Mama Said: Why this generation is the toughest yet
The pandemic has taught children that life is basically fire-fighting, and maybe that’s a good thing, writes Emily Martin
Welcome to the grey and cold beginnings of 2022. The pandemic rumbles miserably on and those daily line graphs to show numbers of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths now rise and fall in synchronicity with the seasons as well as with our hopes and dreams.
As new infections go up, our hopes fall. And as hospitalisations fall, our dreams dare to take an upturn. There are pie charts to show numbers of vaccinations completed. Bar charts to show types of variant in circulation. Stacked line graphs showing cases within age groups.
Graphs, graphs, graphs and charts. And we have all become amateur statisticians weighing up future arrangements against the likelihood of lockdown, and plans are made judiciously so that they can be easily undone, if the risk assessment at the time deems the whole thing unworkable. Sorry, but with a heavy heart we’ve decided to cancel.
As adults, we don’t like living like this but we’re resigned to the rules and we’ve got used to plans changing, things being cancelled and arrangements we’ve looked forward to at the last minute being suddenly impossible. “What can we do? It is what it is”, people say to one another. “Maybe we’ll see you in the spring”, we say, as we kiss goodbye to loved ones at Christmas, with an awkward, unmasked hug. “Maybe, maybe not, we’ll figure something out”.
One skill I feel like I’ve developed throughout this now two-year period of complete awfulness is advanced patience. Before the awfulness, if you told me I had to endure something for two weeks it would seem like forever. “The Government will look at things in
two weeks.” “You need to isolate for 10 days.” It feels like we’re always waiting now. Poised to book, waiting to confirm. Holding off for two more weeks to pass before we can see where we are. “Let’s see how it all looks in two weeks,” we say to each other.
And not only have we had to learn advanced patience and how to pass life in two-week chunks, but our children have had to as well. Children, who notoriously can’t wait for things and want everything right now, have learnt to cope with things not going according to plan in the most remarkably admirable way.
When you’re a child, time is distorted anyway. It bends and stretches with context, contracting as bedtime approaches or spreading out forever over the long summer holidays. Remember long train rides or car journeys that you had to endure as a child, but then you grow up to find that they were only about two hours long?
Yesterday, Girl was trying to zip Boy into a giant cloth bag. “What are you playing?” I said. “Oh, we’re playing ‘Covid Test’,” she said. “I’ve just done a PCR on him and we’re waiting for the results.” Boy looked up at me from the bag, with a sad face. It was funny, but also really, really not.
When they were writing their letters to Father Christmas: “Are you asking for world peace and the end of the pandemic?” I said. “No,” Girl replied. “I’m asking for an Amazon Fire Tablet.” As I walked out of the room I heard her mumble, “So I can download the Covid App.”
As adults we’re still coming to terms with the fact that we must learn to live with the virus, but have you noticed that the children have already nailed it? Life is, after all, just a series of disappointments and things going wrong. And then just coping with it. There are some great moments, of course. But basically the disappointments are the pillars and then the great moments are strung between them, like bunting, making the best of a bad situation.
When you’re a child, everything is meant to be laid out for you like a yellow brick road so you rarely get to practise disappointment or grief. You skip along in your red sparkly shoes, carefree and you’re shielded from as much harsh reality as possible. And that’s how it should be. But also, what good does it do you, really? You find out eventually that life is mostly fire-fighting. Constantly tidying up, arranging and rearranging things, saying “If I can just get through these two weeks then everything will calm down a bit,” over and over again until you eventually die.
The awfulness has prevented us from being able to shield the children from the truth in the way that instinctively we want to. If they have to “isolate” (a new and charming childhood word that trips off the tongue without a care), then they just can’t go to the birthday party, they miss the school play, the plans are cancelled at the last moment and they just have to get over it, there’s literally nothing Mummy can do.
And they’ve done so well, haven’t they? I wish we could reward them with childish things like sugar and toys and balloons, but it’s starting to feel like even the little ones have learnt to just enjoy the fact of a simple plan progressing to a desired outcome. In Covid times, that is after all the greatest possible reward. I’m hopeful that this generation will turn out to be one of the most adaptable, and the toughest, yet.
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