Planning a holiday with college students during the pandemic presents a host of challenges. Whew, chile.
So, first, some details. My oldest is 21 and a junior at a large university out west. He has had quite the pandemic school year, full of trips to California, Las Vegas, and even closer to home to see friends in Chattanooga. All in the midst of a pandemic. I have repeatedly warned him of his gym and restaurant visits, but you remember the “adult” feeling you have at 21: the feeling of invincibility that has you believing you are untouchable and those bad things won’t happen to you. Well, that is where we are on this parenting journey. Which is why planning a pandemic holiday with college students can be a challenge.
He calls me to make his holiday plans. I email back and forth with his Dad, and we both agree that he needs be tested and be quarantined for 14 days. As I begin to lay out the plan to him, I sense resistance. I get the sense that he is not willing to alter his life to quarantine for 14 days. Initially, we think about Airbnb but settle on a hotel with a kitchen. I revisit the conversation with the other adults in the picture. We establish some rules that include gloves, masks, no eating together, and outdoor visits, because it seems he is not willing to stay quarantined.
I call him, and I share that we are uncomfortable with his unwillingness to change his lifestyle. And my beloved firstborn cavalierly says, “Well, let’s move the Christmas tree outside and eat dinner outside.” Without thinking, I say, “NO. I don’t want to eat outside in the cold, and I don’t want to move my tree outside because you don’t want to change your ways.” There was silence on both ends. I think I was shocked; I actually said it out loud. I think he was shocked that I said it too!
I then explained that I have agency over my body, and he does too, and that I get to decide who I come in contact with. I explained that I think it best that he remain out west. He wasn’t happy with that plan because he wants to come home to see his friends, who also galavant around the country like we aren’t in a whole pandemic. So we said, sure, come home (on our dime), but we will not see you. In other words, you are not allowed to come into the house. I am happy to wave to him from my doorway if he chooses to stop by. Now, my heart is not hurting, and I am not sad because we all have agency over our bodies. Also, the way I parent means that I have enjoyed every holiday with my children and usually did way too much for them. So a little pandemic discord doesn’t “hurt.” Do you know what would hurt? Missing his college graduation because I am dead. Seriously, that is where we are now. So, even though HE doesn’t get it, I do.
My pandemic holiday parenting plan is not to appease a young adult who may be asymptomatic. My goal is to live as long as I can, and I will do that by taking control of my safety and not being guilted into engaging in a family gathering that could expose me to the virus. I will exercise agency over my health. Heck, he has had many lovely holidays over the years; I hope he will reflect on one of those if he feels verklempt.
It’s not “mean” or “cruel” to tell your galavanting college student to stay where they are until the spread is down. It is okay not to see them this holiday in person. Parenting college students during a pandemic is a challenge. Perhaps you can Zoom with them or put them in a hotel or Air BnB while they are in town. The point is, everyone makes choices when planning a pandemic holiday with college students. I choose life! See you when the spread is down.