A sign of the times: On her Christmas list, sandwiched between mechanical pencils, sweatshirt, and gumball machine, the littlest one wrote masks.
Thanks to her tech-savvy older brother, she even included a hyperlink to the specific face masks she wants Santa to bring her. A set of three, they’re decorated in repeating patterns of butterflies and pineapples and other summer fruits. They’re cheery and colorful and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think, “How adorable!”
But I saw the item on her Christmas list (typed into a shared Google doc along with her brothers’ wish lists — as another sign of the times) and it made me enormously sad.
Across the nation, we have been lumbering under the weight of a deadly pandemic for nearly 10 months. Our children have become so accustomed to the not-so-new normal, my 8-year-old not only understands that she has to wear a face mask when in public or in a closed space with someone who doesn’t live in our home, she actually wants to have a fresh and fruit-covered assortment of choices to pick from when she does.
I lingered on her list for quite some time and wondered why it squeezed my heart so to see masks written there. I think there are a few reasons.
I am reminded of how innocent and trusting children are, even, or perhaps especially, during times of crisis.
How quickly the young ones get used to things. How resolutely they soldier on through a complete and utter upheaval of their lives.
How openheartedly they heed us when we say, “Do this odd and restrictive and uncomfortable thing, not just for you, but for all of us.”
It humbled me to know that my daughter trusts me to keep her safe and doesn’t worry or complain (much.) Instead, she has just adjusted to the way of the world, existing comfortably in the childlike state she should be in at age 8.
I thought about the fact that not all children grow up learning to trust adults — for many heartbreaking reasons. I know my children are fortunate, and lucky. I know I am, too, to have parents who set that foundational example of love and trust. And I’m grateful to have found a partner who believes that all children deserve that. I’m grateful we can give such a gift to our three kids.
But her mask request still made me sad, and a little angry, if I’m honest, because she shouldn’t have to ask for face coverings for Christmas. We shouldn’t still be here months and seasons later, still in semi-quarantine, 280,000-plus people dead and more dying every day.
We should not still be here in this isolated way of living during “the most wonderful time of the year.” We should not be OK with cotton protective coverings being the only thing we have between ourselves and a possible fatal illness, no matter how cute those face coverings are.
How is this still our existence? Why are we — the same dogged and intrepid people who have figured out a way to travel to Mars — felled by a virus smaller than dust particles? It’s mind-boggling. It’s maddening.
Like many of you, I’ve lost my patience with the monotony, the boredom, the social isolation and the anxiety many times since March. As the months wear on, sometimes I worry I’ll lose my mind, too.
I’m ashamed to say I am impatient and mournful and I lament this miserable year of heaviness, a lot. I don’t want to stay home anymore. I don’t want to wear that insufferable mask!
And yet, here is my third-grader, dutifully donning hers whenever we leave the house, without remonstrance or rue. My baby girl trusts that she should wear a face mask because the adults have told her it’s the right thing to do for her neighbors and her brothers, her grandparents and teachers, the community helpers and her friends.
She not only wears it, she chooses to do so with style and aplomb.
Her spirit reminds me that even though she is the child and I am the parent, there is so much she has to teach me.
Perhaps she has something to teach us all.