Coronavirus College Crisis

Kyle & I, NYU Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Things are getting crazy. Now how do I parent this critical situation? While I eagerly await more news, I will update you.

6:19AM Mountain Standard Time, March 3, 2020:

Kyle: “Hey mom I know it is early but just in case I really need you right now. I just forwarded you an email that you also should have gotten on your own.”

Then Kyle screen-shotted the following message regarding the Coronavirus outbreak and sent it to me me:

Hello everyone

I’ve just learned about the email you received from NYU. As this has come as a surprise I think it would be really helpful for us to meet in the morning as a group. We can begin a conversation and members of the NYU Sydney team can respond to your questions…”

Us, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Next, here is a bit from the email Kyle forwarded me: 

Dear NYU Study Away Students in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, and Tel Aviv,

We appreciate that there are a wide range of views — and comfort levels — with your continuing to study away this semester.  However, we are mindful of new advice from the CDC concerning study abroad, and accordingly, we have developed new guidelines that aim to provide you with as much flexibility as possible in order to make the decisions that feel best to you and your families. Of course, given this is a rapidly evolving situation, we must all remain open to further adjustments should events require us to make them.

Each of you studying outside of the United States has the option either to continue your studies in-person at your current location, or to return home and complete your semester coursework remotely utilizing distance-learning resources, including Zoom…We will be sharing this email with your parents and guardians, and strongly encourage you to speak with them regarding your individual planning…”

Us, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

A few minutes later, Kyle sent me another message: 

Kyle: “Mom this is so hard.
I need advice and help.
This is not helping my mental health.”

Kyle & I, Sydney, Australia last year

Kyle is currently in Sydney, Australia studying abroad. Sydney, Australia is fourteen hours ahead of Utah’s Mountain Time Zone. When he messaged, I was out cold. I never heard my alerts. A while later, I rolled over, sleepily reached out and grabbed my phone. As I picked it up, I could see all of the alerts. I was stunned. I saw Kyle’s messages. I saw other messages. How could I miss all of them? 

Of course my heart sank as I read Kyle’s words. I was not there when he needed me. I was asleep. How I deal with having my baby so far away is letting go a bit and deep breathing a lot. I have learned that I need to be present and live life here in Utah. Thank goodness for the internet, for Facetime and Messenger. Yet, in these moments, when I literally cannot give him a hug, are the moments he feels so completely far away. 

Us in front of the Sydney Opera House last year

In these moments there is really nothing I can do, except to offer comfort, or apparently sleep through it. [insert hand-over-the-face emoji here]

Earlier, in an attempt to offer comfort to someone who is awake, I spent a little while messaging with Kyle’s girlfriend. She is studying away in Paris, France. She is also trying to navigate all the Coronavirus concerns.

Kyle, Mary & I, NYU, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

It is now 2:30PM MST. Kyle is awake. Yay! He and I just video chatted. Deep breath. He seemed ok. No. Actually he seemed better. I met some of his Sydney friends. They are about to leave for the Sydney campus meeting, you know the meeting which will discuss the coronavirus situation. As I think about them meeting to make a plan, in my mind I picture the zombies in the movie “World War Z. ” I cannot stop imagining those manic zombies as they feverishly climb the Jerusalem Wall and throw themselves over the wall and onto the other side, the side where the humans were sheltering. I remember seeing the panic people felt as they watched the zombies penetrate their safe space.

The realization was clear: there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. There are no safe places. 

Ok. Perhaps my analogy is a bit dramatic. Nevertheless, this is how this moment feels: the zombies could get my son and it is completely out of my control.

Us, Sydney, Australia

Let me back up and give you the build up. Earlier this week we received a very low key email from NYU outlining their concerns regarding the Coronavirus. As I mentioned, earlier today, we received another email from NYU. Both Sydney and Paris are included as NYU “Coronavirus-concern” campuses. Oh, and I believe the NYU Florence, Italy campus is now closed for the semester. Kyle is completely overwhelmed. So are his fellow students. So are we. In fact, Eli and I got our flu shots this morning.

