Covid ran through my family in May at a languid pace: There was only one week of the past month when none of us had it, and none of our cases were concurrent. While I am incredibly grateful that we’re all vaccinated and no one had a remotely serious case, it was, of course, pretty disruptive, especially for my older daughter.
She was stuck at home isolating, but she felt sick for only about 12 hours. After which, her biggest symptom was being extremely salty about having to miss a set of fun end-of-the-school-year activities. Though she was a little bummed about skipping her class performance of the song “Anything Goes,” she was devastated to miss her school’s annual block party, which involves bounce houses, deafening Top 40 jams, a cotton candy machine and an army of sweaty, hopped-up neighborhood children.
At first, she tried to convince me that we shouldn’t let her little sister go to the block party, either. My little litigator’s argument was that her sister is only in kindergarten; she has so many years of the block party ahead of her, whereas this is the third block party my older daughter has had to miss because of Covid. (It wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021.) She has just one year left of elementary school, and in her mind it was “unfair” that her sister will probably get six years of block parties, while she had to suffer.
Though I wasn’t swayed by this argument — which was made multiple times after my kid realized she’d have to stay home — I felt awful for her by the time the party rolled around. When little sister walked out our door, big sister immediately burst into tears.
And then she said something that burrowed into me so deep, I won’t forget it. She said that her sister is only 5, so she won’t remember Covid or anything she’s had to miss. But my older daughter, who is 9, will remember it all.
I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that a kid who still gives me the business about the time that I locked us out of our apartment when she was 3 is keeping a tally of everything she’s had to lose out on since the pandemic started, when she was 7. But it did shock me, because it shattered the illusion that my children had come through the past two years without any lasting pain.
My kids have been extraordinarily lucky in the most important ways: No loved ones have died from the virus. Our household hasn’t experienced job losses or an inability to meet their needs. They didn’t fall behind in school, and the current year has been, blessedly, pretty normal.
But kid time is different from adult time, and it’s marked by annual activities that you can’t just reschedule. A wedding can move, and a Fourth of July party can happen every year, but they will get only one fourth grade. She gets only six elementary school block parties, and in her mind, three were taken from her. As my daughter totted up all the things she’d had to miss since 2020 (the end of her second-grade school year, an acrobatics activity only third graders get to do, the fourth-grade class trip to Philadelphia, which was canceled), her tears dotted the kitchen table. I held her, and I told her I understood that it was really very sad she couldn’t get those things back.
To lift her spirits, I let her choose a movie that was too grown-up for her sister. So we watched “Mean Girls” together, and 10 minutes in, she was laughing, seemingly over the lost treats and bounce houses. I don’t know that I’ll forget what she said so easily.
This isn’t to say I’m worried about her in a big-picture way. I’m not, and I know that all children experience crushing disappointments, because that’s how life works. But I do want to leave room in our lives to mourn what has been missed and cannot be regained. It’s almost a nostalgia for things that didn’t even happen, for the rituals that would have marked time if the pandemic had not occurred. Those social rituals matter, more than I had ever imagined.
P.S.: Since a recent transcendent family trip to Coney Island, I’ve been thinking a lot about pure, unadulterated joy and how I can give my children more opportunities to have it. I’d love to hear from you about any plans you have for your kids to have big, mindless fun this summer. Please drop me a line here with your ideas.
I was proud of my daughter for sharing her feelings so clearly and then rebounding and was reminded of the newsletter that Erik Vance wrote for The Times in 2021 about raising resilient children. He wrote, “It’s the small disappointments or frustrating moments that truly build resilience.”
Life seems pretty bleak in a lot of ways right now, but I agree with my colleague Ezra Klein that if you want kids, you should definitely still have them.
Today’s college students have had an experience not unlike my daughter’s — missing moments they can never get back. As Jonathan Malesic wrote in a Times Opinion guest essay: “A lot of these kids are disengaged because they were completely isolated their freshman year. My son has made no close friends at college. His first year there, classes were online, the dining halls were closed, there were no in-person extracurriculars, dorm lounges were closed and students were not allowed to have other students in their rooms. He had little opportunity to get to know other students.”
Parenting can be a grind. Let’s celebrate the tiny victories.
My 3-year-old was traumatized on a recent weekend beach vacation because he thought we’d left behind our house and his toys and permanently moved. His meltdown took 24 hours to unravel. It wasn’t until I asked a toy how he was feeling (instead of my son directly) that my kid immediately opened up and shared the toy’s feelings about missing home. From that moment forward, we all began to enjoy ourselves.
— Emily, North Carolina
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