Meg, 38, and Jack, 14, live in Alexander, North Carolina. Meg, a single mother, is a registered nurse and teaches nursing. She and her son, Jack, have been living together, just the two of them, through the pandemic.
This is part of “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.,” a series of conversations between parents and their children about how their relationship has changed since the beginning of lockdown.
Meg: We moved to Alexander from Asheville in the middle of the pandemic. It’s very rural here. Most of our neighbors are cows.
Jack: I don’t think we have a single stoplight.
Meg: All we have is a post office. I’ve taught nursing at our local community college for about a year and a half. We’ve been doing our lectures over Zoom. At first I really missed the interaction with students. Now at least our clinicals in the hospital—the hands-on portion of teaching, working with patients—are happening again. When the pandemic started, you had not too long ago switched schools. You’d been in a really big middle school and it wasn’t working for you at all.
Jack: It was too big and the kids weren’t the nicest. The new school was more like a calming place. I enjoyed going to school, which I never thought I’d say.
Meg: In late March, when they shut down any sort of in-person activities at school, that’s when I realized, “Oh this is really happening.”
Jack: I was sad that I couldn’t see my friends but also a little nervous that it was just us in the house, like, forever. No offense.
Meg: None taken. I had just figured out how to be a teacher and now I had to figure out how to do it all online, and figure out how to have this consistent, 24/7 interaction with you. We’re living in this little teeny tiny house. There was no separation between the two of us.
Jack: At first, it was awkward to have to interact all the time.
Meg: You would always be playing video games and talking to them the whole time. You were like, “Oh, I got him. Oh, great catch.” It was just a constant running commentary. So, it was a lot, at first.
Jack: I knew that you were annoyed, but I also was not going to change my ways.
Meg: Yeah, I realized very fast that you weren’t going to change your ways and therefore I needed to change mine. Because I’m the adult and I need to act as such.
Jack: Nothing you did really annoyed me that much, it was just—
Meg: Constantly being next to each other and being in the house. Just having me around all the time.
Meg: We’re both very solitary people most of the time, we’re both loners, and so it was a lot to have that much constant interaction with somebody, regardless of who it was.
Jack: We had a big argument over you thinking that I stole your Heath bar.
Meg: Oh, I fully believe that you stole the Heath bar.
Jack: I didn’t.
Jack: There was a decent amount of yelling.
Meg: I don’t think I yelled, but I was very stern.
Jack: Yeah. Yelling for us.
Meg: That’s true, we’re not really yellers. But I was very stern in insisting that you had taken it, and you insisted that you had done no such thing. And then the next day it was in the freezer, magically.
Jack: I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t, and then I got sort of mad that I was getting accused of something that I didn’t do.
Meg: I think for me it was feeling like I had so little to look forward to anymore that this one thing was such a huge deal, and in reality it totally isn’t. The Heath bar showed up the next day, and I just decided to just leave it alone.
Jack: The incident faded, but it hasn’t completely faded.
Meg: I let it go, because I don’t know what happened, and we’ll just leave it at that. You want to tell the story about your school work?
Jack: In the first and second quarter of school, I was not showing up to class or doing my work most of the time.
Meg: You were still completely online. And I was under the impression that you were going to school and doing all your stuff, and I was back to being part time in the office and part time working from home, so I wasn’t keeping up with it at all.
Jack: I guess I just got bored and I fell into a rut at the beginning, when I was trying. So I was like, “If you’re going to fail trying, why not have fun and not do anything, and not try?”
Meg: You’re a very social learner. You’ve always learned best when you talk it out with your friends, so not having that, I don’t feel like you had the incentive to really do anything.
Jack: We had to read a passage and then answer questions about it. It’s normally not that hard, but this one seemed harder to me, so I just quit on it. Not my finest moment.
Meg: And it snowballed. You got so far behind that you felt that you couldn’t catch up and that there was no point in trying.
