Predictability in the Most Unpredictable of Times: Building the Plane While We Fly It

I am writing in defense of college students.

I know what you’ve heard. They’re entitled brats. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. They’re out at the bars spreading COVID.

Sure. That describes some college students. It doesn’t describe the majority.

College during COVID isn’t what college is supposed to be. We’ve told our college students to do the opposite of what we usually tell them. Instead of telling them to make new friends, we are telling them to hang out in their pods. Instead of promoting study abroad, we’ve suspended the program. We are trying to encourage them to get involved….but stay in their residence hall rooms.

Student organizations aren’t allowed to have the large gatherings that bring together students with common interests. Professors can’t even move chairs around rooms to create groups for discuss.

If someone who sat next to you in class had a positive COVID test, you’re in quarantine for 14 days. You take your stuff and move across campus to a single room where we’ll deliver you some food.

As a professor, my job is less fun. I am grateful for Zoom. I am grateful for Google Drive. I am grateful for the technology that allows us to connect when we can’t be together in person.

The college students I work with are rolling with the punches. They’ve developed a new normal in a world that’s not normal at all. You never leave home without your student ID, your cellphone, and your mask.

I am proud of them.

I work with a unique set of students in the Gerontology program. They are following COVID closely and frequently talking about how it’s impacting older adults, their families, and nursing homes. Many of my students work in nursing homes, memory care communities, or as home health aides.

I had a Zoom meeting with a student last week who told me, “My favorite resident died of COVID last night.”

But then she came home from work and had to watch a recorded lecture for her online course. She bombed an online quiz and went to bed.

Grad school didn’t prepare me to support students through 2020.

I am working on a dementia related project with two of my students. We are putting together a program to educate people on dementia in 5-10 minutes a day for 18 days.

People are sick of long Zoom sessions and online lectures. This is a bit of a different format, and we hope people will find it beneficial when we unveil it this winter. INSERT DRUM ROLL HERE. The ultimate goal is to help people understand dementia and make the world more dementia-friendly.

It’s a weird time to be a professor. I am not about to complain…because COVID has impacted many careers in ways that make this look like small potatoes. I am fortunate to have a job, and I still enjoy my job. But some of the more rewarding parts of my job are on hold.

This project has kept me going.

My students, Anne and Bailey, meet with me every Friday morning on Zoom. I make myself coffee and sit down at precisely 9 am. We talk about the project. It’s coming together, and we are excited. We talk about other stuff, too. All sorts of stuff.

Sometimes I worry that they wish I’d end the meeting so they could get on with their days. But I really enjoy talking to them.

We once pushed our meeting back half an hour because one of us had to get a COVID test. One Friday I was quarantining until the results of my husband’s COVID test came back…turns out it was just allergies. One of us had symptoms that turned out to be a flu or bad cold. I might have delivered a snack pack to her apartment.

In the midst of an unpredictable semester, my Friday meeting with Anne and Bailey has been predictable. The university has had to change rules and protocols as a response to changed mandates at the local and state level.

My original plan was to work part-time in my university office this fall. That’s changed…my office is too small to meet with students safely. I’m working at home full-time with very occasional trips to campus to sign forms, use the color printer, and pick up mail.

Everything has changed except for our Friday meetings.

Due to COVID, the university even changed our semester schedule. We are done with the fall semester after Thanksgiving and start back on January 25.

Last Friday, I asked Anne and Bailey a question. Do they want to continue working on our dementia-friendly project over this extended break? If so, do they want to meet on Friday mornings? Or at a different time? Would they want to meet every other week instead of every week?

They’re under no obligation to work on this project during a school break. I told them to talk about it without me present. I didn’t want to pressure them.

But, yes. To my relief, they want to continue during break. And they prefer to continue to meet on Friday mornings.

I will add those meetings to their google calendars today.

If you are person living with dementia, a family caregiver, a professional caregiver, or just a random person who came across my blog, I would encourage you to find something positive to put on your calendar once a week. Something fun. Something that makes you feel productive. Something that relaxes you. Whatever it is, it’s got to be positive.

A phone call with a friend.

An hour to watch your favorite TV show.

A morning that you go all out and make yourself a hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles.

A time to participate in your favorite hobby.

A 10 minute yoga class on Youtube.

If all you’ve got is 5 minutes to lie down on your bedroom floor and take deep breaths, I’ll take that. If you want to schedule 10 minutes to sit in your closet without your cell phone, I support you.

But it in your planner. Google calendar. The family calendar in your kitchen.Your notebook. A sticky note on your mirror. Whatever you use.

And, in this crazy world where little is predictable, know that you’ll be doing something positive at that time.

This semester a college student complained to me that it seemed like the university is building a plane while flying it.

Yeah, we are.

Perhaps we are all building a plane while flying it.

Nursing homes are building and flying at the same time–as are people living with dementia, family caregivers, professional caregivers, and pretty much everyone else.

It’s almost like we weren’t prepared for COVID because we…well…we weren’t prepared for COVID.

When life is unpredictable, we must accept that we can’t control everything. The motto at our university this fall seems to be “Control the controllable.”

Lesson 220: Control the controllable | Lettering, Lesson, Hand lettering

It’s really all you can do, right?

If you’re like me, you’re looking for a way to root yourself in the midst of an unpredictable storm.

So take back a bit of control and schedule that one thing on your calendar to give you just a little bit of solid footing. One thing that COVID and the crises and stressors of everyday life can’t change.

Sorry, Bailey and Anne. Looks like you are stuck with me. See you Friday morning.

One thought on “Predictability in the Most Unpredictable of Times: Building the Plane While We Fly It

  1. Well said, Elaine. As always, I cling to your every word. Passing this on to my professor daughter who is in the same boat.


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