Over the course of the fall semester, places in the US underwent varying stages of lockdown in hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus. My hometown had some of the most severe lockdown rules, with all nonessential businesses halted for an extended period of time. But for all the personal sacrifices and isolation, my family was unable to follow the regulations for one major reason: parent visits.
I’m not talking about visiting my own parents, though. I spent my first semester in MIT and Harvard’s Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) PhD program as a virtual student, living at home with my two parents, a brother, and a foster brother. I started the semester stressed, wondering how I could possibly attend both MIT and Harvard from home while holding a baby. As he cried through my first couple classes, I thought that there was no way I could do well in school, and internally celebrated the fact that my classes had a pass/fail grading option.
My parents were wonderful with keeping him in a separate room and as quiet as reasonably could be expected from a baby, but he didn’t like these new arrangements. Gradually the internal reservations I originally had about my ability to successfully do grad school virtually lessened and gave way instead to true enjoyment. While my classmates were isolated in their Cambridge living arrangements, I got to leave class and spend the evening with my family, sitting on the floor of the family room and playing with a baby. This first major source of concern for me turned into a truly good outcome of the pandemic. While this concern lessened, a second one was on the horizon.
Part of foster care involves court-ordered visits between the foster child and the birth parent(s). Depending on the case, visits can take place at a foster agency supervised by a case worker, or unsupervised at various locations. When COVID restrictions were initially put in place parent visits were held virtually, but that changed as the pandemic continued. For my foster brother, visits are currently supervised at the foster agency. This means that for each visit, three separate households (mine through my foster brother, the case worker’s, and the birth parents) are required to come into close contact indoors, in direct contradiction to the current COVID guidelines restricting my state to two-household gatherings. The potential for infection during parent visits presented the second major concern of my fall semester.
As COVID restrictions are loosened across the country, a new and unexpected challenge awaited: my move to Cambridge for the spring semester. While this was originally the plan for all of my time in graduate school and was something I wished for in the early parts of the fall semester, it turned into something that would fill me with dread. I’ve always been someone who moves around to chase the next opportunity. I went to college two states away from my family for undergrad, I did internships across the country, and since starting college, I haven’t spent more than two weeks at home. I never was nervous before a big move or wished to stay home instead. That all changed this past semester. Suddenly, I found myself apprehensive about the upcoming move and couldn’t bear the thought of being so far from my family. I hadn’t even moved yet and was already planning my next trip home, in a totally unexpected round of preemptive homesickness.
While playing on the floor with my foster brother and pondering this newfound homebound attitude, I realized something: this little child had been away from his home since he was born. I had considered myself good at taking moves in stride, and yet I hadn’t left home until I was 17. Here was this child, thriving in the face of constant changes and separation from his parents. Even during the strictest part of the COVID lockdown, I had been at home with my parents while he only got to see his online. It brought to mind a saying that an old swim team teammate used: face adversity with a smile. My foster brother has faced adversity in the past before coming to live with us and has major changes looming in the future, whether he returns to the care of his birth parents or goes up for adoption. You wouldn’t know this by interacting with him, though; he’d be sure to throw you a ball and cheer for you when you catch it, or dance around until you can’t help but laugh. Not only does he face adversity with a smile every day, he brings a smile to everyone around him too.
If my foster brother can face true adversity with that much joy, then why should I face my move with anything less? My move to Cambridge is far from adversity. It’s a golden opportunity to study things that I love at two of the best universities in the world, and I’m incredibly lucky to have the chance to do it. When I get homesick, I’ll turn to online “parent visits” to talk to my family, like my one year old foster brother had been doing for months. I’ll do my best to thrive and grow as much as my foster brother does while I’m away from home, and keep looking to him as an example of how to have a positive outlook. We took him in with the intention of helping him grow; who knew he’d teach me so much.