In the second week of March, I was among the loudest voices calling for a shutdown of the schools. I knew that the coronavirus was serious and that what happened in Italy could happen here in the States.
I have several underlying health conditions – primary immunodeficiency, asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome – which leave me immunocompromised. I know what a week in the ICU can do to a seemingly healthy person and still carry that PTSD with me every day. This is all to say: I take this virus very seriously.
Like most people around the world, I spent the spring in quarantine. I watched my children suffer — most profoundly, my son.
I have never met a parent of a tween who hasn’t admitted that their child struggles even in “normal times” with issues like anxiety, depression, body-image worries, hormonal changes, bullying, cliques, screen-time addiction, and an assortment of other stressors that didn’t exist in the same way in their parents’ generation. Add four months of isolation from friends, activities, routine, traditions, and everything that ordinarily keeps them afloat.
Trust me: No school-age children or their parents are doing OK right now. As parents, we struggle and we suffer. And we watch our children try desperately not to fall apart.
And so, this summer I made a decision that felt ethically questionable, anxiety-inducing, and hypocritical. I sent my kids to day camp.
I chose an all-outdoor facility with rigorous CDC-approved safety measures: temperature checks, masks, small groups. I rationalized that the virus rates have remained low in our area, for now. But my husband and I know that it’s ultimately a risk. Everything is these days. Every time we leave our house, we have to weigh moral, physical, and mental consequences.
There is no perfect choice. I held my breath and made the decision just a few days before camp started.
When my son came home on that first day, he was like a changed person. Instead of being argumentative, miserable, and despondent, he was … a kid again. Sunburnt with scraped knees and everything a 10-year-old should be in the summer. It was the first time the heavy weight was lifted off my heart.
I don’t know if the camp will have an outbreak this summer and I’ll live to regret my choice. Maybe I will get sick with the coronavirus due to my own decisions. We are trying to be so careful in every other aspect of our life to mitigate risk for ourselves and our community.
For now, I’m glad about the decision we’ve made. I’ve offered my children a temporary reprieve from the horror of isolation. I’ve watched my son’s deteriorating mental health drastically improve.
But it never leaves my mind that I’ve also exposed myself to a greater risk of ending up on a ventilator.
I know that all of these things are true. This is what it looks like to be a parent in 2020. Parents all over the country have made different decisions based on where they live, how they live, their children’s personalities, their work schedules, their immune systems, and their personal beliefs.
There is no perfect choice.
While I remain strongly against the opening of malls, casinos, indoor dining, amusement parks, and bars, I don’t know if anything is right or wrong when it comes to child care. Maybe viruses will spike or there will be a local outbreak and we’ll pull them out of camp. Maybe we’ll later regret our decision. Or maybe we’ll be glad we let them have some fun, and lessen the depression of this time, while they could. I just don’t know.
What I do know is that our country simply isn’t set up to have a safety net for families. Our president is incompetent and has driven our country into catastrophe. Infection rates have continued to rise, especially in states with Republican leadership. Even in Pennsylvania, where our Democratic governor has thankfully enacted some safety regulations to protect us, parents don’t have any clear direction on what to do to keep our kids safe and healthy — not just physically, but emotionally as well.
Parents living through a pandemic have to carry the load of this heavy emotional labor. And even when the vaccine has been perfected and the risks are minimized, parents will carry this with us, long after the pandemic has passed.
Paige Wolf is a writer, publicist, and advocate dedicated to creating meaningful progressive change locally and globally. A version of this essay first appeared on her site, phillytweens.com