“Mama, you’re old. If you die of the Corona, who will take care of me?” After an hour and a half of screaming and kicking, completely trashing her room, 5-year-old Katerina and I were on the bedroom floor. I leaned back against the wall as she curled herself into my arms, still shuddering with small, hiccupping sobs.
It has been three years since the beginning of the pandemic. The world became very chaotic and scary, and nearly everything that we knew about our lives came to a dead stop. In hindsight, as a life-long introvert, I may have done fairly well on my own. I have many singular hobbies – sewing and quilting, spinning and knitting, as well as various art media and my constant friend, writing. Beyond the horrors of what The Virus wreaked around the world, I would have tucked myself safely at home and survived quite well.
However, I was parenting seven children as a single mother at the beginning of the pandemic when The Virus brought us down, though none of us became ill. I am capitalizing The Virus because of the power it had in our home.
All of my children came to me from foster care and each had lived through a range of traumas and losses. By March of 2020, the children (two 5-year olds, a 7-year old, and four teenagers who were 13-, 14-, 15-, and 16-years old) had been with me for three or more years. We’d weathered much in fears, behaviors, anger, and grief. At the beginning of 2020 our lives were busy, but fairly stable with routine, fun, consistency and safety.
Then one day, school was let out early and all seven children came home with questions and fears and rumors. They never returned to school that year. In one fell swoop, my children lost all their routines, their friends, their activities, and their sense of safety. Besides the fears of catching a deadly virus, everything they had started to learn about trust and safety evaporated.
Our home seemed to implode and it felt like nearly every child’s early crisis and anger and anxious behavior returned in full force – times seven. Each child went into survival mode with strategies that had served them well in their early lives to get through dangerous and scary times. The sudden loss of everything they knew mimicked early losses when they entered foster care, had lost everything familiar to them, and had been plopped into a strange landscape. That in turn triggered hard memories and subconscious fear and rage and so, so many tears.
We hunkered down, literally and figuratively. I narrowed their world as much as I could and gave each child concrete activities and “homework” to help them have control over small things. That sounds counterintuitive, since The Virus had just significantly narrowed our world. But for children who have lived through trauma, safety lies in clear boundaries, predictability, and a sense of control in their lives.
We had daily family meetings and talked about what was going on that day. I obtained a giant whiteboard and our meeting agendas, our daily plans, and our chores were clearly written out. There was also a section for ideas, menus, and doodles. I asked each Big if they’d be willing to just have fun with each Little every day. They decided to rotate partners and activities and out of that grew nearly two years of adventures, creativity, really good meals, and relationships. I gave each child permission to NOT go to online school unless they wanted to check in with beloved teachers.
By the end of the second month, we had righted the emotional ship and the kids were again able to get through most of their days safely and full of fun and trust. Of course, The Virus changed many things for us, as do most big traumas, but we learned we can not only survive change, but thrive through it.
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- Photo: Mother comforting her child. © Karla Petersen is licensed under a All Rights Reserved license