Aaaah, 2020. The year that we all want to just fast forward to get to the end… or delete. Except for matrics, who need some exam marks to get into varsity, or apply for jobs

Right. So on 17 March, school closes for my daughter and we think it’s going to be for a few weeks. Everyone takes a break (it was almost holidays) and Easter is around the corner anyway… we can all do this.

By the end of the Easter weekend, my daughter is starting to worry about all the assessments and assignments on her year calendar, and the looming June exams. By this stage, the teachers at school have got their heads around Microsoft Teams or Zoom (or even WhatsApp) and occasional lessons start. By mid-April, online learning is in full swing, and Em is coping with this new way of communicating with teachers, and looking forward to seeing her mates again on 1 May.

Then the announcement that schools are going to be closed for longer than the anticipated period, and matrics will return on 1 June. Goodbye to June exams (happy face to this) but goodbye to the matric dance too (not such a happy face). And hello to an increasingly moody teenager, who is battling to deal with all the changes that are turning her world upside down in a year that is supposed to be as stable and calm as possible.

She misses her 18th birthday party

A cake with mom and dad is the lamest way to celebrate, but she is reading all her set works, working hard on her art and drama assignments and is spending a part of each morning shooting videos of her dad teaching maths to his matric class. She copes really well with her ‘temporary’ lifestyle…until she gets into bed at night.

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This is when she spends time on her phone – and the Covid-19 stats start to get to her

The Western Cape was the hotspot back in May and her gran and other family are living there. The deaths are freaking her out as she has a diabetic grandfather, who is over 70. And when she reads about children succumbing to the virus, she cries.

This is when she starts to feel anxious. She is battling to fall asleep – and is often still awake at 2am

We tried distracting her with comedy sitcoms just before bed but it didn’t help the nightmares. Headaches, sore tummy, and fear of the dark followed… and I started to fear for my brave and outspoken activist daughter, who has been provisionally accepted to study law at UCT next year, hasn’t eaten an animal, bird or fish since the age of 10, is an ambassador for a teen suicide helpline, and supporter of all human rights campaigns.

I worry that she is not ready to leave home and move to the other side of the country in a few months if this virus continues to terrify her. She is isolated from friends at a time when this last year of high school should be her best one ever. She is 18 and should be learning to drive. She can even drink now if she wants to – but her precious ID lies on the table, the longed-for official passport to bars and clubs useless now. (We refused to give her R500 for the fake ID that ‘everyone’ else was getting so she had to to wait for her legal status.)

Her cellphone is her lifeline to the outside world, her contact with her friends, so for that I’m grateful. But it’s also her source of news, and teenage drama runs rampant on Whatsapp groups.

When school opens again on 1 June, she is nervous of leaving the house to spend the day in buildings and in relatively close contact with others, scared of becoming infected, more for putting her older family members at risk than for her own health. But her fears soon diminish, as there are lots of safety measures in place at school, and so far, there have been no positive cases (teachers or learners). We live in a small town on the KZN south coast and the school is relatively small, and for weeks the matrics were the only ones there.

The anxiety has lessened (although I see her face when the news broadcasters tell us that KZN may soon be the next hotspot), and being at school and working really hard and laughing with friends at break is doing her more good than being isolated at home, with just her parents – and her thoughts.

I was relieved when Cyril announced last night that matrics would only have a one week break from school, and pray that this country reaches its Covid-19 peak so that we may start on our downward path – to fewer cases and fewer deaths.

Matrics are still worried about what the vague statements on ‘extending the academic year will mean for them, but the young are flexible and resilient – and mostly healthy. So we are all hoping that Em gets to write her matric exams this year and that 2021 brings hope, and a virus-free future for our Class of 2020 across the nation.