Over the course of Fourth of July weekend, my 4-year-old son stole his teenage cousin’s hat approximately 1,675 times. He did this about the same amount as he grabbed this cousin’s arm and yelled, “Got ya!” We were on a trip with my husband’s parents, his siblings, and their children, and I observed my kids as they swam, watched fireworks, dug in the sand, and generally messed with their older cousins. It was amazing how often we have gotten together in the last few years, but they were so easy to get along with everybody.
We opted to avoid most groups because our four-member family was stricter about COVID-19. We had taken this same trip for my mother-in-law’s birthday the year before, but it was at a dude ranch, all the activities were outdoors, and my husband and I had insisted that our group eat all our meals outside, even though every other family ate breakfast and dinner in the dining hall. We’d done our own thing for the Jewish holidays. We’d celebrated Thanksgiving with only my sister. We’d masked up for a socially distanced bar mitzvah ceremony, leaving our kids at home with a babysitter.
As we waited to get our children vaccinated, we were concerned about the potential health hazards of this virus. It was true that children tend to do better than adults. No, statistics do not always bring comfort when you are making decisions about your own child’s health. Beyond that, we wanted to avoid any disruptions caused by a confirmed diagnosis. The 6-year-old completed pre-K online and was able to complete kindergarten using a hybrid program. This allowed him to receive a large portion of his instruction in reading, writing, and other critical skills. We didn’t want him to have to miss school for longer than was necessary. As much as we loved him, we didn’t want our youngest son to be home more than 10 days. As it turned out, children can learn. Are you bored with TV?.
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Doing my job from home, skipping parties, RSVP’ing no to weddings. None of it felt like a major sacrifice to me, or at least I couldn’t justify the participation weighed against the risks. It’s fair to say that I do not need much in-person contact. While I do enjoy seeing my friends, even when they are not around, I can rely on their solid foundation, and will sometimes stay for longer periods of time. The past few years, I’ve really burrowed into my introversion, finding relief in the hours spent alone in my apartment during the day, the aimless walks around my neighborhood at night. It is also clear to me that my children don’t look like me. My older son, however, makes friends at the park every single time.
Even though there is much talk about how children were isolated during the pandemic I wasn’t concerned at all. The good news was that we were provided with consistent childcare throughout the pandemic. This meant our children spent almost every day in the park, even the most difficult three months. It was great to get to know the neighbors and have fun playing soccer and picnics together. When it was cold, we wore long sleeves and covered our bodies with heat lamps. We stopped going back to our family after vaccines for adults became readily available. After we discovered that breakthrough infections could be possible, we started seeing my sister who lived nearby and my in-laws inside.
In December 2020, my parents traveled from Texas to visit us. They were quarantined and tested before returning at regular intervals. We tried to visit them too but got derailed twice—first when Delta made the trip too intimidating, then when my grandma and my older son separately contracted Omicron. We finally made it there in February 2022. My children had not seen their grandparents in more than 2 years, and my youngest son didn’t remember ever being on an airplane. (When I told him we would eat breakfast at the airport, he responded incredulously: “For real life?!”)
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As we attempted to find a balanced balance, I felt that we were doing okay. Although I felt a bit numb, I thought the children were doing well.
Now I’m a little less sure. This summer, the month after the trip with my husband’s family, we traveled to meet my parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins in Colorado. A few of our units were in the same condo, and we stayed there for almost a week. They were able to see their cousin and asked every morning for her. Family members were invited to join them for Candy Land games and jumps on the swinging bridge. They finally got everyone’s name straight after years of knowing some largely from photos. I watched my little one hold my 28-year-old cousin’s hand to cross a stream and my older one inspecting maps with my 86-year-old grandfather.
Perhaps it is simply vacation I’m romanticizing, or having more grown-ups around to entertain my kids, but I don’t think so. As my youngest son and me walked along the street, he said that he loves our family. My children playing with relatives was something I noticed several times. TheyFor me, it was a time when I felt a deep connection with my family and was able to form their own bonds.
I don’t regret how my husband and I have behaved during the pandemic. We’ve done our best to take care of our kids in the face of a disease whose long-term effects are not yet fully understood. COVID-19’s effects are not yet fully understood, so we continue to try to minimize our exposures. We are finally getting our older son vaccinated. With these memories of summer fresh in my memory, it is time to open up a bit more for the people we love. They are all fine. But they need it. We all do.
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