By Elizabeth A. Havey

This very moment, if I could wish anything for my three amazing grandchildren, it would be their safety. They are strong, smart human beings, but there’s a world out there that they need to learn to navigate, understand, and not totally trust. It’s a different world, a Covid19 virus world, one that is hard to explain to children.

So, I search for life experiences that might guide me in these moments—and I come up with childhood illnesses—the first being polio. It’s also a virus and it often started with fever, a sore throat, headache, pain. Parents would worry, especially in summer if a child developed these symptoms after swimming in a public pool. But then the Salk vaccine was approved and everything changed. Fear went away. I could tell my grandchildren that history, and stress that right now scientists are working on a vaccine that will make everyone safe from COVID19.

I could also tell them about chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella—that many grandparents and some of their parents will remember having these childhood diseases before there were vaccines to keep a kid well. And though during those years we missed school, none of it was fun. Often we were really sick, so sick that we couldn’t be doing school work. And there was no zooming. Once we were well and went back, everything seemed strange. Life had gone on without us. The school room looked different—there was a new kid in the front row; the bulletin board was totally different; our teacher had dyed her hair or was now wearing glasses. CHANGE. It’s hard on everyone, but it’s really hard on children. We like things to stay the same. We feel safer that way.

Living in a calm, safe environment is how children thrive. But now the ability to go outside and roam, ride bikes, play in the park, use the climbing equipment—all has changed. You have to keep thinking about invisible viruses on your hands. You can’t hug your friends. My three grandchildren are fortunate because they have a trampoline in their yard, a Christmas gift from their parents who had no idea how important the ability to take a break from classwork would become. Now they can run outside and “shake out the sillies” as their mother would say.

I was able to see my grandchildren last week. We kept our distances and there were no hugs and kisses. But we could talk about what they’re studying, how their lives are going. My granddaughter explained her course work and the books she is reading. She’s a dancer and many evenings, she and my daughter put the tunes on and dance, dance. One grandson practices basketball every day and the other runs with his dad. I’m amazed, they do six miles!

I have asked them how they feel about the changes and they seem calm and not experiencing great stress. That’s important. But I know there are many children who are experiencing stress.

Thus when the time seems right, I will talk to my grandchildren about how fighting a virus, which is invisible and a crafty foe, makes them heroes. Maintaining that six feet, wearing a mask makes them good people, understanding people. I will stress that they will have stories to tell their children in the years to come, not unlike the stories my generation has told many times about the chicken pox— “You wouldn’t believe how sick I was and my mom bought me this really cool game, but even then I didn’t want to play it. I just slept a lot.” Fighting an illness, no matter how you are fighting it, can be a badge of honor. Our grandchildren will listen, understand, because everyone’s been sick with something—a fever, a cold. Some have had to go to the hospital for a broken bone, an x-ray, stitches. In Kindergarten I had eye surgery and I remember EVERYTHING about that journey.

I see in our future, the ability to talk freely about COVID19, to compare how we handled it, how our grandchildren zoomed, how they maintained good grades. Being a grandparent, I have had many conversations with peers where we talked about childhood illnesses and surgeries etc, complained or bragged about how things went, how we missed school for days, for weeks. My God, how sick we were!

Our grandchildren will have their stories to tell, but the biggest one will be about the scientists and the doctors who worked very hard to create a vaccine that eventually meant that coming generations would not have to experience what they right now are going through.

About Elizabeth:
She blogs at Boomer Highway and is author of A MOTHER’S TIME CAPSULE, a collection of stories reflecting on motherhood. motherhood. She is a registered nurse, health educator and writer.

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