Changing Images, Transforming Relationships

Trystan Loustau –

Polished frames. My family’s smiling faces. I stood back and admired the family photo wall that I had just renovated, having updated the outdated pictures of us from almost 8 years ago with snapshots of our more recent adventures. Like many Americans stuck inside this summer, I turned to home-improvement projects to keep me busy in my free time. The completion of this photo gallery refurbishing signaled the end of my latest project, and I was excited to show my mom the surprise. My mom is in the Navy Reserves, so when COVID-19 broke out across the U.S., she was mobilized with a group of Reserves nurses to help take care of hospital patients in New York City. Meanwhile, I was brought home to help take care of my siblings and the family home.

Many families with college students have been reunited during the outbreak due to university and residence hall closings, but, because of my mom’s deployment, she’s forced to be farther away from us than ever—a fact she deeply laments. Ever since I left home to attend FSU two years ago, my relationship with my mom has had its ups and downs—strained by my growing independence and my mom’s slowly emptying nest. The epidemic has furthered these challenges. My mom hates being separated from us and her anguish is difficult to deal with at times, but I do my best to be patient and comforting, reassuring her that she will always be an important part of my life. I was sure she would be thrilled about the photo wall when I told her about it, but, to my shock, she was upset. She told me she appreciated the thought but wished I hadn’t changed it because she enjoyed seeing the pictures of us when we were younger. I was surprised, confused, and hurt—once again, it seemed, my mom was clutching on to the idea of my three younger siblings and I as little kids. If anything, by testing our ability to function as an independent, four-person unit, COVID-19 has been a testament to our increasing competence.

As the oldest child, I’ve been called upon to fill in my mom’s shoes at the house: I cook, clean, walk the dog, and help my siblings with their homework. The others pitch in as well, but I’ve taken on the bulk of the responsibilities. Since I’m the oldest, so it felt like something I should do. In the past, I’ve often struggled with not wanting to be a bossy mother-like figure to my younger siblings but also feeling the urge and the obligation to protect and take care of them. My siblings have always kept me in check on this front—many a “you’re not our mom”s have been spoken and my brother even called me a “weirdo” for tidying up his room the other day—but the outbreak of COVID-19 seems to have created an unspoken understanding amongst us that my role as older sister has expanded for the time-being. Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job, other times I suspect that I’m just using the family work as an excuse to procrastinate on my studies. Above everything, I just want to make my mom proud.

Indeed, my mom has said many times how much she is proud of me and my siblings, especially under the current circumstances and she even came around about the photo gallery renovation. I understand why she reacted the way she did at first and I’m looking forward to having her home soon. Many things may be able to test our family bonds, but even a global pandemic will never succeed in breaking them.

Written May 25, 2020

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