My son crawled into bed with me yesterday morning and asked if coronavirus “could travel through walls.” It wasn’t the first time he hinted he had been harboring frightening thoughts about the virus. A few weeks ago, he had asked if coronavirus dropped down out of the sky.
I explained—again—that the disease was spread through coughs and sneezes, and that’s why we cover our mouth with our elbow when we need to cough. My husband explained—again—that’s why he can wave to his friend from across the street but not play tag together anymore.
We both explained—again—that he won’t get sick, but we can carry the germs in our body without knowing, and we need to keep his grandparents safe.
Of course our kids wonder what is happening. All of a sudden, they are shut into their homes without a clear understanding of what is going on outside.
Our best attempts at explanation fail to provide that sense of safety they used to know.
“It’s just so lonely,” my son cried. And I could do nothing but hold him, and whisper to him, “I know, honey. I know it is.”
But I know he still doesn’t quite get it. Because how can you understand virus transmission and outbreak mitigation when you’re only five years old?
No matter how well we try to explain, or how many kids’ comics we show them, all our children know is their world melted overnight.
So many of the things that should make a child feel safe and cared for—a hug from a grandparent, a high-five from a teacher, a new library book—have suddenly become dangerous. Their playgrounds are off-limits. Their friends and family are on the other sides of screens.
And I also know we are the lucky ones.
We have a backyard and can work from home. Our kids get three meals and 75,000 snacks a day. We hit our breaking point several times a week, but we have also found ways to enjoy our time together.
I know that’s not the case for everyone.
Across the country, children are tucked away in their homes, far away from the frontlines of this fight. Their sacrifices remain unseen, and their contributions are not voluntary.
But if you ask me, our children should count among our heroes.
Overnight, our children had to give up so much of their lives—their friends, their birthday parties, their teachers, their playgrounds, their grandparents. And while teachers have achieved remarkable feats online, nothing can truly replace the education our children received in their classrooms every day.
Last night, my kids cried as I tucked them into bed—they were scared and frustrated.
And I tried again to answer their questions the best I knew how. I danced along that fine line of giving them enough information to comfort them, without giving them too much information to scare them.
But no matter how much I tried to reassure them they were safe, the fact remained that so much of their lives had suddenly been ripped away. And no matter how much they love being at home or are enjoying all that extra screen time they’re getting, losing half of their world is a trauma I cannot simply hug away.
So I tried a different approach. “You know how Mr. Rogers tells us to look for the heroes?” I asked them. “Who can you name as a hero in this whole coronavirus thing?”
They perked up a bit, “Doctors! Nurses! Scientists!”
“Mmhmm. But I think I know someone else who counts as a helper,” I said. “You do. We aren’t hiding out at home because it’s dangerous outside. We are staying home because it’s our job to keep everyone safe. And it’s working. You’re saving people’s lives.”
A smile began to peek out from behind their tears. “Really?” they asked.
“Really,” I said. “I know you’ve given up a lot, but you are my heroes.”
For so many children, like those without safe homes or those who are missing out on necessary services, the sacrifices they are making to keep others healthy are even greater. We owe it to those children to make sure they are well taken care of as best we can now and to every extent of our ability when we move forward.
Our children have made sacrifices I was never called on to make when I was their age. I cannot know how this quarantine period will affect them, but I know I refuse to let their contributions go unseen and unacknowledged.
Last night, my son asked me how many lives he had saved that day. I told him I wasn’t sure.
“Maybe two,” he said.
“Maybe,” I replied and kissed him good night.