This beautiful photo comes from a longtime reader who is, like many people, enduring a rough time right now. He passed it along and said I could use it and that he didn’t want a credit. I’m using it because it’s a near-perfect depiction of some things I’ve been thinking about regarding my own kid.
If it feels like I’ve been writing about fatherhood a lot lately, it’s probably because I spend the overwhelming majority of my waking hours alone with my son, struggling to keep him active and stimulated without access to any of the external resources upon which I normally rely for that.
By the standards of children in New York City right now, my kid’s circumstances seem optimal. He’s 2 1/2, so while he knows something is happening, he’s too young to fully understand and thoroughly fear what it is. He misses the once-a-week school program he was in, and he definitely misses his grandparents, who all usually play big roles in his childcare.
But it’s not like he’s in high school and now needs to be home-schooled in calculus, and he’s not a middle-schooler abruptly torn from all his friends and activities. He’s healthy, his parents are healthy, and (knock wood) everyone he knows and loves is healthy. We have outdoor space, we’re fairly close to a couple of parks where he can run around, and, perhaps most importantly, he has a parent with nothing better to do than cater to him all day.
I can’t imagine how hard this would be for him if I needed to be working, just as I can’t imagine how hard this must be for single parents, or in households where both parents are working full-time jobs, or for people now worrying about where their next paycheck will come from, or for parents of children with special needs, or for kids with abusive parents from whom they now can’t escape.
Again: Relatively speaking, my kid has it made. And yet still, this clearly sucks for him. It sucks! He was living a toddler’s fantasy life: Going to the zoo all the time, going to museums all the time, going on adventures all over New York City, going to music class, going to his grandparents’, playing with his cousins and their dog, etc. Then, one day a month and a half ago, it just stopped. Now it’s 55 hours a week worth of pure, uncut Dada. I get old.
I have no other children for comparison’s sake, but my understanding is that he has always been an exceptionally cheerful kid. And while he’s an age at which behavior tends to change quickly, he has been a lot crankier lately, and there’s no doubt COVID is weighing on him. During a prolonged meltdown a few nights ago, he yelled out, “There are no people left on the sidewalks!” While awaiting a Sesame Street episode yesterday, he caught a Chromecast background photo of a crowded New York street scene, pointed at it and said, hopefully, “we can go to there.”
It’s sad. And I can’t help but worry about all the ways I’m probably failing him. Early in the quarantine, I spent way too much time on my phone, idly scrolling through bad news on Twitter. I wish I could find more things for him to climb on. I should give him more vegetables for lunch, not just hot dogs every day.
But the one redeeming (albeit, really, quite depressing) notion to which I keep returning is that every single kid in New York City is going through the same thing, and practically every kid in the world is going through something similar. At some point, those high-school seniors now missing their proms and graduations will go off to college and commiserate with peers from around the country who also missed out. Seventh graders will convene in the fall and fantasize about how good their summer-ball baseball team would’ve been. Elementary schoolers will show-and-tell their best quarantine arts-and-crafts projects.
Kids, for the most part, seem more pliable and resilient than adults. Obviously I recognize that many, many children objectively have it way worse than mine. But for all those like mine, for whom the biggest burden of COVID-19 is the all-encompassing boredom and the complete cessation of educational and social activities, I think, they will be OK. Someday this will end, and they’ll get a chance to bounce back together.