March 13 was a day we would all remember. My classmates were cheering and packing up, thinking we would have an extra-long spring break. We were told so little because those in charge knew so little. None of us knew this would be the beginning of a strange new normal. The news told us that it would last no more than a few months. Our parents told us not to worry, but then they were told 34 cases in Milwaukee. Our leaders told us to stay inside for months at a time, leaving only for groceries. Experts told us to sanitize everything we can, whenever we can. We were told that if we all stayed home, stayed distanced, wore masks, and washed our hands, it would be gone quickly.
It's still here, 622,000 cases later. Welcome to my strange new normal: I see the deaths rising on the news daily, seven thousand in Milwaukee alone. Things are shifting from my everyday life. I am staying up until two in the morning, waking up at noon.
After a month, we expected to be able to leave our homes. Nope, one more month. Could I take another month, another week, another day? I didn't think I could ever go back to school. I spent 30 minutes doing school each day. We wouldn't be graded. What did it matter? It didn’t matter to me if summer was close enough.
On the rare occasion I would be up early, I found myself in the kitchen, making some new recipe I found on TikTok or Instagram. I would clear my head with baking. It helped me get up early and do something nice for my parents, my brother and his girlfriend, and some of my neighbors. My brother's girlfriend, Melanie, would grab extra flour or sugar whenever she was at the store with my brother just in case I needed it.
Fortunately, I played games and watched movies or new shows during all of these challenging times. When I needed a change, I loved trying recipes with my family. These months led me to realize how much I appreciate my family and recognize how much they matter to me in my life. I learned how fortunate my family and I are that we didn't get Covid-19. We didn’t struggle through like many others I know.
The challenges of the first months of the pandemic seem so distant. I’ve already learned from that experience, and it feels like history. That reality made me realize what matters to me in my most challenging times. Without my routine, friends, and the assurance of good grades, it was hard to feel stable. Those routines, friendships, and grades had all been my stability and predictability. They assured me I’d do well the following year. Now I know that I can find my way through many more challenging obstacles. I learned how much my family means and how I can be happy. I can look back and see that I continued to have a positive life when the world was going through such a negative time because of them. I learned what I needed to be satisfied: friends and family during the most difficult times in my life.
Finally, I learned what I needed to be happy, and that was to be me, not to worry about grades excessively, or to constantly change to become perfect. I can tell myself to be myself around those I care about. Being me makes me feel at peace, and I realized that I want to hold on to that feeling.
© Emilia Anders. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.