After 18 months in hiding, my teen recently emerged and joined the pandemic fray by returning to school in person.

Just four days later, she was determined to be a close contact to a COVID-19 case. It was recommended she be tested.

Now, it was bound to happen sooner or later; this I know. Yet I expected at least one worry-free week before getting the call. With masks, good hand hygiene and social distancing, the optimist in me hoped she might even make it to Christmas. But it wasn’t meant to be.

While I’ve seen many families navigate the waters of contact tracing, testing and quarantine, I had yet to experience it myself. Now that I have, I can’t recommend it.

When the news broke that there were two cases at school, I immediately braced for impact. Hours later, no call had come. Then, just when I thought it was safe to go to bed, the bad news flashed across my Apple Watch.

“Your student has been identified as a close contact…” it read.

“Of course she has,” I told my reflection in the mirror.

I got online to schedule an appointment for a test at the local pharmacy in three to five days, as instructed. There were none. How about a home test kit? The shelves were bare. So I took drastic action. I ordered kits online, thinking I could easily collect the sample myself at home, drop it in the mail and get her back in the game of life.

The test kits arrived in record time, looking official as they waited on the front porch. UPS and the lab clearly weren’t fooling around, and I knew why: time was of the essence.

The more I thought about the home test kits, however, the less I liked the idea. I had read some reviews online and people were not happy. Some were not sure they had collected the sample properly. Others mailed the kit, then learned it wasn’t viable because it took too long in transit to the lab. A few were irate to have been billed an exorbitant sum when insurance refused to pay. Several even questioned the accuracy of the results.

What have I done?

Directions revealed I was to sanitize my home surfaces and myself, then use a test tube, foam swab and biohazard specimen bag to collect the sample.

I had an immediate flashback to seventh-grade biology class. I was struggling to dissect a tragic-looking frog cadaver while classmates flicked formaldehyde slime into each other’s hair. Needless to say, I left that class feeling I hadn’t really learned much about amphibian anatomy, let alone the scientific method.

Was I even qualified to do this?

Further on I read: Children ages 14 to 18 should attempt “self-collection with adult supervision.”

I already knew how that would go. We had to get the swab up both nostrils, then into the test tube and zipped inside the specimen bag.

My husband and daughter already decided I will not be allowed to be a passenger in the car when Elizabeth learns to drive. So I don’t expect I’d be permitted to supervise the extraction of a COVID-19 sample from her stuffy nose either.

Finally, we would need to register the test kit online and drop the sample into the mail. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. It has to be mailed the same day the sample is taken. It has to be picked up by a certain speedy carrier that very same day, and on its way to the lab before the last pickup of the day. If it sits overnight in a package collection box, all bets are off.

By the time I got to the end of the instructions, my can-do attitude went out the window.

“Is this really what we’re doing here?” I ranted. “This is how we’re testing people in the middle of a global pandemic?”

I knew I was being dramatic, but I was just getting warmed up.

“I mean, seriously. I’m a journalism major, not a scientist. Now I’m supposed to test my own child for a deadly virus at the kitchen table? This is crazy.”

My husband and daughter let me vent, watching and blinking silently like twin owls. Once I ran out of steam, my husband offered to make some calls in the morning and advised me to call it a night. Music to my ears. I was tired. A little sleep was just what the doctor ordered.

Deep under the covers of my cozy bed, I tossed and turned for hours, dreaming of test tubes and collection kits. In one nightmare, I was swabbing long lines of children in my old middle school science lab, bagging the samples while wearing gloves and safety glasses. Thankfully, there was not a frog in sight.

In the next dream, we took a friend of Elizabeth’s to the Fryeburg Fair, when suddenly, the girl broke into a cold sweat and said she needed to go home. I knew right away it was COVID-19.

I woke with a start. My sheets were twisted and my hair a mess. Downstairs, my husband was drinking coffee in our sunny kitchen, looking completely rested and unruffled.

With the testing window finally upon us, he scheduled an appointment at the healthcare center’s drive-through test site.

“All set,” he said, putting down the phone. “I’ll take her.”

Just like that, it was done. Peace was restored to the valley. We celebrated with coffee and agreed that, considering our teen is vaccinated and asymptomatic, the odds are she didn’t even have the virus. Once the test results came back negative, we’d realize all that stress was for nothing.

That’s when she came down the stairs, shuffled into the kitchen and announced her nose was congested. She felt like she had a cold. My blood ran cold. Was COVID-19 in my house? I thought of the scene from “When A Stranger Calls,” when the police say, “The call is coming from inside the house.” But unlike the teens in that movie, I couldn’t run away.

With every sniffle of her stuffed-up nose, my anxiety levels rose. Reluctant to quarantine her to the second floor, I reminded her to wash her hands, keep her distance and take care of her dirty cups and dishes. Better to be safe than sorry.

Clearly feeling like an outcast, she draped a blanket over her shoulders and head, and walked around the kitchen sniffling.

“Are you doing that because you’re cold?” I asked.

“No,” she sulked.

“Are you just being dramatic?” I said.

“No,” she said.

“Then why are you doing it?” I asked.

“I dunno,” she said and started to shuffle back to her bedroom.

I put my hand on her forehead. It felt normal. I confirmed it with the digital thermometer. She was fine.

“You promised to love me in sickness and in health,” she mumbled, clearly disgruntled.

“No, those are wedding vows. I promised to love Dad in sickness and in health,” I said.

Now we wait.

And the beat goes on.

Kris Ferrazza is a former reporter, assistant editor, copy editor and columnist with the Courier newspapers. She lives in Waldoboro.