There’s a spot on our couch that’s become the Sharing Hard News with the Kid Spot. It wasn’t this way before the pandemic, and it hasn’t exclusively been this way throughout; we’ve read lots of Judy Blume and watched plenty of Star Wars and Harry Potter and Babysitter’s Club from this same cozy corner. But we somehow always seem to gravitate to this area when we want to tell my daughter Noa something hard.
-You’re not going back to school after spring break.
-No, you can’t see your friends.
-No, you can’t hug Grandma.
-No, you aren’t going back to school for the rest of the year. No, you won’t see Ms. Beer in-person again for first grade.
-A man named George Floyd was killed by a police officer and that’s why there are protests everywhere, that’s why we talk about Black lives mattering.
-You aren’t going back to school in person.
-(You still aren’t. No, still not. Yes, I know some of your friends are.)
-The ‘pod’ is ending.
-We know we told you you’d see Grandma for Christmas but now there’s a stay-at-home order and we can’t travel.
-I’m sorry we promised. That was a mistake.
-Yes, you still have to stay six feet apart.
-No, you can’t take off your mask yet.
-No, we don’t know when you’ll get vaccinated.
-No, it won’t hurt. (We lie a little.)
These hard conversations pale in comparison to ones that were held all around the world these last few years: so-and-so’s beloved person is dead, dying, in the hospital, has Covid, is on a ventilator, doesn’t have insurance, can’t pay the bills, can’t afford to stay in their home, was killed by the police (again, again) —
So. All to say. We’re talking small beans here, but that’s not really the point.
This past weekend we told Noa she couldn’t go to her last week of summer camp because Covid cases are now popping up among the under-12 set in Los Angeles day camps. (With herd immunity woefully far off and Delta on the rise, kids are fair game.) My parents, whom we haven’t seen in a year and a half, finally arrive for a visit at the end of this week. There is no chance in hell we want to risk being quarantined then.
So, bye camp! Hello, Mom (will drop everything) Camp.
But when we sat Noa down on the couch, before we were even done with our preamble — you know Grandma and Grandpa are coming, and you know it’s been so long since we’ve seen them… — she interrupted.
“I can’t go to camp, right?”
So much has been said about kids’ resilience. They are more adaptable than us, it’s good for them, they get over things quickly, etc. etc. Earlier this year I even wrote about how it was they who were teaching us how to go on. And I still believe this. Noa’s reaction was astonishing; she immediately knew she’d have to give something up. The point is not about camp; she and every other kid can live without it. They’ve lived without much more these last 18 months, and my daughter has had more than so many.
But at the risk of getting up on my soapbox (why, hello!), I am bewildered that, so long into this mess, our children’s lives — their most basic lives: attending in-person, full-day school; seeing friends and family; for many, being fed and cared for by their local public schools — are being sacrificed at the hands of people who won’t participate in basic public health measures. Children, who have so little control over their lives, are taking on so much of the burden.
There’s a feeling — around LA at least, where mask mandates are on again — that we are moving back in time. After two doses of Pfizer, I don’t feel the kind of vulnerability I did back during the terrifying surge last winter, when I’d ask my husband daily do you think I have Covid? but suddenly I’m worried about my daughter in a way that didn’t occur to me before when all we heard was don’t worry about the kids. It’s not just that she’s missing out on basic elements of life as an 8-year-old (will public schools actually open? How long will they stay open? Will she again have to go without playdates and grandparents? If she’s not at school, who will be home with her when both parents work?), but that she and other young kids are now also at risk of getting sick. No, the disease is generally not dangerous for them, but that’s hardly the point. (And also not true in other parts of the world where vaccines aren’t as readily available.)
None of this is a surprise. If kids were our primary concern, reopening schools — not bars, not sports arenas — would have been our priority way back in early 2020. (LA public schools reopened in April 2021 for three hours a day.) But, as any parent of an unvaccinated child can attest, it is hard to feel like we’re still “in this together.” After a short, joyful reprieve this summer, I can’t help but feel frustrated, and, at times, full of rage on behalf of little kids, parents, teachers, essential workers, and, most of all, healthcare workers, who have been through a year and a half of terror for a virus that is now largely preventable, but whose waves just keep coming because so many are still unvaccinated by choice. (And yes, I know the unvaxxed aren’t a monolith. My feelings are directed at people blatantly rejecting science, those propagating falsehoods, and the news outlets — they know who they are — doing same.)
My kid will be fine. She’s already forgotten about camp. She’s adaptable, see? She’s painting “Grandma” and “Grandpa” and “Granddaughter” on T-shirts to present to my parents when they arrive. But she, and all other young kids, are at our mercy. They are resilient, but they still look to us to make the world safe for them and for everyone else who lives here.
May we do all we can to make it so.