I will be the first one to tell you that this pandemic freaking sucks, especially for our kids. I have an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old. My teen should be hanging out with his friends on weekends: wandering around town, shooting the bull, meeting up with his friends at the local movie theater. My 8-year-old should be having after school playdates, going to birthday parties on weekends, and begging me to let him attend his first sleepover.
Instead, both of my boys have not played in person with another kid since March. And I don’t expect that to change until the pandemic is under control.
My kids get along fairly well with each other—or as well as two energetic, opinionated brothers can be expected to get along—so that’s a blessing. They play video games together for hours on end. They have their inside jokes. And they fight like dogs at times. So they are not exactly starved for interaction.
But they are almost six years apart, and they absolutely need to interact with kids of their own age. It’s not normal for them to live this way. It hurts when I think about how much they are missing when it comes to their social lives.
Yes, they are coping as best they can. But that has limits.
My teen plays live video games for hours with his best friends, and he has made new friends by joining our local youth center, which is meeting online. He even performed in a virtual play over the summer, and will do so again this winter. I hear laughter from his room almost every night as he chats with his friends.
But it’s not how I pictured his budding teen years. I remember how starved I was at that age to be with my friends. Talking on the phone was one thing, but phone calls would lead to meet ups, and there was nothing as amazing as sleeping over at your best friend’s house, chatting all night, and then collapsing in a heap at 2am. Nothing as magical as walking home from the library with a bestie on a Friday night, twilight streaming through the trees as you chat about movies, music, how annoying your parents are, and the meaning of life.
This is not how I pictured my son’s budding teen years, and it pain my soul to imagine what he’s missing.
I’m even more concerned about my 8-year-old. “Virtual playdates” have not really worked out for him, though I have hope for the future. Interacting with other kids over video chat was something he was vehemently against at the start of the pandemic. He has warmed up to the idea, as he’s felt more comfortable in that mode. But it’s been hard to find other kids for him to Zoom with, and the few playdates he’s had don’t seem very satisfying for him.
I worry about how this pandemic is affecting his emotional development. I worry that he’s lonely. I hope against hope that he is finding enough connection in his interactions with his family, his online teacher, and his online school mates. I am seeing him connect with other kids in his online classes, and I’m hopeful that these interactions will lead to more virtual socializing that he feels good about.
But even with all these worries and fears, my kids will not be having playdates anytime soon. No way, no how.
Why am I being so strict, you may ask?
Well, first of all, the pandemic continues to rage completely out of control in this country. We have recently reached all time highs in terms of COVID cases in America. Our current president is doing absolutely nothing to tame it. And I believe it’s my public duty as a citizen right now to take no chances when it comes to potentially spreading this virus.
My family, and my children, have a moral responsibility to protect others right now. This trumps their need for social interaction. My kids can miss a season, or even a year of their social life, in order to protect the most vulnerable among us, and to do their part in slowing the spread of this deadly virus.
My children understand that, and I believe I am teaching them an important lesson in kindness and morality. They are learning that sometimes doing what’s right means sacrificing one’s own comfort. They are learning about resilience and adaptation as well, other important life lessons.
But besides everyone else, I am worried sick about my children or my family contracting this virus. Yes, children generally fare better than adults with COVID-19. Still, children have died, many of whom have underlying conditions. Both of my kids have asthma. My little one was rushed to the hospital with an asthma attack about a year ago. He might have died if he wasn’t treated in the emergency room during his attack.
I will not allow my children to get a novel respiratory infection right now, one that primarily targets the lungs. I just won’t take any chances here, no matter how small the probability is that COVID-19 would kill one of my children.
But death is not my only concern. Both children and adults can become COVID long haulers. Being a COVID long hauler doesn’t just mean feeling like crap for a few weeks. It means potential long-term lung and breathing issues. It means potential heart damage. It means being so fatigued that you can’t work, can’t take care of your kids, can’t easily walk across the room or up a flight of steps. It means being incapacitated for sometimes months on end.
Would I want that for either me, my husband, or my children? Absolutely not. As much as I believe my children need social interaction, and are starved for it, there is no way in hell I would potentially infect them with a deadly virus, just for a playdate or two.
When you compare the potential gain for a playdate vs. the potential damage this virus could cause for them or their neighbors, it’s a no-brainer.
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t potentially a safe (or safer) way to do a playdate. If there was a family I knew who was totally as careful with COVID as my family is, and who had kids that my kids wanted to play with, and who I trusted 1000%, I might consider bubbling up with that family and doing playdates. Alas, I don’t have that in my life.
I think that if two kids meet up outside, with masks, and with social distancing, a playdate could be safe. But how in hell do two kids do that and actually have a decent time? I have offered those sorts of playdates to my kids and they simply aren’t interested.
Not only that, but how do I know that the child who they interact with would comply? Kids of all ages aren’t exactly great with social distancing and mask wearing unless they are being supervised closely. So I’m going to have another kid meet up with my kid, and basically hover over them both the whole time? That’s not fun – that’s not what socializing means to my kids, and I get that.
So my kids will not be having playdates until the risk of COVID goes down significantly. Yes, that likely means a vaccine, or a reliable treatment so that deaths and long term damage are extremely rare.
We will wait for as long as it takes for that to happen, even if that means another season or two, or more. And we will be okay. Because as much as this totally sucks in every way for my children, and as much as I have seen them suffer, they are actually adapting to this life with more strength and resilience than I expected them to. They make me proud with how well they are doing despite it all.
And one day, before they know it, this whole nightmare will be over, and their social lives will return. I will be ordering pizzas for my older son and his friends as they sit at our dining room table making jokes that I don’t get, and droning on about video games that I don’t understand. My younger son will go visit his neighbor friend again on a Sunday afternoon, and come home with a warm plate of chocolate chip cookies that they baked together.
I am looking forward to those kinds of days, and I’m hoping that when my kids start playing with friends again, they will have a new appreciation for friendships, laughter, and the simple things of childhood. I know I will.