Thursday, April 9, 2020

Everything our Children are Losing in the Time of Coronavirus

Last night I sat beside my usually bright, positive, creative, and self-assured daughter as she cried over the loss of everything. And she wouldn't even let me hug her. A month ago she had her life neatly sorted out: On weekends she studied, worked, gardened, and created. On Thursdays and Fridays she attended a musical theatre program, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays she attended a self-directed highschool program, and on Mondays she worked a babysitting job in the morning, and then spent the afternoon with other youth, planning an annual theatre festival which would have happened this spring, if the pandemic hadn't swept it away. Coronavirus and the necessary social isolation swept everything away: her social time, her school, her source of income, even her ability to plan for her future. We haven't lost any family members to the disease yet, but our friends have, and we know it may just be a matter of time. We're all on edge, waiting to see what happens. Coronavirus isolation isn't just a time of boredom; it's a time of uncertainty and anxiety, bordering on abject fear, and loss of identity.

Imagine going for a snack, only to discover that the chips are gone and your parents don't plan to go shopping for... weeks! It's not that hard to imagine, right? We're all living the lack of convenience right now. And while that's a pretty mild inconvenience, such events are happening all day every day, in every aspect of our lives. Everything is different and uncertain. We're all living the loss of control of each day. We can reassure ourselves by remembering the things we can control: when we eat and sleep, how we interact or what we wear. Difficult though it might be, we can even imagine the future to some degree, assuming that in a few months things will go back to normal and we've seen normal before, and we know what it might look like. Our kids may find that future harder to imagine. Their parents, friends, and school are everything, and suddenly everything has changed. What's coming next? What can they even do to influence the future? They don't have control over their lives in the way that we do of ours. All they had was the security of knowing what was coming each week and each month, and that security has been taken away. They used to have the security of the predictability of a schedule. Now all plans are on hold. School, employment and entire industries are fizzling before their eyes. Some are losing family members to this pandemic, and all are losing contact with family members and friends. We can't reassure them that school will happen again next year, because we don't know. We can't reassure them that they'll be able to visit friends soon, because we don't know that either. We thought that time spent in nature could bandage the wound, but now the parks are closing. Many of us parents can't even promise that we'll be able to provide shelter or food in a few months because the pandemic puts our livelihoods into question. Of course, there are plenty of families who live with this uncertainty all the time, and it's only our middle-class privilege that makes this such a new source of anxiety for many of us. That doesn't make it any less frightening for our children.

Our children are suffering huge losses: Loss of independence, loss of freedom, loss of security of home, education and social network, loss of certainty about the future and often also loss of hope for the future. Loss of something to look forward to; loss of their dreams. We have systems in place in our homes, hearts, and communities for helping each other deal with loss. But right now everyone - including our children - is suffering multiple losses, and both the physical systems and our physiological systems are overwhelmed. This enormous loss can easily be a wormhole into depression for people of any age. At the very least it's hugely anxiety-provoking. It's terrifying to live without security or hope. We can't take away our children's fear, but perhaps in seeing and acknowledging it we can at least help them not to feel so alone.

I wish I had answers, but I don't even know what new concoction I'm going to make with all the dried lentils and chickpeas I bought, never mind how we're going to overcome these crippling feelings of loss and fear. I'm taking each part of each day at a time, relying on the satisfaction of creative problem-solving to distract me and keep my mind active. It turns out that for me, however annoying, having a rapidly-decreasing supply of ingredients and a LOT of lentils and chickpeas is a problem to be solved with creativity, so every afternoon I get creative with that. We're obviously doing all the curries and hummus and breads, but also blended sauces, lentil sprouts (fresh greens - YES!), and (fingers crossed) planting some lentils to grow our own! Creativity and problem-solving is my way of working through anxiety. It may not be everybody's.

Advice was the last thing my daughter wanted, last night, but she said that having some structure to her days might help, although she doesn't feel she can handle too many demands or deadlines right now. She decided she'd make herself a schedule each morning. We both went to bed still feeling the big sadness of this pandemic, but with the knowledge that we love each other, and we're in it together. Then she got up this morning and folded a heap of laundry, bringing mine to me in my bed before I even got up, myself. She tells me she made a schedule and put a half hour for laundry onto it, because she needed to do her laundry. Mine was still unfolded so she folded it. I had a roommate once who cleaned the house fastidiously every time she fought with her boyfriend. Maybe housekeeping is my daughter's way of working through anxiety, or maybe just having a schedule was the ticket, and laundry was a necessary job. It isn't for me to determine. Only to listen when she's willing to talk, open my arms for the unpredictable times that my affection is a poultice, and to accept her feelings and the cold truth of her pain when it presents itself. In this moment and maybe always, that's what love looks like.

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