The Kids Will Not Be All Right

“I feel like I’ve changed.”

My life during the pandemic has been so packed to the gills that I do my best not to become enraged by the situation, in particular the fact that this situation could have been avoided, at least to this extent.

But that quote is from our 7 year old son and in that moment my heart broke. Immediately after that, I wanted to burn the world to the ground.

I shared both of those feelings with my son, albeit in muted tones.

It’s been over a year now since we were relegated to this house, a year since he was able to go to school, to see his friends, to be a normal kid.

He is a sensitive kid, more so than most, I know that. We’ve had enough conversations with his teacher to know that it’s not just something we see. He feels everything to the Nth degree, even more than the average little kid, and the last year has been a never ending stream of big emotions.

He and I talk every day about “the sickness” and about how he’s feeling. He talks about how small things can make him really upset and he can’t control himself. He talks about how Zoom classes are hard for him because he wants to be able to see his friends in person. He’s also an introvert and refuses to talk on his class calls because all of the focus fall on to him.

He told me that he used to be happy but that now he’s not. That’s how he thinks he’s changed.

We talked about how it’s not that he can’t be happy, but that when those moments when he is happy come to an end, that happiness just disappears; it doesn’t stay with him like it used to.

He’s in a special program. It’s once a week and it’s a call with just him and a teacher who’s instructed by a therapist. We just got him enrolled for counseling and that is only happening because the program just had a kid graduate and our son’s teacher jumped at the opportunity to get him in.

He was in a K/1 class last year, which means his class was half kindergartners and half first graders. It just so happened that his teacher from last year is now teaching just 1st graders, so she knows what he was like last year compared to this one.

I do the bulk of the parenting because my job allows for it and, as my wife has pointed out, I seem to have a capacity for it that she doesn’t. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but I appreciate the sentiment. I also know that I’ve been doing a really good job.

But after every call with our son’s teacher that involves getting him extra help (emotional, not academic) my wife gives me a look that is equal parts “you are doing a great job” and “this is beyond anything you could do for him.”

And that is, actually, fine with me. I put a lot of undeserved weight on my shoulders, but not being able to give my sweet, sensitive son the tools to deal with his emotions during a pandemic is not part of it.

No, the only undeserved weight I put on myself with regards to our oldest son is that so much of what he’s going through would, if this weren’t a pandemic, point to some of the mental health issues that I’ve dealt with all my life, issues that are genetic.

It’s one of those constant concerns I have, even though I know that having a parent who is actually aware of such things and who is open and honest about them is a vast improvement over what I had. But it’s hard to not feel responsible even though it’s something I have no control over.

I have framed all this talking about my son who, as I’ve mentioned, feels things very strongly.

But he’s not alone. He may be dealing with the situation differently, but he is not alone.

Our kids are going to be dealing with this trauma for years. The first full school year back in class (hopefully this fall) is going to be a disaster of epic proportions. For every kid who has fallen behind academically, there will be three more who have fallen behind socially, and another three that have fallen behind emotionally.

And this is without even touching on the kids who live poverty or are abused. Try to imagine what those kids have gone through for the last year.

That’s the hardest part, really. While the elderly might have made up the majority of the deaths as a result of COVID-19 (but most certainly not all — roughly 23K people under the age of 50 have died because of COVID — that’s nearly 2K A MONTH), our children are going to be the ones who are ultimately hit hardest because of this.

It didn’t have to be this way. There were contingencies. There was data. There was science. There were a litany of other countries that had to deal with it before us. The writing was on the wall.

And yet here we are.

My wife got her first vaccine shot yesterday. I get mine on Monday. We both get our second shots next month. Just being able to talk about a vaccinated world has started to lift my son’s spirits.

But it won’t be enough. Too much has happened.

It is going to take years for our children to recover from this and we need to start planning for it now.

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