cried – heavy, ugly cries. I tried to hide in the office, still untangling the Ipad debacle and sweet Nash came in. I tried to hide my desperation and he said, “It’s okay, Mom. I don’t have to see my friends today.”

I don’t even know what to type after that. 
It was awful and if I couldn’t keep it together with all of it compiling– how can they? 

Fast forward to today. It’s getting better, but I’ll tell you where else I have failed in my confident decision that my kids would be FINE. 

M E N T A L   H E A L T H
Holy shit. I underestimated all of it. 

I could list 25 examples of how our boys have been impacted these last few weeks, not being in school – none of which I thought were relevant. “They are kids! They are resilient! They will be F I N E!”

1) The boys are fighting constantly (Hello? Wouldn’t you be sick of someone if they were your only playmate for six months? Okay, marriage aside – we all have different outlets, I would be fighting too!)

2) They stalk our neighbors. Our neighbors are in school and our children know the exact time they will be home. This impacts EVERY SINGLE THING WE DO. They will be hovering in their driveway…. And if our neighbors have sports, activities, errands or homework, they are still hovering. They just hover. There is nothing else. 

3) They are eating EVERY 15 minutes. Either a school break triggers snack or they are so bored. Our snack drawer is depleted by the minute.

4) They are angry. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to C19, maybe they are just angry little people, but they are quick to snatch, quick to escalate, quick to accuse….. hmmmm, wonder where they are getting that?

5) They are falling behind. Their brains are not ON. Virtual learning is better than it was, but these children are not engaged (to no fault of the amazing teachers). They watch, they do, they submit. Repeat. It’s almost robotic and soulless. I sat with Nash this week to do his Math work. He was a shell - slow to respond, distracted (more than usual), seemingly adrift. Sidenote: Nash loves Math. He is good at it. He grasps it as a story in ways I never will. Slowly, with the prompting, question posing, positioning... minute by minute he started to come back for the first time in six months.

6) They are inexplicably SAD. My boys burst unexpectedly all the time. One day we are on cruise control and everyone is dialed in and all of a sudden there is an outburst, followed by screams or tears. Tears that pour from a never-ending stream. Haunting sobs and muffled, “I hate school. I miss my friends!!!” In these moments, I just grab them tight. I acknowledge that COVID SUCKS (and it’s okay to say it – even shitty – my word, not theirs) 

7) They do not like school. This hurts my heart the most. My boys love school - especially their school. They are hungry to learn and read and use manipulatives and do projects. They are curious and playful. Granted, there are things that are not their strengths, but I have never heard them say they don't like school, until now... every day.

8) We have it okay. Most notably, we are privileged. While this prior list haunts me, it is unimaginable what others are experiencing. What I have listed likely sounds like cookies and ice cream... 

Tonight, one of the worst nights to date. Was he tired? Was it building? I don’t know. I held him tight. He cried for an hour. I didn’t try to make it better. I just listened and held. At one point, I began to say, “It’s okay to be mad and sad and frustrated and disappointed and … feel it all. It’s normal and okay and really, it sucks!” I had hoped to follow with… “When you are done feeling those feelings and you realize that it still sucks and it is still shitty, that’s when you decide to find some light in a tough situation. It’s not going to change and it’s up to you to look through a different lens and decide how to find something positive out of this situation.”

But we just rested in, “This is shitty.” 
We’ll try the positive part tomorrow.
Maybe next week. 

And to the amazing Teachers – you are doing God’s work and I cannot even imagine how you’re juggling this new world, especially knowing you chose your profession to guide, shape, love the children in your path without ever considering you may have to do that through a screen. 

#inthistogether #thisisshitty