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Photo ofNoeli Schutten

For as long as I can remember, I have been attached to the normal. But I never really understood what normal meant until the pandemic. For me, normal was going out with friends all the time, sharing the same drinking straws and food, not caring if I had a cough because it was normal. Little did I know that what was normal to everyone would be dangerous and something to fear. Even something so simple, like spending time with family became hazardous.

Family is a part of my normal; I would see family all the time. We were a typical family with hugs and everything for everyone. Time together meant playing games in my grandmother's basement until an adult called us for dinner. Then suddenly, everything stopped—no more hugs. We had to be sure not to get too close. Masks everywhere you go. Turning on the news meant seeing thousands of more deaths. In less than a week, everything I knew since I was born was suddenly not okay. It was dangerous. 

Holidays were no longer normal. Before the pandemic, each Christmas, we spent time with my Aunt Lisa who has health problems. She would hold our gifts hostage until we each hugged her. No. No gifts. If you forgot to give my Aunt  Lisa a hug at Thanksgiving or Easter, you would never stop hearing about it.

Suddenly, without notice, all I heard was, “No, you can't hug your aunt!” or “No, we can’t see Aunt Lisa! It's dangerous if she gets sick.” 

Then came Christmas of 2020, and we thought everything was better; we could see everyone and spend real time together as a real family. We hoped to go back to normal. But even then, we heard, “No hugs! No getting too close!” We had to extend the table so we could all sit together but not be too close. It felt like there were too many people with all 18-20 of us. Normal would have been our big boisterous family, deliciously close, joyfully loud.  

I saw my aunt three times in 2020, much lower than other years. Normally, she would take all the boys for a whole weekend, sometimes longer, and do a bunch of things with them. Then the next week, the girls got to go. My big, loving family has always surrounded me. I’ve always known someone would be there, whether it be a cousin or an aunt or uncle. It was so easy just to call a cousin and go for a bike ride. As we all got older, my cousins and I said “no” to seeing family. I said “no” to seeing the people I love the most because I was sure to see them on Christmas or Thanksgiving or even the next weekend. 

What I wouldn’t give to go back and say “yes” to family and say “no” to going out with friends! I miss family. A family who wants to do things, play games, and spend time together was my normal, so I took it for granted. My world of normal was turned upside down.

© Noeli Schutten. 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.