We have been knee deep in a game of Kid Chess for over a week. The kind of decisions that need to be made in families with shared custody are more complicated in these times. In our household there are a total of four kids. Each pair of siblings has another parent, in another house close by. Three of those kids are in college and one is in high school. One isn’t even a “kid” anymore, as he is now 21. All of them are mature, smart, kind kids whom we adore.
Rob and I have been diligent. I have asthma and this virus could be very bad news for me. We worked from home the minute we were allowed to. We made a couple grocery runs together early on and then ceased going out other than to take walks or short runs staying far from other people within a few blocks of our house, and when we do that we only touch the door knobs of our condo building with a bleach wipe. We are making simple meals. Groceries coming in now are being delivered and then wiped down before going into the kitchen. We are sheltering in place like a couple of badasses.
But the kids! The college kids all attend school out of state – in midwestern states that had fewer early cases than Illinois – and their schools closed residential options to students in stages in favor of remote learning: stages that made total sense in the context of college administrators finding safe places for all of their students to go (oh, the international students!!) without losing access to housing and food, but also stages that allowed domestic students to take their time leaving. Some students who could drive home (or be picked up) and weren’t subject to a flight at a scheduled time felt a certain leisure about their departure. And so the kids in our household made their way home in phases, coming in and out of our bleach-scented quarantine one at a time. If we were trying to keep track of a 14-day quarantine at first, our clock got reset every other day and we gave up.
We decided with our exes to shelter-in-place with one child each, which meant we’d have two kids here. This seemed good for stretching out quarantine supplies. And so in my family we made the decision that Kid C should stay here because he has a dog allergy that hasn’t been tested for a long period of time at his Dad’s house: no brainer. I sent both of my kids, C and D, to their Dad’s for a few days early last week; we wanted them all to have time together before we split the kids up. I was sad when I dropped off Kid D, knowing he’d be hunkered down at his Dad’s for what could be a fairly long time, but we wanted to minimize the coming and going. He stood on the stoop and saluted me earnestly when I left: “Be well, Soldier!”
In the meantime, Kid B came home from college last Tuesday night, along with a friend who was driving across the country to get home, and so of course we had him spend the night as well. Following all the precautions, we welcomed them in (from 6 feet away). I stripped the guest’s bed wearing gloves and bleach wiped the bedroom and bathroom he had used when he left. 48 hours later, Kid B – the only kid staying with us at that point, for those of you daring to keep track at home – learned that someone in his dorm had tested positive, and so all previous plans were scrapped until we could see that he was remaining asymptomatic. This meant that Kid A had won more time at school before we’d go get him. My kids stayed where they were rather than splitting up.
Kid A was due home yesterday – finally, all kids back in Chicago! – but we got a text early in the morning that he’d woken up with signs of illness. And that a close friend had tested positive for the virus and they’d been together last weekend. And so, instead of Kid A coming home yesterday, he is continuing to shelter-in-place in his frat house out of state until further notice. We are thankful that for most people, and certainly most kids his age, COVID-19 will present with very mild symptoms. Since our doctors don’t have enough tests available to them, we may never know if Kid A has the coronavirus at all. He’s unlikely to get tested unless his symptoms worsen. But we will be very relieved when he is in the clear and can come home.
Once we realized that we had no kids we knew to have been potentially exposed to the virus in the house, I went down and picked up Kid C from his Dad’s last night – getting in my car for the first time in 8 days – and so now three of our kids are settling in for the foreseeable future in their houses.
This is all a game of calculated risk management with an invisible enemy. For all we know, Rob and I have already been exposed and have given it to every kid who has passed through here: maybe he got it on the Metra before he started working from home, maybe I picked it up from a client or in the waiting room at work, maybe we got it at one of the grocery stores. Maybe one of my kids brought it in from school over a week ago and has passed it on to his Dad’s house as well. It’s so possible that all of our calculated risks at this point are for naught but we can only base decisions on known diagnoses: 1 kid in a dorm – not a friend, no direct contact – tested positive and 1 kid’s close friend – direct contact while asymptomatic – tested positive. Knowing how many undiagnosed cases are out there it seems like folly at times to base decisions on those facts, but we are measuring risk and making decisions around anything we can on a daily basis right now, like everyone else.
My hope for my household and yours: be well and be together as much as it’s safe to be.