Coping? Is it even a real thing? How can one cope when there is so much out-of-this-world stuff happening? I know COVID-19 is a reality globally, but as a regular mother from the southern state of Georgia, my problems did not begin in 2020. Yet, in 2020, I grew up in a way that I never imagined. This is what 2020 taught me.
As a mom
As a mom of five sons (ages 24, 22, 15, 12, and 3) it is my responsibility to nurture and protect my children from the world. However, the world’s problems became my children’s as well.
My 24-year-old scholar and electrical engineer child learned the meaning of furloughs and unemployment.
My 22-year-old self-employed contracting child learned that all businesses won’t survive a pandemic, and thus adopting new skills are a must.
My 15-year-old son learned how to attend school virtually — initially in uniform as his private school required. He is still learning the art of remaining dedicated to the sport of basketball while in a remote setting.
My 13-year-old has autism. He has idiopathic intracranial hypertension, which means he has excess spinal fluid on his brain. Some people call it pseudotumor cerebri because of the fake tumors that present on the MRI from pooled spinal fluid. He was hospitalized in January (for three days), then February (for three days), then March (for four days) followed by two visits in November, one for five days and the other two days. Each time he was there to get the pressure reduced and spinal fluid drained via a lumbar puncture under general anesthesia and interventional radiology. As a mom that meant pure torture. These in-hospital visits were one thing, but it was the visits following that were also difficult. Not only did I have a sick child, but a sick child with autism who now had to contend with COVID-19 protocols. The hardest thing for him was not touching every surface so he learned to don gloves and masks while not feeling his best.
My 3-year-old son learned how to explore the world around him through the computer, tablet, and television. He also learned that socializing with adults rather than peers was something he could adapt to as he challenged himself daily, building block towers and jumping over his playground of furniture.
As a wife
I am dedicated in every way to the man who has been the love of my entire life. We have been together for 23 years and married for nearly 14 years. I have lived with him longer than I did my parents. This year we buried both of his parents. Fortunately, they were not COVID-related deaths, but the end of two beautiful and full lives, nonetheless. Those two people were near and dear to my soul. I cannot imagine life without them. The sting of death is still quite fresh, and the mornings are rough. What I learned from it all is that joy comes in the mourning. To be sure, my faith in God has increased because I never knew the strength that I had within me. Even through the mourning of this incredible loss, I was still able to celebrate their lives while appreciating every moment of my own. I learned how to keep going through the tears and fear. I learned that I control how much love I give and that everyone deserves love and compassion. This is a hard time for everyone and no matter the level of grief, joy can be found in the small things like breathing, feeling the sunshine, realizing that I have shelter from the elements, and just being.
As a professor
Being a chemistry professor at Morehouse College, I am responsible for running an entire academic program in chemistry. I am a mentor with research responsibilities and an innovator with projects in many areas of chemistry and education. Many people look to me for leadership and direction in career choices and life paths. I advise future doctors, scientists, politicians, and agents of social change. Even though I am a STEM professor, as a leader at the college, I interact with students in every discipline. I pour my passion for chemistry and zeal for life into young men of the future. After all, I am a mom of boys, so Morehouse is a perfect fit for me.
As an entrepreneur
I am an entrepreneur with multiple businesses that thrived despite it all. First, our family business has many parts. We do digital design, primarily including videography and photography. We also do technical and educational consulting. I also have a health and wellness business; people desired to remain healthy while at home. Others felt it important to preserve the memories of their children through unique highlight films, commercials and photos which kept our digital design business growing. I learned that the small things matter, like giving individualized treatment to clients and that the money will flow as the energy of good is given unyieldingly to others.
As a humanitarian
I am a humanitarian who believes in creating avenues for the neurodiverse through science and technology. My hope is that I can do more than foster awareness for those with autism spectrum and other developmental disorders; that I can also create inclusivity. The needs of these individuals must be accommodated in society. It is imperative to see the gifts and talents of both the neurodiverse and neurotypical persons exhibited in the world. Before the pandemic, I created Super Science Saturdays for the neurodiverse learner and now I am beginning to create content to help students understand science from a sensory based approach and virtually. I am just the one to do it even with the obstacles facing the world today. I must continue to believe that our students with disabilities can be accommodated. I have the ear of senators and congressmen as an Ambassador for Autism Speaks and, having been chosen to sit on their National Advisory Council, I have the chance to give voice to the initiatives directly.
As a human
Finally, I am just human. 2020 taught me that my humanness is what makes me magic. By magic, I mean that I have the fortitude and resilience to survive what I believed to be the worst possible scenarios that life could offer. I learned that I could continue to dream and reach my goals. I learned that nothing lost is truly lost but can be repurposed for good. I learned that community can be virtual, and that joy is a mindset. My heart’s posture is still aimed at achieving my fullest potential and thus, I will go forth into 2021 with ease and hope. I am audacious, bodacious, and a completely outrageous voice to the voiceless. I want us all to win because we can if we believe!
What a difference a year can make. (Clockwise from left top). This is a picture of our Family with Matriarch Nina Morris (3-24-1937 to 9-9-2020) in September 2019. The next picture is of our family celebrating Patriarch’s Hector “Ken” Morris’ (6-21-1951 to 12-11-2020) life during COVID in December of 2020. Underneath is us together saying our last goodbyes to our Matriarch in September 2020. No one could have ever told us that we would gather twice in a year in masks and gloves to remember the lives of two very dear family members. Still, we hold dear to one another and together we are stronger.
Muhsinah L. Holmes Morris, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and the academic program director of chemistry at Morehouse.