I messed up. As a mom, and a human, I do that on very rare occasions. If I had to guess, I’d say once every blue moon or so.
While I have mastered this shelter in place ordeal with almost zero meltdowns, not counting those 2-5 that I really don’t think we should count anyway, I goofed when the time came to emerge from our place of solitude.
A friend of ours and restaurant owner who had been struggling to keep his doors open for months, re-opened their dining area on day one of phase one of re-opening. Our family was eager to support a local business owner, and even more eager to escape our house for a safe, socially-distanced meal!
As we drove across town, I was floating on clouds oblivious and noting all the new construction and other ways our world had seemed to change since I saw it last.
Since mid-March when we began staying home, I’ve had some acclimation to the strange new ways of public places. Breathing through an uncomfortable mask, minding my six feet distance and one way lines, noting (while simultaneously blocking out) warnings and signs about coronavirus had become commonplace for me during my bi-weekly grocery shops.
My kids hadn’t gone to any of the stores with me, and I completely failed to prepare my daughter for what to expect when we went out. Oof.
I should have noted the Warning! Warning! Kid freaking out! sirens when we pulled up into the restaurant parking lot. A security guard asked us if we would be dining in, then pointed us to a designated parking spot. “What’s that about?” My daughter inquired, Oh, nothing to see here! Totally normal! Police letting people know where to park for dinner!
Then there was the second siren, as we began to walk inside “Why is there red tape on the sidewalk?” She asked, and I, once again missing my mark, bluntly said “so people know where to stand while they wait in line!”
Then we walked in and saw very few people scattered around and sitting at small tables pushed into corners of the restaurant. Hand sanitizing stops were in every main walkway, and all staff were wearing masks and gloves. Caution tape marked off areas that were closed to the public, and big signs waited for us at our table, declaring all the extra precautions they were taking to keep everyone safe. Finally, I saw it. My seven-year-old sitting at the table, wide-eyed and looking panicked. Oh shoot, this is WAY too much. Honestly? It was a lot for me. I thought it would be exciting, but it felt foreboding instead. Plus, our toddler was trying to wriggle out of our arms and go say hi to people the moment we arrived. If you haven’t caught on already, this was basically a very bad idea on all fronts. Toddlers are the worst at social distancing. Toddlers and puppies.
I “pssssst psss pststss” at my husband, and nodded towards our freaked out looking child, then suggested, “Hey babe! Why don’t we order our food and take it home to eat, wouldn’t that be nice?”
My daughter quickly chimed in “I like that idea! This is too much for me.”
So we went out to the car together, we sat, we breathed, we talked. We listened to music and we ate delicious food in the comfort of our home, which we now knew we were not ready to leave yet.
I do not have expert advice on how to prepare your children for our changed world, but I hope I can help you to not make the same mistake I did. Talk to them about what to expect before you go out again.
Since I am not a professional, I decided to consult the one who does know all about what kids are feeling right now, my kid!
Guess what? Seven-year-olds can offer some pretty solid insight and advice, when consulted.
How did you feel when we went out the first time?
“Really anxious and scared.”
What made you feel that way?
“Everybody in masks, and things looked weird.”
What did mommy and daddy say that made you feel better?
“I felt better when you said that you feel a little worried too.”
This really surprised me, but I guess having someone relate to her was comforting. I told her that I understand how she feels, and I feel like that too when I go to the grocery store. I told her that things may be weird right now, but it’s temporary and won’t always be like this. I asked her if we could do our best to make the best of it for a little while. Then, I let her know that mommy and daddy will do everything we need to keep our family safe, and we could hold her worries for her.
How do you feel when we go out now?
“It’s okay. I am kind of getting used to it.”
What do you worry about?
“That I could get sick, or get too close to someone who is sick.”
What do you like to do now?
“It feels normal when we go for walks, or places where people aren’t wearing masks. I like doing those things. I feel the most scared when I see videos of people being really sick, and I feel like that could happen to me.”
*Note to self: watch news in a stealthier mode.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
“Yes, tell the people I hope they will be safe and be okay. God chose to create them, so they have a purpose and they have the power to bring normal back to the world.”
I don’t think I could end on a better note then that.
Talk to your kids.
The world is weird right now, and as hard as it is for us adults to understand it, it must harder be for our kids. But we can tell them what it will look like, what we’re expected to do in public, and how it may feel. We can help give them words to help describe their flurry of emotions: weird, different, scary. We can reassure them that it’s okay to feel those things, and we feel it too sometimes, BUT the grownups are doing everything we need to do, to take care of the kids.
Most of all, this is temporary. Normal will return. We will be okay again. This is a rare adventure, and we will get through it the best we are able to. Together.