written by Sydney Record
It all started during a family birthday party when we heard on the news that COVID had hit a local Washington nursing home. By the next weekend at an outdoor birthday party, it was surreal as all 20 parents in attendance received a simultaneous phone call, “We are closing the school for the safety of everyone for at least 6 weeks”. But how?!!! How are we going to manage this?
My anxiety and stress levels skyrocketed as I scrambled to make sense of things. Okay, take a deep breath and call mom (Kari Record)! My parents yet again came to the rescue by offering to care for Eli and Indio (then 6 and 3). Come Tuesday morning, I distinctly remember dropping my kids off with my dad fully expecting to see them that night, but with the unknown COVID cases increasing, along with my job at a nursing home (Wait, what? A nursing home? You mean like the place COVID was first discovered in the US? What am I going to do???!!!!), I quickly decided that I would send the boys with my parents to the Whidbey beach cabin. I rushed to give the boys hugs and kisses, not knowing when we would see them again, heart pounding.
The next week, my husband Umar’s school shut down and he had to learn how to teach 160 sixth graders how to read, write, and communicate online. Umar is also a world champion Powerlifter (IPF Raw Bench Press champion M1 120+). The gym is his outlet, lifeline, and social network. What would we do?
Not to mention I’d just started as an Infection Preventionist four months prior, so the onus of keeping people’s loved ones safe was on me. I could barely concentrate with all the new information coming out and changing literally by the hour at times. I’d come home physically and mentally exhausted, yet still consumed with the day’s work and what else needed to be done. Although he desperately wanted to be with our own little boys, Umar refused to leave me, even though I encouraged him to go be with the kids. But he knew if he wasn’t home I probably wouldn’t eat or turn my brain off. He stayed with me, making sure I was taken care of even if that meant risking getting COVID. Within a few weeks, Umar developed a shortness of breath that would have him breathing heavily just rising to stand. Two weeks had past and we hadn’t seen our boys in person. Luckily, Umar did not not develop any other symptoms and his breathing improved quickly.
We were not out of the woods yet, as my facility had our first outbreak of COVID in March, confined to one unit, affecting 13 people out of 250 residents and staff. How we managed that, well, I would like to think that our diligent hard work and education of staff and residents worked! All the while my brain was in constant fight/flight mode. Four weeks had passed and we still hadn’t seen our kids.
We waited and worked and waited and worked and waited and worked. Easter without kids. We worked ourselves to the bone as Umar was pushed to lead his school’s efforts in delivering meaningful instruction online. Through it all, we leaned into each other, while deeply missing our little boys. We missed laughing with them, helping them with their schoolwork, wrestling with them, and even them crawling into our bed to get snuggles. As the weeks passed, zoom calls with the boys became fewer and less fulfilling. It became seemingly unbearable. It was then that we began wrestling with the idea of bringing them home. “They need to be with mom and dad. Or are we just being selfish? Are we being safe? Are they going to be permanently scarred by being away from us for so long? We hope they understand that we have not abandoned them. We need them. How do you make this decision when we have never faced anything like this before?
Six weeks later, we called my mom (Kari). With great trepidation, we tried to mass our fears as we plainly stated “We need our boys home.” That weekend, we could feel the life breath back into us as we finally wrapped our arms around our two amazing little boys! We were so happy to have them back, but new challenges began. Now we had to be even more diligent when I’d arrive home. “No one touches Mommy until all clothes are in the washer and she is fully showered.” We designated my car the COVID car. We taught the boys proper clinical hand washing technique. We created games and physical activities that we could do indoors. We had to re-learn how to play, interact, and peacefully coexist when generally confined to a small space. In many ways, we each had to redefine ourselves, who we are, what our interests are, and how to handle stress/challenges when the whole world around us is doing the same.
Within a few weeks, we started to get into a rhythm. Suddenly, our world was rocked again as the news of George Floyd’s death pounded in our heads, echoing in the wake of the murders of Breona Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery death a few months prior. We were faced with the fears of raising our bi-racial children in a country that seemingly did not want them. When would they go from being seen as cute, to being seen as a threat? My very large, very dark skinned husband began fearing for his own safety. Would police and law enforcement see this father and school teacher as a threat due to his size and skin color? How could I do more to support social justice and health equity? We decided that we could not just live in fear, that we had to act. The boys and I dropped my black husband off to attend a “peaceful” protest, nervous about what would happen. Well, it turned out, I was right to be nervous. As Umar was standing in a peaceful crowd, being a peaceful protester, the police threw a flash bomb into the crowd without warning, hitting Umar in the side, leaving a large puffy bruise. He was whacked with the handle of an AK47 by a police officer “passing by.” He witnessed a nine-year-old girl and countless others pepper-sprayed by police, again for just standing there. We were forced to have difficult conversations with our boys about racism and the events occurring in the world during a pandemic. Finally we were able to walk a peaceful family-friendly protest with 10,000+ people, to show our boys we stand by the side of social justice. There was ZERO police presence. This gave us light as we realized there was hope amidst the proverbial storm.
During this time I decided to take Our Redeemer’s up on checking in on our senior church members. I was assigned to Lars Sveum as one of my people, but reflecting, I’m pretty sure God assigned him to me! We talked several times a week for a few months until I was completely consumed with COVID and just trying to survive the second, much larger, outbreak in July.
I have personally administered over 1000 COVID tests, probably more, and never got COVID (that I know of). I lost count after our third week of mandatory weekly testing which all fell to me in September. Umar was teaching remotely full time and Eli was with him every day remote learning himself. Indio was able to go to preschool in person. As of April 2021, Umar has gone back to in-person school, so has Eli and Indio. I now have a job with the Washington Department of Health as an Infection Preventionist doing prevention work with long-term care facilities.
Reflecting on the last year, we are grateful every day for how lucky our family is. God has truly blessed us. We both have stable jobs, Umar and I truly bonded and connected during those six weeks apart from the boys. The boys in turn now hold a much stronger bond with each other and with my parents. I am so grateful for the handwritten cards that randomly showed up from church members (I cried through and cherished every card). We are grateful for the experience that led me to a new job where I get to work with more resources and the most wonderful team of colleagues I could ever hope for. We are ever grateful to have family nearby to hold us up. We are grateful that through it all we were able to see glimpses of hope that carried us through. We are grateful to be part of a church that is so dedicated to social justice!