This very Covid19 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, to understand, and not totally trust. It’s a different world, this Covid19 world, one that is hard to explain to children.
So, if they asked me for my advice regarding Covid19, how would I answer?
First, I’d talk about polio. Like COVID19 that is now making so many people sick, polio often started with a fever, sore throat, headache, body aches. Parents would worry, especially in summer if you developed cold-and flu-like symptoms after swimming in a public pool—then they thought the worst.
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD GIFT–A POOL
My mother didn’t let us swim in public pools, but we were absolutely blessed to live next to an engineer who had a pool. Uncle Carl, we called him, was employed by an iron works firm about three miles from our neighborhood. He had a team there create a large iron framework, really a big bath tub, that was 3 feet deep at one end and 5-6 feet deep at the other. Then he had excavators dig a huge hole in his backyard and they brought that “pool” over and dropped it right in the hole. Bingo. We could stand in our dining room windows and look out at the neighbor’s swimming pool. And yes, we were invited to swim, after taking a shower, most summer afternoons from 3:00pm to 4:00. Huge relief from polio worries for my mother.
TIME FOR YOUR POLIO SHOT!
But then, after a few years, Jonas Salk researched and presented the Salk vaccine. It was approved by government agencies and everything changed. Fear went away. My mother took us to see our pediatrician and there he was with this long needle. But Dr. DeYoung and his nurse were clever. They had a box of birthday party favors, the one you blow on and it makes a horn sound. Well, the nurse would hand one to each child, tell them to blow–and while they did, zap, Dr. DeYoung did the inoculation. No tears, no fears.
So I could tell my grandchildren the swimming pool-polio story, stressing that scientists are right now working, researching a vaccine to make us safe from COVID19. It’s a profound teaching moment if parents use it right—because science is ALWAYS THE FUTURE, though science, good science and research, take time, lots of time, and children often have no concept of time. THEY WANT THINGS NOW. (So do some adults who complain before they think.) But with Covid19, things aren’t going to go back to normal any time soon.
HOW WE HAVE WORKED TO BANISH CHILDHOOD DISEASES
I could also tell them about chicken pox, mumps, measles and rubella, that many grandparents and even some parents remember having all or a few of these childhood diseases. And even though we missed school, it wasn’t fun. We were often really sick. And there was no way to make up what we were missing in school. There was no zooming.
Then when we were well and went back, everything seemed strange. Life had gone on without us. Sometimes the school room looked different—there was a new kid in the front row; the bulletin board was totally different: our teacher had cut her hair or was now wearing glasses. There was a table of projects but my name wasn’t on any of them because I wasn’t there. 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. We all thrive in a safe environment. 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.
But there is also the HERO FACTOR. Because when we were back at school and talking to our friends, some of that hero stuff came out. Like my eye surgery, when they bandaged both my eyes and I couldn’t see for a week. And I was only five.
STRESSING THE POSITIVE: SCIENCE AND FUTURE GO HAND IN HAND
Our grandchildren will have stories to tell, but I also believe the biggest one will be about the scientists and the doctors who worked very hard to create a vaccine that eventually meant future generations would not have to experience what they are going through right now. It could become a WONDERFUL MOMENT, to stress the positive, to teach your grandchildren about their bodies, about the immune system and antibodies, about herd immunity. The time is long past where adults sit in a circle and talk about things they don’t want their children to hear. Because THEY ARE HEARING IT or READING IT on the internet. So much better to talk about these things openly, to inspire curiosity in your child or grandchild. We always need scientists. And I hope beyond hope that thousands of young minds are right this moment focussing on learning about the human body and realizing that the TRUE SUPER HERO is the man or woman who can study, research and eventually HELP others. Wishing you all, health and safety.
a version of this post appeared on Carol Cassara’s blog: Will Our Grandchildren Be Okay?
photo credit: Green Matters