Monday morning, J and I sit in front of his school-issued laptop while we chat with his special ed teacher, para, and speech therapist in our little “small talk” session and suddenly J bursts into a complete meltdown. Not just meltdown–I’m pretty sure it’s a panic attack because there’s hyperventilation and big ugly-cry sobs. We try to keep him on camera to help talk him through it–to assure him that things will not just be fine, things will be great, but he can’t do it and he needs to leave the room.
It’s a very big reaction to (what we thought) was a pretty benign question: When is quarantine over?
While J is melting down in the next room, his teachers and I try to work through what just happened. This is a first for us. I don’t think in the entire history of J’s public school career, J’s teacher’s and I have ever been in the same room at the exact moment where something’s set J off in a panic attack. Usually, there’s a delay between the incident and our communication because J’s at school and I’m at home. Not this time–thanks to Zoom, we are all in the exact same “place” when it happens.
It doesn’t take us long to put the pieces together. J is anxious because he’s afraid of quarantine being over. It sounds absolutely bizarre at first. Why wouldn’t J be excited to talk about quarantine being over? Every morning for the last few days, I’ve kept thinking “Thursday can’t come soon enough.” But at the same time it makes total sense.
It’s been one whole month since we’ve been able to drive the streets of Fargo or even walk in our neighbourhood. We’ve spent two weeks in Fort Collins and two weeks in quarantine, and now suddenly we’re free to leave our house and get back to the “normal” that was “normal” before my dad passed away.
I’ve forgotten the cycle of COVID questions J’s been peppering me with since the world changed back in March, because everything in my life has blown up and we’re finally getting to that place we were at with “normal” COVID life. I’ve had my eye for 14 days on that Thursday prize.
And I’ve also forgotten that for my autism kid, we’ve been breaking a lot of “COVID rules” because my dad passed away. We cancelled our spring break to see my parents in March because the virus made it no longer safe to fly. Then, less than three weeks later, I’m on a plane to fly out to be with my mom and make funeral arrangements. Steve, J, and W drive out to Colorado days later with no restaurant stops and Clorox wipes and masks at every bathroom. We’re in places we’re not supposed to be, doing things we’re not supposed to be doing. We’re breaking all the rules.
And then we come home and stay in lock down for 14 days. People come to our door to drop off our groceries because we can’t go to the store. We order restaurant delivery instead of curbside pickup because we can’t go to the store. We’re not leaving our house because we’re not safe to other people? Maybe?
Or maybe it looks like this: We’re not leaving our house and people are bringing us things because the world’s not safe?
I guess it doesn’t matter. When it comes right down to it, what Steve and I are saying to J and what we are doing look very different. Combine that with a deadly–almost invisible threat–and that’s the perfect breeding ground for anxiety and a heck of a lot of confusion.
And to be honest, I’m confused too. When J asks me, with terror in his eyes, if the virus is here, I tell him no (even though there are reported cases here in Fargo). When he asks me if the virus is at the grocery store, I tell him no (even though I honestly can’t be sure and I bring my mask and hand sanitizer with me). The CDC tells us we should wear masks, but some politicians wear masks, and some do not. Small businesses are opening up, but I don’t feel great going shopping any time soon.
J’s speech teacher says, “we have words to express our confusion. J struggles to find the words for his confusion. “It’s true. Most of the time I have the words to express how I’m feeling, and there’s a lot of power in that. I suppose that’s why I’m so drawn to writing. But even now I sometimes struggle to find the words to express myself in all of this–or even label and identify the emotions I feel during this.
For a kid who needs social rules and structure, this whole COVID situation is a complete nightmare. There’s disagreement in our government with the CDC as to how to move forward. Social rules and distancing are strongly suggested, but not everyone follows them. One HUGE reason why autistic kids need and crave routine is because routine reduces uncertainty and anxiety. Right now, our world’s a free for all. Some people obey the rules, some people don’t and not everyone agrees on how to be a good citizen.
That’s why J had a panic attack. And I can’t blame him.
Thursday came and went. We are officially free from quarantine and J has adjusted in just a couple of days to the old COVID normal where mom and dad leave the house to go to the store occasionally for short periods of time and then we all hang out out the house together. He still asks his COVID questions. On Saturday, J went on a run with his XC friend for the first time in a month, and was over the moon to run his social distance run (his friend on the street and J on the sidewalk) again like he did when the whole COVID thing happened in March. We’re starting to settle back into the normal COVID life again.
Oh, and here’s the best part: The day after our quarantine expired, Governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum announced that domestic travellers don’t have to self-quarantine after visiting out of state.