Just a month ago, Paige and John Reynolds were settling into life with no kids at home; six months before that, their last child had left for college. One college student abroad, one in another state, and one coronavirus later, not only are the chickens coming back to the nest, but there’s a self-imposed quarantine and two family members are moving into the barn. This is the reality of life with college kids during a pandemic.
The Reynolds’ son Brad is a junior at the University of Southern California. He was on a semester abroad in Athens, Greece, through the College Year in Athens program abroad program when he got a call from his parents at around 4 a.m. Athens time. President Donald Trump had just announced that travel would be restricted from Europe—forgetting to mention that U.S. citizens would be exempt from this—and Paige and John had already booked Brad a flight home, and he had to pack up and leave within a matter of hours.
“He was totally disoriented,” Paige said. “He was like, ‘What is going on in the world?’” Soon, as he checked the news on his phone and his roommates started straggling out of their rooms as their parents called, he got it. “It was shocking,” Brad said.
Paige had been monitoring the coronavirus situation for weeks and watching as it slowly spread across Europe. She said as infection numbers climbed, and abroad programs in other countries were being cancelled, she kept a sharp eye on the news. By the time Trump’s announcement came on, around 10 p.m. eastern time, she was ready to buy Brad a ticket home. She had suspected that his in-person classes would be cancelled, but, she said, “I was fine with him doing online classes in Greece, but not with him being stuck there in quarantine.”
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, the Reynolds’ daughter Caroline was in the middle of her first year as a student at Tulane University. (They also have a son, Jack, who is out of college and lives in Utah.) Like many college students, Caroline and her friends were isolated from the severity of the situation. She said that at first, when the university announced that all classes should have a trial online class just in case, she was thinking they were overreacting. A week later, she was packing to come home for the rest of the school year; school would be all online for the remainder of the semester.
“The day they released that email, everyone went straight to happy hour at the college bar,” Caroline said. “It was the last hurrah.” She said her peer group and others she spoke with were mostly thinking about the impact of the virus on their social lives and college experience—it took time before they realized what was really happening in the rest of the world.
When Brad arrived in Boston, where he from Athens via Istanbul, Paige picked him up at the airport. He had a mask on and some antibacterial gel with him, and she immediately gave him a big hug. “Of course I’m going to hug him when he comes through,” she said. “I’ll do 14 days of quarantine to be able to hug my kid!”
Because Brad had already done a good deal of traveling this semester, including to Austria and Israel, the Reynolds family decided to quarantine. As they made their way home from Boston, John packed up and moved into the family’s barn, which luckily was already a livable space. Caroline, who was on her way home on Tuesday, gave an interview from the Detroit airport, where she said her plane from New Orleans was half full, most people had masks on, and she suspected her flight to Burlington would be sparsely populated. She has a week off and begins online classes next week. John will be working from home.
Caroline said she will spend the week not doing much. I’ll probably just be hanging out with [my dad], and I guess we’re allowed to go on walks in the back yard with my mom and my brother,” she said. “I’m kind of nervous actually that I’ll bring it back to my dad; an article just came out saying that New Orleans is a city with one of the most cases per capita. There’s nothing we can do though but stay at home and wait it out, I guess.”
Paige said it’s important to the family that they take potential community spread seriously. “We have a responsibility now to react as if we were in one of those highly infected countries,” she said. She said Brad was fine with being quarantined in the house with her, despite his disappointment at missing out on the rest of his semester abroad. “I think some of it has to do with the fact that one of my best friends has cancer, and is in chemo, and is immunocompromised,” Paige said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where it’s about further compromising someone in that situation. For me, it’s about what can we do proactively to help prevent the spread.”
Life at home, stuck inside with his mom, isn’t that bad, Brad said, with his mom cooking and taking care of him. “I try to help her out, but she also is an amazing cook and wants to cook,” he said. “A lot of home cooked meals…I can’t complain about it.”
Though he’s disappointed about missing out on the rest of his time abroad, Brad said that he’s passing the time playing Xbox and finishing his classes through the CYA program. Paige said she feels bad for him, so is trying to make the most of the time with him.
She is also refinishing the master bathroom, about which, Caroline commented, “Of course she is.”
“I pulled out the sinks, I’m refinishing the countertops; there’s plenty to be done around here,” Paige said. “I’ve pulled the double sinks out, I’m sanding and refinishing and varnishing and now I’ve got to figure out how to put it all back together. You’ve got to be busy, right?”
Though things didn’t turn out quite how they planned this spring, the Reynolds family all feel grateful that they get this time together, and that they are all home safe. Along with copious amounts of junk food and some healthy stuff thrown in for good measure, Paige said this time in quarantine, however strange, is precious.
“To be perfectly honest, once you just accept it, it’s like a total silver lining,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have my kid back…it’s been really nice.”