The other day my, very precocious, four year old daughter said, “Dead sounds so boring.” That’s when I realized her little ears may have been listening to our chatter about the Coronavirus more than we realized. It’s been nearly impossible to have many adult conversations lately because we are all home together. Neither of my kids have seen their friends, been to the park, or eaten in a restaurant for months. We have high risk people in our home so we are all being extra careful.
We don’t want to scare the kids with too much information, but we don’t want to scare the kids with too little information either. When this first started my oldest daughter cried and cried as she worried about babies and grandparents dying at unprecedented numbers. Her friends were playing “Coronavirus” at school and she was worried.
At the time we thought the virus wasn’t a big deal and our government would stop it in its tracks. When I think about that now it’s hard to believe we ever had that much faith in our government. We’ve never lived through anything like this, so in some ways it seemed impossible it would ever get this bad. We comforted our daughter and told her everything was going to be OK and we believed that to be true. Eventually school was cancelled for the year and our entire country shut down. My husband and I looked at each other and feared our daughter’s premonition may turn out to be true. This virus was much worse than we had anticipated.
We told the kids what we knew about the virus and watched and waited. Every few weeks we’d remind them that no, we couldn’t go to McDonald’s yet, and no, we can’t go play at your friends house, and no, school is still out until next year. They seemed satisfied with these answers, but occasionally would test us to see if anything had changed. They watched me make masks for family and friends. They played school and doctor, and watched movies. They made art projects and roasted marshmallows and fought like sister do.
As time went on we read more and more news, a habit that has been hard to set aside, and my husband and I found ourselves discussing politics, mask wearing, and the death toll on a daily basis. Before we knew it, the kids were in the room while we exclaimed things at each other in frustration. We’ve had discussions about money, and job losses, and whether or not the mortgage company was going to give us a grace period. We’ve talked about wills, cleaning supplies, and whether or not to take certain vitamins. We’ve whispered about friends and family members struggling to overcome Covid-19. We’ve waited anxiously, and had some sleepless nights, wondering if anyone we loved would be the next to die. Our kids witnessed more of this than we realized.
We’ve walked a fine line between wanting the kids to be informed and empowered, while also protecting them from gruesome details and the blatant cruelty we were witnessing. The kids attention is directed to the helpers and we remind them that this won’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever.
One day a week the kids leave the house to meet our librarian on the the library lawn. She hands out free books and take-home craft projects. This has become our new summer reading program. Then we drive around town for a while and watch other people go about their daily business. The kids wear masks and we praise them for doing their part to protect others from invisible germs.
We encourage civic duty, upholding social contracts, and the importance of taking care of one another. When I lament I may not be doing enough to help, my oldest often reminds me, “Staying home is the best way to fight the virus, Mom.” We want them to experience the commitment to community required to remain separated from our friends and in our own homes. We want them to know that we make these sacrifices out of love and for the deep respect we have for life.
Perhaps we’ve included them in the conversation a little too much, but perhaps not. This is a pandemic and it is serious. People are dying and this is going to be a big part of their childhood history. I don’t want them to be completely naive about what is happening. I want them to have the sense of pride that comes with giving things up for the larger community.
Around age four kids begin to grasp the finality of death. Last year our cat died. My four year old realized then that dead meant you were never coming back. She’s recently realized that dead also means you can’t eat ice cream or play dolls. You can’t color or swim. You can’t sleep in your own bed or sit by a fire and lick chocolate off your fingers. You can’t hug someone or tell them you love them. You can’t collect bugs, jump on trampolines, or bake brownies anymore either.
She’s wearing a mask because, “Dead sounds so boring.” It’s not because she is afraid. She just wants you to stay alive so we can all keep having fun together.
When she grows up she will tell her kids that she had to stay home for months with her family. She will tell them that anytime she left the house she wore a mask. When her kids ask why I am sure she will explain how the virus was contagious, but I also hope she tells them that we all wore masks during the Coronavirus pandemic to demonstrate how much we loved each other.