So picture this. I’m riding my brand new bike, must have been a birthday present because it’s the summer and I’m drenched because we live in Maryland, and learning to balance it as I coast down the sidewalk of a hill in our development. I never make it more than a few feet without touching the training wheels on the pavement, perhaps why it will take me a to this day still embarrassing near decade later to actually get to the point I can ride under full pedal power which I’m forced to do racing home from a friends' house just down the street in our new neighborhood in PA during a rain storm. At this point, I can’t be more than five because that’s the age when we moved from MD to PA. That’s pretty much impossible to imagine these days, allowing a kid to just head out by themselves for what seemed like hours, sisyphusianly pushing a bike back up a hill just to slowly coast down it without supervision. Yet that was completely normal.
Now, we act like we are so much more careful with our kids because of kidnappings and the nameless dangers out there, yet we as a society are doing next to nothing when it comes to two of the biggest dangers they actually face; guns and COVID. In the 80s and 90s, high profile child abduction cases got tons of news time despite being exceptionally rare and almost always relatives or close acquaintances. This led to a complete shift in the way kids were raised, quickly making the way we were all raised seem alien and unimaginable just a generation later. Yet despite guns becoming the leading cause of death for children and non-stop high profile school shootings, nothing meaningful is being done.
Similarly, our reaction to COVID for kids and by result, their parents, is shockingly lacking, not thought through, and leaves kids and parents unsafe, confused, and heavily impacted; bearing the brunt of much of the pandemic. While it’s true that COVID doesn’t tend to affect kids as heavily as older adults, that’s still not to say it doesn’t affect them at all, from those suffering acute health complications, unknown long term impact, and the disruptions to normal healthy life it causes. Yet two and a half years into the pandemic, there’s still no vaccine for the under five, little to no guidance for parents, and policies and procedures that are pretty much the Wild West.
This sticks in my craw especially because it was a huge hassle for us just this week. Despite hunkering down for two years, vaccinating the 4/5 members of our family who could get vaccinated, boosting ourselves, and continuing to mask up in just about every public setting, it was only a matter of time before COVID found us. In the same way our society decided that it was ok with school shootings implicitly after doing nothing as a result of Sandy Hook, it decided that we were just going to accept everyone would get COVID and somehow we’d all just deal with it on our own when all the mandates were removed. Once adults were largely considered safe enough or that at least they’d been given an opportunity, we were all just left to fend for ourselves when it comes to kids.
So a week ago, when we got a call to pick up our toddler from daycare because there was a confirmed case in the classroom, we knew the time was likely here. Sure enough, that night we heard from two other parents that their kids tested positive and it was officially declared an outbreak. The next day, to make sure we were being responsible before visiting family, we tested our youngest and he was positive. We’d have never known otherwise by the minimal symptoms he had, but because there is no vaccine, and no real guidance on anything because we can’t risk offending anyone by providing health guidance, we had no clue how long he’d be home, what our options were, what would be needed to return to school, or what to do for being able to work. Like every other parent, we ended up stumbling our way through it for the first few days, trying to balance work and child care while pretty much failing at both while each side felt that they weren’t getting enough. Then, to make matters tougher, I ended up catching it and being completely useless for two days, falling behind on work while barely being able to keep him occupied and turning him to CocoMelon on TV, years before I wanted to build a reliance on TV. Now, I get to spend who knows how many years breaking him of his new habit, walking around yelling “Cucu! More Cucu!” at me while pointing at the TV.
Now, my wife and I spent our Friday night catching up on work from the minute the kids went to bed until bedtime and both still feel behind. And this is about as good as it could have gone for us. Luckily the twins didn’t seem to get it, nor did my wife so we were able to spread out the child care when it truly came to it. Yet we still have several work days to get through before he can go back to school and we can resume somewhat normal schedules, all just in time to start figuring out the summer schedule which is insanely packed while we try to maintain a normal and healthy set of activities for our kids throughout the summer and pretend there is no pandemic while cases are surging again and just about everyone we know has or has recently had at least one case in the family.
On top of all of that, we also have to worry each day before sending them to school about their safety with the endless stream of school shootings. Our toddler has already had several shelter in place drills and the twins have had active shooter drills at school. They’re in kindergarten. We’ve had multiple times in just this school year where the district needed to announce increased police presence after shootings across the country. They have to send an email when the local ambulance corps is training nearby to let us know the students are safe. Every single day we have to send them in with hugs and kisses not knowing what might happen that day. While this feels like an incredibly safe area, I’m sure every place feels that way right up until it doesn’t. I’m glad our school district is proactive about keeping our kids safe, but it shouldn’t need to be this way.
It shows how little children and parents have been prioritized in this country. These are just the two most obvious signs of it. There’s also the state of childcare, the out of control cost of education while. Educators are so poorly paid, the lack of heath care support, and generally little to no help when it comes to balancing work with family demands. Like everything else, our society just expects parents to find ways to make it work. And shockingly, most parents do. It’s just that all of it tends to be without any structural support and therefore feels like it’s a surprise when things work out.
Because of the intentional non-action around gun control and COVID safety measures, our kids are less safe now than when I was a kid out and about on my bike by myself. The continued non-action is at this point a deliberate decision that like so many other aspects of our lives, we won’t prioritize the safety of our children. We’ll just continue to react when a shooting is large enough to get attention, and ignore the others that occur regularly now with little attention. If we can’t even do anything to prevent these, how can we ever expect to see basic support like parental leave or education reform?