Our Kids Sacrificed 16 Months Of Childhood To This Pandemic. Now It's Your Turn.
My second grader has done enough to protect others. Now it’s time for her normalcy.
Yesterday, my 7-year-old Alice was playing Barbies, her hands wrapped around each doll’s thighs as she bounced their heads toward each other in conversation. “I really wanted to go to this concert,” one Barbie said to the other. “But it got cancelled because of the coronavirus, so I guess I’ll just have to stay home.”
She had exactly one T-ball practice before the entire season was cancelled in March 2020. She missed the last three months of kindergarten and wasn’t even allowed to roll down the window when we paraded in a car line to pick up the items left in her desk. She wore a mask for the entirety of first grade — after spending the first two weeks doing digital learning — and has worn a mask in the ice cream shop, in the grocery store, in Target. She missed the library, the 4th of July fireworks, the ability to just wander inside Barnes & Noble without worrying about how close she was to someone or about the germs on the books. Her school didn’t open the playground until January. She couldn’t pass out Valentines, there was no class winter party, there was no field day.
Kids are resilient. The kids are going to be alright. These are the things people keep telling me. These are the things people have been telling me for 16 months when I talk about the things she has missed, about the sacrifices she has made. Sacrifices she — our family — has made to protect those around us. Kids are resilient. The kids are going to be alright. But can we stop giving them situations in which we have to remind ourselves of this?
Since March of 2020, I have been told that my child is at some risk of contracting Covid-19 and getting sick, but not enough to warrant paralyzing fear. Instead, I have been told that my child needs to do digital learning and stop all extracurriculars and wear a mask everywhere she goes to protect the most vulnerable around us — her great-grandparents, her grandparents, her teachers, our fellow Publix shoppers.
She — every kid — was treated like a tiny germ bank, waiting to deposit a metric ton of Covid-19 particles on the first person they saw in a store. I remember friends posting on Facebook about how scared they were to go back to their teaching jobs because they just “knew” their kids would get them sick. I remember people arguing that it was selfish of parents to send their kids back to school because our kids were going to kill teachers. I remember people suggesting that all playgrounds and parks should remain closed because kids were going to spread the virus across the monkey bars to every caregiver standing in the wood chips with their coffee thermos.
The thing is, kids weren’t treated this way everywhere. The World Health Organization has maintained since August 2020 that children under the age of 5 do not need to wear a mask. Children over the age of 12 should wear one like an adult does (children over the age of 12 can now be vaccinated). And children ages 6 to 11, that sweet school age filled with worry and fret right now, should only wear them if a situation calls for it. Like if they are in an area of widespread infection or if they are around high-risk, vulnerable people.
Things are changing, and last spring, after my husband and I both got our two doses and all of the adults in our family proudly held a vaccination card, I felt some hope. I could see the bright new horizon. I signed my kid up for a week of theatre camp, I made plans to let my 2-year-old try out a dance class, I washed all of the face masks and hung them up in the laundry room instead of stashing them in my purse, the diaper bag, our minivan.
I felt good not because a social media post told me I should, but because the research outlook is excellent for kids. A team at Johns Hopkins analyzed 48,000 children under the age of 18 who were diagnosed with Covid-19 from April 2020 to August 2020 and found a “mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition such as leukemia.” An Icelandic study found that children under the age of 10 were less likely to receive a positive Covid-19 result than children over the age of 10.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of talk about MIS-C. MIS-C is an inflammatory syndrome that the CDC reported has been seen in many children who previously contracted Covid-19. While most children will recover from MIS-C with medical care, it can be risky, and doctors are unsure of why some children get MIS-C and some don’t. But Dr. Lucy McBride, a practicing internist, previously told Romper, “The prevalence of long COVID in kids is low and the risk of contracting MIS-C is tiny.”
It’s easy to see why the doubt and fear are creeping back in. My kid wore a mask and missed a chunk of her childhood to keep others safe. But now those others... are safe? Should be safe — even from the Delta variant — so long as they’re vaccinated? But people have started suggesting my kid is at risk of contracting Covid-19 and that she still needs to wear a mask.
My husband calls it “moving the goal posts.” Take for example the extremely confusing recent guidance from the American Academic of Pediatrics. On the one hand, the AAP’s report on Covid-19 cases using data available from as recently as July 15, found that children represent 14.2% of all Covid cases and between 0.1%-1.9% of all child Covid-19 cases resulted in hospitalization. Children were 0.00%-0.26% of all Covid-19 deaths.
But the AAP has also suggested that everyone, vaccinated or not, should continue wearing masks in schools. Part of their statement included this line: “There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated.”
So are we asking our kids to continue wearing masks if adults can be protected by a vaccine and the risks to them are very small? (I want to make it clear that if your child has a preexisting condition, I know your risks are very different and the fear is very real.)
I don’t ask this question as an anti-vaxxer, an anti-masker, or a Covid denier. I am fully vaccinated and wore a mask for every public interaction, every time I entered a building, until the CDC told me it was safe not to. I didn’t eat inside a restaurant until I had two shots of Pfizer in my arm. I put a mask on my kids, including my 2-year-old, every time we left the house. Which was not often. I worried constantly about my parents and my grandmother.
I am just so tired of being told that my kids have to keep sacrificing things because they need to protect others when... others can be vaccinated now? When I try this argument, people then ask me why I’m not worried about my child contracting Covid-19. I am worried about it. But I’m also worried about her getting lice again. I’m worried about her getting hit by a car on her scooter. I’m worried about her drowning if I take my eyes off of her for one second in the pool. I’m worried about her choking on an apple or falling down the stairs or not getting enough sleep.
I’m a parent. All I do is worry. And lately, my worries have been about her confidence levels. How wearing a mask made her feel less heard, how she would have to repeat herself over and over in school until she decided it was easier to just not say anything. How she struggled with making friends and social cues because, as her teacher gently told me in a conference over Zoom, she couldn’t see people’s faces and she had no idea if they were happy or sad or angry, and it made her anxious.
I don’t want her to wear a mask for second grade. Her school isn’t requiring it, and I want her to feel like the best version of herself. I want her to feel happy and excited. I don’t want her to fret over her mask getting caught in her hair or panic when it gets wet during lunch. I don’t want her to sacrifice anymore because there’s a chance she could spread Covid-19 to others.
My family and I have done our part. Over and over again. And now I want everybody else to do theirs. I want them to get vaccinated and I want the guidance from the various organizations of experts to make sense, to acknowledge the complexity of the situation, but recognize also that my child has paid a high price already in this pandemic.
Because my 7-year-old was once a 5-year-old who started Zoom school every morning with a smile on her face. She’s done enough.