My son is a freshman in college. In the midst of a global pandemic, he made the choice to go ahead and move on campus this fall. My wife and I were never overly afraid that he would engage in risky behavior that could land him with a case of COVID-19. He’s our law-and-order, rule-follower. He wears his mask without complaint. He’s also won a big health battle. At at age 15, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He had to go through high school on the roller coaster of seizures and subsequent medication changes. This impacted him academically and socially. He fought through all of this, not to mention the first few months of a global pandemic to finish high school with a crescendo – culminating with winning a local scholarship for demonstrating “grit and courage.” Recently, we marked his one year seizure-free milestone this September. He’s learned what grit is all about — a lifelong, valuable skill. Little did I know how it was about to be put to the test yet again.
A little over two weeks ago, he forwarded an email that said a few students had turned up positive on the on his dormitory floor. As a result of this news, he would need to quarantine for 14 days. Bathroom visits and cafeteria food pickup were the exceptions. I lived in the same dormitory over 30 years ago, so I had some sense of what was ahead for him. It’s a small room with concrete walls. The challenge is amplified because he is in a room by himself, so his contact with others would be limited. As a parent, I was concerned about his mental health more than anything as anxiety disorders are not uncommon with those suffering from neurological conditions. He and I came up with some strategies I could use with him to help — including shipping him a video game which we could play together online, and a few Taco Bell deliveries to break up the string of college cafeteria food in a styrofoam container. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to help him get through this quarantine, like any parent would do.
I remember vividly the first text I sent him, once we learned about the news of his mandated quarantine. I wrote a text to him saying something like, “I am so sorry this is happening to you.” His response was “stop saying sorry. It sucks but I have got this.” A great first step — he was owning the reality. That is a key component of grit. This gave me a sense of optimism — his mindset was right going into it. As a parent, I still wanted to be sure he would be alright.
We kept pretty close tabs on him over the the next two weeks. I’m so grateful for technology so we could see his face and get a more full picture of what was happening. Looking back right now, what struck me is he remained emotionally steady — I never got the sense I needed to worry more than I already was — he was going to make it.
Finally, last Friday the quarantine ended. After his third COVID test came back negative, it was time to get him. I was in my car moments after he texted me the result. For the next week or so, there is no reason for him to be in his concrete dorm room with food in styrofoam containers being left outside his door. He wanted to come home. We want him home. Right. Now.
A few hours later, I had him in my car, and we were headed home. I was cautiously curious about his experience, so I asked him:
“What did you take from this experience?”
Honestly, I didn’t expect much of a response, but he surprised me. He went on to describe how early on in the quarantine, he decided to remove himself from as much drama as possible in his life. Social media, texts, the news — none of that was going to help him get through it, so he intentionally chose to move away from all of it. What a perfect application of Principle 6:
Agile Best Self Principle #6: The most effective way to be your best self is to be mindful and intentional.
He intentionally chose a path that removed the noise from his life so that he could focus on his physical health, focusing on school work and connecting with those that give him strength and support. That was his thought process. He was making it easy for his grit to get him through a tough time again. He was making his room better.
As the drive home continued, I reflected on this for a bit, and realized I would be wise to learn from his experience. This inspired me to approach the coming week in a different way — can I intentionally avoid drama in my own world, and get more focus on what helps me be my best self? What noise can be cleared out of my ecosystem so that the signal is stronger? How can I make MY room better?
It was already on my wall, after all.
This is my new challenge.
Thanks, son. Your wisdom and strength inspire me. You are MY hero.
Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson