My Children

I have four adult children. Three of them have essential jobs and are working their butts off while the rest of us look for ways to fill our time.

My oldest, Zac, helps run a box factory in Elkhart, Indiana, just to the east of us. Most of the firm’s business is manufacturing boxes for medical supplies, including right now packaging for COVID-19 test kits. He has two sons, 9 and 12, navigating online learning in their small apartment, along with their college freshman sister. My daughter-in-law Jenni is running that show.

Second son, Jake, is an HVAC sales technician in the Chicago area. Thankfully, government officials consider heat and air conditioning essential. But he and his wife Kasia, a Polish immigrant, had plans to visit her parents in Poland in a month. That probably won’t happen.

My youngest, Allison, runs a transit system for a state university in an eastern state. Even though undergraduates have been sent home, buses continue to run around the campus perimeter, servicing those who remain. Among other things, there is the University’s medical center that needs to remain accessible. Allison is scurrying to get sanitizing products to keep her bus fleet clean. On top of this, her workforce was dramatically reduced when student drivers left campus, and many of the drivers who remain are older or have pre-existing conditions.

The last picture I have of all my children in one place was Christmas, 2016. From left to right: my daughter-in-law Jenni, my granddaughter Jadyn, Allison, Zac, Anna, and Jacob.

My third child, Anna, is the one you’ll likely hear the most about, given that she and I – with apartments in the same South Bend apartment building – are acting like one household unit through all of this.

Anna’s story is particularly poignant. First of all, she suffered a stroke at birth, resulting in hemiplegia. That means she has paralysis on one side — her right side — much like anyone else who has had a unilateral stroke (a stroke in one of the brain’s two hemispheres). Because this happened at birth, it falls under the umbrella of cerebral palsy.

When she was seventeen, additional health issues forced her to finish high school homebound and me to stop working almost entirely to care for her. She graduated in the top twenty percent of her high-achieving high school class, but she remained at home, deprived of college, until her health suddenly improved in 2018. That’s nearly seven years of just the two of us, with a limited social life.

Last spring, Anna moved into her own place, back here in the community where she grew up. By fall, I realized I too probably needed to be closer, and, when an apartment opened up in November, I moved into the same building. At the time I worried maybe this was a little too close, since she was finally achieving a little bit of self-sufficiency. This coronavirus crisis however has me grateful we are physically close so that we can keep an eye on each other.

For all those years while Anna remained at home, she said she felt forced to live in Neverland, not being allowed to grow up as her siblings had. For the past year she has worked with Vocational Rehab in South Bend to set career and education goals and to develop skills essential to achieve those goals and become as self-sufficient as possible.

Anna had all along worked with children in our church, teaching Sunday school and helping with various programs for kids. When she moved back to the South Bend area, she also began volunteering at our local Ronald McDonald House and at a local library branch. The Vocational Rehab process moved much more slowly than we had anticipated, but last month she filled out her very first job application, to work at another library branch doing just about the same thing she already was doing as a volunteer. It was exciting, and she was trying with all her might not to get her hopes up.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Within a matter of days our church suspended all gatherings, including Sunday school classes. The library closed. And Ronald McDonald House — serving as it does families of very sick children — cancelled all volunteerism within the building. And our local rec center, where we typically work out in the pool several times a week, also has closed until further notice.

So I have one grown child chomping at the bit to leave the social isolation forced upon her by a life-threatening health condition. And she is the only one of my four who is left to shelter in place and avoid all social contact once again.

From a health perspective, the high fever that accompanies COVID-19 is a big concern, and she as much as anyone probably needs to avoid getting this virus. There’s very little data suggesting she’s truly at risk, but why take a chance?

Still, there’s the irony. And it couldn’t have come at a more difficult time.

That’s why we’re observing the social distancing mandate, but we’re also trying to be sane about it. We take walks, daily if it isn’t raining. Yesterday, even though it was chilly, we took two 45-minute walks, the first through a historic cemetery along the river and the second on the practically empty campus at the University of Notre Dame, where I worked for quite a number of years.

Our mayor has asked us to shelter-in-place except for necessary trips to the store, work, etc. And today the governor made that state-wide. If anyone stops me, I’m going to argue that these are mental health outings. I don’t think we’ll make it if we can’t get exercise and fresh air.

So that’s what’s going on within my immediate family. The odd thing is, I’m accustomed to worrying about Anna. But right now I’m just as focused on her siblings, all of them out on their respective front lines.

I think about every other family out there that has its own story, every person with their own perspective on this situation. I believe it’s the telling of our stories that will keep our sense of community intact.

Anna and her cat Rosie.

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