The Empty Nest Fills Up Again

Here he is playing his new piano keyboard last week when I drove down to bring it to him. This is in my room at the B&B where I was staying, before we brought it to his dorm.

Ten days ago, I helped my son move into his freshman dorm room at James Madison University. Seven days ago, he started classes, with a mixture of online and in-person classes. Five days ago, I drove down to bring him a new piano keyboard he needed for a music class. And yesterday, the university announced that campus is closing for at least a month, because there are more than 500 cases of covid-19 at school. That’s up to 601 cases as of today.

So this weekend, just two weeks after we loaded up a rented minivan, drove down to Harrisonburg, and spent hours setting up his dorm room, we are driving down yet again, this time to help him pack up and come home to take his classes online from here.

He does not have to bring everything with him, so at least we don’t have to rent a van again. Yet. School administrators plan to reassess at the end of the month and decide if they can reopen the campus and bring students back. In the meantime, I hope they’ll take another look at the dining halls, which I’m afraid are probably a major source of transmission, with too many students crowded together without face masks — because you can’t eat while wearing a mask. Many people are blaming students for partying together. Maybe some of them have been, though I know for sure that my son has not. But every student who lives on campus uses the dining halls (not to mention other common areas, such as dorm bathrooms). And social distancing there has just not been possible.

The school reacted sensibly a few days ago to reports of crowded dining halls by expanding the hours that they’re open. But it’s still not enough. They need to add plenty of takeout meal options, and might also consider adding other large campus spaces for meal distribution, even if it’s just pre-made sandwiches and other grab-and-go options, to thin out the crowds. It shouldn’t be hard to find some large spaces, now that almost all classes have moved online.

In the meantime, Jon Morgan is coming home. On one hand, I’ll worry a lot less about him being exposed to the virus here. On the other hand, I’ll worry about him passing it on to me and especially his father, if he has already been exposed to it on campus. I have missed him and will enjoy spending time with him again (though I have been in Harrisonburg with him both of the last weekends, so it’s not as if I’ve been apart from him for all that long). At the same time — and I hope I’m not a bad, selfish parent to say this — I was also looking forward to having more time to myself.

More than anything, though, I feel bad for him. He was looking forward to this new phase in his life. I think he was starting to get past his initial jitters and to enjoy the independence. And I know he was loving some of his classes. I wanted him to have an amazing experience in college, and that’s not going to happen if he’s sitting in his room at home. I hope he can go back soon.

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