As the parent of a high school athlete, I am here to tell you that Friday Night Lights has never been more relevant. It is six (seven?) weeks into quarantine with my high-school junior son. I knew I wasn’t enough for him. That’s why I gave him the gift of Connie Britton.
In self-quarantine in rural New York, I am navigating this pandemic with my husband and three children. There is a disquieting level of stress associated with the pandemic fever-scape American families suddenly occupy. Right now, it is 4 a.m. and the sky is lightening. There are the sounds of the early stirrings of spring, perhaps they are peepers, and the arterial tree branches define a sharp relief in this strange and unmapped country. Creating contours and differences in the days is a challenge and I have decided to search for parental cheats in social distancing that will help me to distinguish one day from another.
You know what they say about desperate times and desperate measures. To discover the upside to social distancing in a pandemic, I turned to Cameo (I will side-step the observation about our culture of fascination with celebrities because it is not my point). Cameo is an online platform where people can buy personalized short videos from celebrities who record a message and have them delivered by text and email to your recipient. If there is a defining element to this pandemic it is the lack of variance to people one sees every day. And while the luckiest people are those quarantined with those they love the most, managing the mental health implications for children of different ages – together with work, academics, and hundreds of other daily tasks – is challenging. This is all to say that I will do a lot to lift my children up. And I will live on that lift for longer than I might otherwise.
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In self-quarantine, time, abstract anyway, becomes more difficult to measure. The time now holds quality and timbre of anxiety. This kind of time now asks us to consider things, to take stock of ourselves. I am getting to be, what I consider to be, “creative" on a good day, and desperate on a bad day.
Every night I sit with my 17-year-old son, and we watch Friday Night Lights, a more-than-a-decade-old show about high school football in Texas. It is comforting to root for the characters, and we take outsized joy and vicarious pleasure in the successes of these fictional young athletes. We watch the quarterback for the Panthers become paralyzed in the pilot and root hard for him as he tries to reclaim a life once promised, now denied.
I celebrate the challenges of these characters because they are young, ridiculously gorgeous, and waiting for their lives to unfurl. And in this crazy real world we now occupy, the football coach and his wife, aka Coach and Mrs. Taylor, can be relied upon to do the right thing – always (What a relief!). When this pandemic is over, Friday Night Lights will be the soundtrack of this chapter.
Our boy is stuck with us. And while he copes admirably with this most of the time, he indeed has nowhere to go. He remains disciplined. He sometimes wonders aloud why this is happening. He does his work and he trains every day without the benefit of a team or a season. I have no good answers for him. He observes how reassuring Mrs. Taylor is as she promises a student that life will start.
Later, I look and I see that “Mrs.T." is right there, on Cameo. The little signs we look for in the pandemic scape are so strangely sustaining. We read into everything. Connie Britton turned up on Cameo at the exact moment I needed to find a way to communicate to him that I know I cannot always be enough, but I’ll always do the best I can by him. I am also aware of just how true it is that there is more gift to me in this extra time with him than there is for him with me. I want so much to make it better.
It turns out that there is absolute clarity about which the hypothetical parents sometimes engage – the one about the tension between kids staying little and growing up. We unequivocally want them to grow up and the pandemic/self-quarantine underscores the fact/cost of no actual choice.
I am grateful to count myself among the lucky ones. I can work from home. My husband has a stable job. We are healthy. And yet, everyone I know is worn out. When we first started hanging out and watching Friday Night Lights together, we talked about quarterback Jason Street and the fact that his approach to adversity is what defines him, far more than athleticism or any other single trait. In this child of ours, there is present a determination to stay the course when things are hard. Things are hard. But they will get easier.
So imagine my shock when there landed, in my inbox, a reciprocal present from my son in the form of a message from Scott Porter, aka Jason Street. Social distancing at its very best: heart-to-heart, room-to-room, and across the country. When you have been in your house for weeks on end, perspective becomes elusive. My son was stepping outside of himself to convey something important. He, together with his father and his siblings, was choosing to recognize the complex core of family in a national crisis. I mean, trust me, we all have our moments. This is hard. But this is where he landed.
This pandemic is a generational tsunami of reckoning. I have observed that this age-group is collectively learning that life is uncertain with specific outcomes anything but guaranteed. Everyone everywhere learns this lesson at some point; what makes this COVID-19 class different is that they are learning this at the same moment, but also separately. The simultaneity of the collective experience, therefore, skews toward the lonely. Perspective is one gift that must be discovered on one’s own to mean anything.
For this reason, reminders about challenges past generations have faced aren’t very helpful. I’m trying to enable my son to come to me on his terms. To use media and platforms that make sense to him. And when he does, he sometimes tells me things, things that he might not otherwise reveal. It is in those moments – at the twilight of his adolescence – I can see clearly the pandemic gifts I will carry forward.
This the eleventh in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.
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