Moms help teens tackle social distancing

Friends, activities and college prep go virtual

Spencer Freer

High school senior, Mason Freer of Hopewell Junction, plays online gaming programs with friends for social interaction and fun.

These days, Winnie Abramson of Gardiner has plenty of company at home.

A nutritionist with Stronger U in Newburgh, Abramson works from her house in Gardiner but now, with the restrictions of COVID-19 implemented weeks ago, so does husband. The couple’s daughter, a senior at New Paltz High, also is home as is their son, a junior in college, and his girlfriend.

“It’s hard for them,” said Abramson of the kids. “It’s hard for all of us to be working from home; hard to be self-motivated.”

They’re in good company. Across the Hudson Valley parents and kids are spending long stretches of time together at home, in the process figuring out how to meet work, school and personal needs. For teens, social distancing can be especially difficult and for high school seniors that are making plans for college in the fall, moving forward amid a trail of unknowns can be challenging.

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Dealing with disappointments. Fortunately, Abramson’s daughter got an early acceptance to Barnard College in New York City. Even so, the previously scheduled Advanced Placement exams her daughter planned to take have shifted and are liable for further shifts, with the tests shortened considerably and moved to online platforms. Plus, the high school’s mock trial team, of which Abramson’s daughter was captain, abruptly ended, graduation is up in the air and how her college classes will begin in the fall is unknown. 

“I don’t know that they’re going to start on campus on the fall,” said Abramson. “Barnard is in New York City, all the places,” a problem, since it’s been the hardest hit in the country by the COVID-19 virus.

In the meantime, Abramson’s daughter participates in Barnard’s Zoom sessions for new students and focuses on her regular schoolwork, albeit, remotely. She also spends time with her brother and his girlfriend, watching movies and cooking together, and has Zoom lunches with her friends.

“We get outside a lot,” said Abramson. “My husband and I take dogs out and she comes with us quite a bit. She’s exercising more than she was. We have a home gym and she’s been doing that more than she was before. I think everyone in this house has found that we all feel better when we stay as active as possible.”

Another mom, Monica Freer of Hopewell Junction, has six kids from 10 to 22 years old, including two sets of twins.

Mason and Spencer, both 18, are seniors at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction, who now are missing out on their school's track team, a big disappointment as Spencer had made it into the New York State competition.

“He burst on the scene,” said Freer. “He’s a jumper and a winning league state qualifier. It’s huge.”

The family, she said, keeps conversations going and understands that what’s happening here is happening across the country. In the meantime, the teens run the outdoor rail trail and do sprints to keep in shape, physically and mentally. The also social with their friend through online gaming platforms.

“It’s not fun for anyone, staying at home,” Freer said. “They’ve kept the workout routine going.”

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For Tracey Holland of Poughkeepsie, a visiting assistant professor at Vassar College, the issues for her daughter, Luisa Capetillo, 15, who is in 10 grade at Oakwood Friends School, center on schoolwork, independence and friendships.  

“In the past few weeks, I asked Luisa not to go on walks with friends, even at six feet apart,” said Holland. “But hopefully soon I will feel that is safe to resume these walks because she misses them dearly. With the nice weather coming, it will be difficult to keep her from her friends.”

In the meantime, Luisa uses FaceTime, Snapchat, and Instagram to stay connected, especially late into the night when they all get online. Luisa also is getting used to having her cello lessons and orchestra sessions online, but her team sports activities have been cancelled. 

“I think we’re at a pivotal moment,” Holland said. “She’s fed up. Last night, for the first time she said, “I’m going for a walk with a friend.’” Holland told Luisa that she’d have to wait another two weeks for that walk.

Taking it a day at a time. Freer said the biggest question for her 18-year-olds is whether to move ahead with college deposits and plans.

“Is the fall semester going to happen?” she said. “What about kids in elementary and high school? [At the college level], kids come from all over the country and internationally on to one campus – then what happens? We just take each day and plan for the best. It’s very hard.”  

Luisa Capetillo, 15, of Poughkeepsie misses seeing her friends and for now, uses social media to connect and socialize with them. 

Spencer, she said, already has committed to Bingham University, but Mason is deciding between Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Syracuse University, where his older brother went. They’d planned on visiting RIT in March, but with the campus now closed, they’ve been doing virtual visits. They’re also breaking down financial costs, student housing and meal plans through Zoom interactions and phone calls.

