The Heavy Toll of Virtual Learning
She was 11, active and creative before losing routines and connections during the pandemic. Then came the weight gain. Now she’s a teen taking back control.
Pre-pandemic, Saniyya was always real creative and hyperactive — a dancer. She was motivated: She started a nail polish business, and she started doing summer classes to teach kids how to take care of their nails. She’s always been very motivated and creative in that sense, which was great, because we were homeschooling.
When the pandemic hit, everybody went virtual, including my 12 homeschooling students. But I don’t think my husband and I were adequately prepared to handle the trauma or to even be aware of the signs. Nobody said, “Hey, guys, we’re about to hunker down for the next two years.” It was only supposed to be for two weeks.
I don’t think my husband and I were adequately prepared to handle the trauma or to even be aware of the signs. Nobody said, “Hey, guys, we’re about to hunker down for the next two years.” It was only supposed to be for two weeks.
My husband and I noticed that Saniyya became terrified of leaving our house for any reason. We started to go into her room and sit and talk to her because she didn’t want to leave her room. I mean, what do you say to someone? “Don’t be worried about COVID? It’s not that scary?” Well, I’m wiping down the groceries with disinfectant. I was telling her, “Don’t be afraid,” but then I’m doing scary things. And my mom, who lives in Utah, her friends were dying. It was a lot.
So we tried to keep Saniyya engaged. We tried to keep our daughters, now 7, 13 and 21, motivated. When we first went into the pandemic, I was just trying to keep my kids happy. I was bringing them candy every single day.
We were watching YouTube and TikTok and Disney+ and Netflix all the time. Keep in mind, this is when the racial injustice protests after the killing of George Floyd were happening. You know, Saniyya is coming of age, having a deeper understanding. … Also, I was teaching Black history during homeschool, and we talked about the slave trade and all of these things. So she’s gaining this awareness as the world is spiraling into chaos over race relationships, on top of this mean coronavirus out there. So she was just in her room, and she was quieter.
I was teaching Black history during homeschool, and we talked about the slave trade and all of these things. So she’s gaining this awareness as the world is spiraling into chaos over race relationships, on top of this mean coronavirus out there. So she was just in her room, and she was quieter.
It really got to a climax when I went to the pediatrician and the doctor told our daughter, “You’re obese.” It stunned all of us. We were like, “How can you say it like that? Like, why would you say ‘obese’?” Then the doctor pointed to the [chart]. “This is the normal weight line, and this is the obese line,” and she pointed them out to Saniyya. She’s always been in the above-average weight range, but never, never obese. Her weight gain during COVID was stark.
I know this hurt Niyya’s feelings because she later said, “Everybody compares me to everybody else and I hate it when people talk about my weight, and now I’m obese.”
I said to her, “OK, let’s do something. What do you miss?” She said, “I really miss my nail classes. I miss doing my nail stuff.” And I said, “So what do you wanna do? Let’s figure it out.” Since she’s very entrepreneurial, I asked, “What can you do to make some money?” She said, “I’ll write a book since I can’t teach my classes.” And that became our focus. She wrote her book, Sassy Nails: The Ultimate Nail Care Guide for Teens. She had a big launch. And then she started exercising. She was waking up every morning at five o’clock. We could hear the treadmill above our heads.
She looks amazing, and it’s not because she’s lost weight. There’s happiness again. Some heavy fear is coming off her.
I decided that we wouldn’t do homeschool for seventh grade because I just needed her to get out and get around people. We went back into traditional school. Then she just decided, “I’m gonna do one sport every season.” She did track, cheerleading and volleyball. She also went back to hip-hop dance and tried musical theater.
Now she’s back to herself, and her weight is coming down. She looks amazing, and it’s not because she’s lost weight. There’s happiness again. Some heavy fear is coming off her.
And I talk a lot more about taking care of ourselves. I’ve said to my oldest daughter, “I want you to understand that sometimes I don’t get it right. Pushing myself to the limit, like you all see me sometimes do, is not the way it should be done. I have to learn how to say ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘no’ to the wrong things. I have to nap when I need to. I need to do a better job of saying to you all, ‘Don’t talk to me right now, I’m tired,’ instead of fussing at you.” I let my family hear me mention things I like, like getting facials, and then following through and doing them.
Saniyya is learning to care for herself more. A couple of months ago, she said, “Did you know that when you watch your phone, it makes you think you’re hungry? Because of all the commercials? So I’m trying not to be on my phone so much.” She’s since put a little time manager thing on her phone that counts how many minutes you’re on the phone.
Saniyya is very proud of the work that she’s done, and she’s very proud of where she is right now. When you see her, there’s a confidence about her. There’s a strength about her. It has been a beautiful process.