Jack: Since I also didn’t show up to the Google Meets, I didn’t understand the curriculum. It wouldn’t have been hard if I knew the curriculum, but that’s on me for not doing anything. Most of the time I would wait for you to leave for work and then I would go play on my PlayStation.
Meg: I had no idea. You’ve always been a good kid and I’ve never really had to keep on you about stuff. You’ve been pretty responsible. I didn’t know how bad it had gotten until your report card showed up.
Jack: Which I tried to hide as well.
Meg: Yeah, you had developed a plan to hide the report card from me.
Jack: I wouldn’t say it was developed, because it didn’t work.
Meg: You were working on a plan. You got really into checking the mail, and I was like, “This seems out of the blue.” And then I realized that I had gotten an email saying that report cards were on their way. I realized that was probably why you were checking the mail, and so I figured that you were probably trying to intercept your report card. And I asked you about it, and you dodged, and I figured that was a really bad sign.
Jack: I was sort of making up a system as I went. I was going to get the mail and either bury it somewhere, or throw it in the bigger recycling bin, at the bottom.
Meg: I like the plan to bury it. That’s pretty funny.
Jack: That was my first idea, and I realized that was dumb.
Meg: Really involved.
Jack: Yeah, it didn’t come to fruition. I realized how obvious that would be.
Meg: Yeah, why is there a hole in the yard?
Jack: Then I asked you to meet at my therapist’s office, to discuss the report card.
Meg: You had a weekly appointment with the therapist at the time, and you asked me not to open the report card until we got to the therapist, so we’d look at it in front of a mutual third party. What shocked me most was not the grades but the comments, because I’ve always gotten glowing comments about you as a student and person, and this was the first time I’d ever read a report card that was like, “Jack’s not doing anything. Jack’s not coming to class. Jack’s not trying at all.” We had a very open discussion about how we could make this better together.
Jack: I started working basically immediately after that.
Meg: I emailed all of your teachers, and got all of the assignments that you were missing. We ordered you a bunch of office stuff off of Amazon. You’d been working in your bed, so we ordered you a desk and a whiteboard and a lamp and a chair. I would write all the assignments on the whiteboard, and when you got finished with one, we’d mark it off and we literally just sat in your room and did every single one of those overdue assignments.
Jack: I was grateful.
Meg: We genuinely had fun.
Jack: Now, I have A/B honor roll.
Meg: Yeah, you have really, really pulled it together.
Jack: At first I was a little bit skeptical of therapy, but then I went along with it. COVID in general, and the stress of not knowing if you’re going to get it or someone in your family or someone you care about is going to get it—that’s been really hard.
Meg: We started therapy because I got a text from one of your friend’s mothers. She had read some text messages between you and your friend, and you had voiced that you were pretty depressed. And so I asked you about that and we talked about it for a while, and we decided that we should look for a therapist. I shared my own struggles with depression and let you know that you weren’t alone.
Jack: I feel like you really did a good job with that.
Meg: Well, thank you.
Jack: I definitely feel happier than I did. I feel like there will be an end to this at some point. I just feel better than I did before.
Meg: I’ve always thought that you were an exceptionally fantastic person, and seeing your resilience through all of this, and your determination, and your good humor, and your willingness to be so accepting of me, I’ve been really impressed with that. Watching you overcome your school stuff—it’s been really moving.
Jack: Our relationship before the pandemic wasn’t as good as it is now, I would say. We were a bit more distant.
Meg: Yeah, I’d say that’s totally fair. We kind of kept to ourselves. We lived together, but we didn’t really interact with each other as much as we probably should have.
Jack: Especially for such a small house.
Meg: We just had very different interests for a long time and you had a closer relationship with your dad, I think, and then your dad was no longer in the picture, and we had to figure out how to have our own close relationship. I’ve always been a strict, hard-ass mom, and so I had to learn how not to be a hard-ass all the time, because it was going to grind us both down. So I had to learn to be a little more open and a little more like a friend.
Jack: A little more mellow.
Meg: I definitely had to mellow out as a mom. That’s a good way to put it, Jack.
Read the other entries in “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.”