Of her other kids, the oldest, a 22-year-old son, lives and works in the Albany area and is looking at buying a house. The family hasn’t seen him in weeks. Another son, 20, went Dutchess Community College, but with the school now closed, he’s focusing on his single-operator landscaping business and work as a volunteer fireman, all with safety precautions.

Abramson’s family has dinner together nightly, which didn’t happen before the quarantine, and, while everyone has moments of anxiety, their focus is on being positive. That’s key because with everyone in the house, there’s little privacy.

“I know my kids and I can see when they’re not doing so hot,” Abramson said. “There’s not too much to do about it right now but to give hugs and try to do something to change the mood.”

And with so much being open-ended, it’s important to focus on the positives.

“You know, it’s hard with the kids because I think they have an attitude of well, I’d rather get sick and get it over with,” Abramson said. “We talk about it constantly. It’s not really a solution. If you got sick, you’d still be isolated and feel worse.”

Establishing a routine. Holland usually is up before her daughter is and has begun to bring breakfast to her daughter for a bit of morning interaction and a sense of routine. Sometimes they talk about the day’s plans. After that, Holland goes to her in-home office where she works for most of the day.

“She is self-sufficient, and self-directed,” said Holland. “After Luisa gets out of bed, her schedule is unstructured, but there are some constants. She does schoolwork, takes a walk, eats, practices her cello, and studies Spanish, and spends time on her phone. Like of all of us, she has good days (mostly) and bad days when she doesn't feel like doing much.”  

Her daughter’s school, Oakwood Friends School, is doing a good job with remote learning, said Holland, as the program is flexible yet accountable. As well, Luisa’s advisor checks in with her weekly and while her daughter would rather be in school, she seems to be doing well.

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“The uncertainty and the vulnerability, and now increasing concerns over job and salary losses, take up a lot of mental space, so I am grateful I just have one child to take care of,” she said. “All of these stressors Luisa also feels indirectly. Even if she hears me cough, she gets really nervous. She doesn't really want to talk about the pandemic anymore. So, I do support her by being sensitive to this, and when and if she wants to talk, I am there to listen.”

In all, Holland said, her daughter doesn’t mind being home, but would rather be with her friends than mom, whether its for walks, playing board games or other activities.

“I think that each child is different and is processing these events and their new life conditions differently,” she said. “I don't have high expectations for our alone time. I am happy if we talk for a minute over oatmeal, or if I pop into her room and show her my outfit and we both laugh because we know that only means the top.  We talk about how my hair looks, and which style is best for Zoom.”

As a distraction, Holland also has been organizing old photographs, with a photo sometimes sparking a quick conversation. While Luisa and her friends have shown restraint and are being careful, stresses bubble up.

“What I have learned and that is that I have come to appreciate the brief exchanges which used to seem insignificant,” Holland said.

For Freer’s younger twins, 10, a son and daughter, having a routine, helps.

“It’s a bigger learning curve, at 10 years old, trying to manage an inbox email,” said Freer, of the kids’ schoolwork. She helps the kids organize their lessons and schedules, including schoolwork, instrument practice, Zoom-based dance classes and outdoor soccer drills and exercise.

“The first couple of weeks we were all over the place,” she said. “It was a hot mess.”

With schedules in place, things are better, although they allow for some flexibility. The family also has dinner together, walks, has done movie nights and is planning game nights.

Freer holds-fast to an hour of morning exercise, sees that her kids are set for school and then focuses on her home-based business, 31 Gifts. 

“I’m running that the same as I did before, but I didn’t have kids here all day,” she said. “I’m juggling helping the little ones, checking on the big ones, making dinner, running a business – I’m learning to be flexible.”

Ava Freer of Hopewell Junction set up an at-home space to participate in her dance class through scheduled sessions on Zoom.

“School work takes an hour some days, and other days, three or four,” said Freer, of older twins, who also are spend time preparing for upcoming Advanced Placement exams, which have been moved to shortened, online tests.

“They’re strong academically and know what needs to be done,” she said.

While Freer said daily life is trial and error these days, being together has its advantages.

“I feel like being at home now gives us the opportunity to do things we wouldn’t normally do,” she said.

 Karen Maserjian Shan is the editor of Hudson Valley Parent.