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From the start of the stay-at-home orders I have been very honest with my kids regarding the pandemic, our daily routines, and the great uncertainty we have as we look forward. I had a sense that our son’s May birthday would not be celebrated as we usually do. My husband and I were careful to create realistic expectations while still giving him the assurance that we will have a fun day. He made peace with the idea of a different birthday without much fuss. We moved on to make special arrangements and had a couple of surprises to make the day extra special. I had all intentions of making his celebration a socially distant one.
Physical Distancing: It would all work out as planned, right? Wrong!
In my mind, it was all going to work out. We had the police come by early to wish him a happy birthday. We did a Zoom family call with a surprise cake. And we had organized a drive-by happy birthday with some friends. These were all surprises to him and he responded happily to most.
When the moment came for the drive-by birthday, he decided to surprise everyone with a piano concert. This required us to bring his keyboard outside, much closer to our friends than we had originally intended. When everyone arrived, he was happy, surprised, and intimidated. He was not expecting to see so many of his friends. My little boy panicked and decided not to play. He told me he had stage fright.
One of our closest friends got out of the car, mask included. As the children froze, no longer knowing how to interact in this new normal, I started to realize how much they had missed interactions since the last day of school. They stood at a distance, looking down and avoiding eye contact. They didn’t speak much. I looked over to my friend and we both decided to let go. This expanded to another family, while the rest remained in their cars keeping the social distancing norms.
For a short time that afternoon, we let our guards down and enjoyed our friends’ company and conversation. The kids played basketball, soccer, football, and rode their bikes. They were not sharing food or drinks, but they were much closer than anything we have been advised to do. It was wonderful, the kids had an amazing time and the only thing missing were hugs. At least we did not break that rule.
Now comes the guilt …
At the end of the day my husband asked how I felt. I had mixed emotions. Our friends had been good about staying home and adhering to the social distancing guidelines, but I also knew that we had exponentially increased our exposure. I knew that my son needed that time to play. He needed to forget about distance learning and to play with someone other than his brother. I had enough to justify our actions and pretend to have a calculated risk.
As I laid in my bed that night, I couldn’t help but cry. I was an emotional mess. Regrets and at the same time no regrets. A feeling of sadness because our kids are finishing the school year virtually and most likely starting the same way in the fall. And although we have no real worries like many others, we are a long way from overcoming this pandemic so the idea of continuing the way we are just broke me.
The longer we continue physical distancing the more their social skills will suffer. I am a strong supporter of the stay-at-home orders as I have experienced too many flu seasons with complications. I understand the high risk of contagion and have been very good at following the stay-at-home orders. But I know my kids miss playing with friends and running around playing tag. Doing all the things not allowed under physical distancing. I am not sure that the answer is to send them back to school wearing masks and asking them to behave like little robots. The images and reports of schools reopening abroad are not at all reassuring.
So, as I went to sleep I remembered past celebrations. Feeling exhausted from a long day entertaining our guests, but happy because it was another memorable celebration on the books. This year the feeling was different. The smiles on the children while playing reminded me of the things we are currently missing. With more information coming up, we might expand our bubble. But the emotional guilt of increasing the risk is not easy to manage. I guess as they say “parenting is never easy.”