True story. First we went to Walgreens. They were out of flu vaccines. Then we went to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart only had the egg-free vaccines remaining. I am sensitive to eggs, which meant the egg-free vaccine was actually a double bonus. The Wal-Mart pharmacist asked Eli and I a bunch of questions like, “have you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome?” Of course I thought of my friend’s brother who had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It is awful.

“No. We are good.” I told her.

She gave us our shots. Then she and I chatted long after my shot was administered. As we both side-eyed the lady wearing the designer plaid face mask, we talked about the importance of washing your hands — like all of the time. We talked about real ways to stay healthy, which led us to a conversation regarding the uncertainty of our world. As Eli and I walked away, he looked at me and said, 

“Mom, do you know her? It seems like you and she are friends.”
“No. No, Eli. I don’t know her.” I responded.

We laughed and then I thought about how these are the moments that make us feel like we all know each other. 

Big Daddy & Eli, Salt Lake City, Utah

The plot thickens: As Eli and I walked to the farthest parking spot in the parking lot, a fact that Eli finds completely annoying. (“Mom, why do you always park so far away?”) Well, as we got our steps in, Eli asked me about our upcoming trip. See, we have tickets to meet Kyle in New Zealand in less than two weeks. Eli is scheduled to fly out a few days later. He is taking his first solo-travel international flight and is supposed to meet us in Sydney. As we got into our car, he asked me if we should still go. Then, as we drove to Costa Vida, a local fresh-mex restaurant, I assured him that it will be obvious what we should do when the time comes. I know. Kind of a lame, non-reassuring answer. Nevertheless, a true answer. Finally everything seemed to shift back to normal as the man, who Eli says looks like someone who would not be working at a fast food restaurant, explained that he would really give Eli more Nacho cheese sauce without charging us. Then he asked us to watch him as he showed us how. 

As he ladled cheese, the Nacho Cheese Sauce Man proclaimed, 

“See, I make sure I get cheese on every chip. And because I do, I always give you more cheese.”

Eli, Salt Lake City, Utah

We all agreed the Nacho Cheese Man was indeed generous, we paid and took Eli’s chips to go. While he ate his Nacho Chips, I began writing. (Sorry Dave for buying our son such an unhealthy lunch). While typing, my sweet friend Maria, who works at the University of Utah, sent me information on how the University of Utah is dealing with the Coronavirus. Included in this email are travel restricted countries. New Zealand and Australia were not listed. I am still hopeful. Nevertheless, I think Dave is correct when he suggests that the Coronavirus is having a ripple effect. It reminds me of the impact waves of 9/11. It seemed whether directly, financially, or emotionally impacted, everyone was affected. And now concerning today’s Coronavirus, I imagine the ripple includes Nacho Cheese Man. 

It is now 3:31PM. I couldn’t stand it. At 3:10PM MST I messaged Kyle (again).

Beth: Any news?
Kyle: Still in meeting. They are hoping we stay.
Beth: Oh good. Are they asking you to take it a day at a time?
Kyle: Kind of. NYU Sydney is pretty flustered.
Beth: I am sure they are flustered.

Facetiming with Kyle at 3:32 PM MST today

At 3:31 PM Sydney, Australia time (Australian Eastern Daylight Time):

Kyle’s meeting (finally) ended. It looks like for today he is going to remain in Sydney. Sydney feels and seems remote. Maybe he is safer there. We are still planning on our visit. Even though all of the hand sanitizer, even the crappy off brands, are literally sold out all over the world, I managed to find some hand sanitizing wipes and some antibacterial Wet-Ones brand wipes. I will send a packet of each with Eli. I will urge him not to touch anyone. I will urge him to wipe down the seats. Dave and I will do the same. In the meantime, I will keep washing my hands. I will keep Clorox wiping our handles. I will try to sleep. I will take a  deep breath. 

Us, NYU Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Ultimately, I realize all we can do is take it one day at a time. If everything changes tomorrow, we will deal with it then. Like I just told Kyle (we talked for a long time after his meeting), no matter what, everything will be ok.