A few weeks ago, I received a message from my teenage daughter. “Mom, my friend just texted me about monkeypox. Will it be okay this time?” I looked at the text, wondering how to answer. It’s full of anxiety, and fantasies, that as a parent, I have some kind of magical powers that, in fact, I don’t. Is it okay this time? Last time I lied to my kids and told them it was okay, we ended up in an epidemic that killed over a million people and still shows no signs of stopping. I thought of her use of the word “this time”. Those words woven together are one of those hints that the pandemic may have changed her. Perhaps the fear of illness and years of Zoom education changed the way she sees the world.
There have been attempts to quantify the impact the pandemic has had on us and our children – learning loss, grief, suicide, alcoholism , shootings, divorce – but we don’t yet know the extent of it. How did those empty streets change me? Did my sleepless nights, staring out the window, watching ambulances pick up people who couldn’t breathe, permanently changed my mind? And we still don’t know what we’ll be like post-pandemic, mostly because we’re still in a pandemic.
I had a grandfather with the flu. He was forever changed by the “lucky” experience. Obsessed with his health, he takes a handful of vitamins every day. He was sure he was going to catch something on the bus or subway, so he walked around. I remember being on the school bus once and seeing him walking in Central Park, waving his arms like a madman. He was in his s Then, in a frantic race against death. Eventually, death caught up with him.
When I have dinner with other parents, we often discuss how the pandemic affects our teens and how it shapes their little universe. Most of us agree that something in it has changed, but few of us can pinpoint exactly what. But even beyond the personal missteps of our children, America feels differently. America scares me in a way I’ve never been before, and I’m not alone. January 1918, % of Americans say they are concerned about the state of our country. The Times explained, “Criminologists studying rising murder rates point to the pandemic’s impact on everything from mental health to policing. Impact.” Following last week’s FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement warning that “violent domestic extremists may launch attacks” in response to the search. (Scary, but not surprising.) In fact, shootings are down 4 percent since last year, but for many, America remains unsettled and marginalized. In a few days, we will be giving up our oldest child for college. In addition to my normal anxiety, I was worried about the weirdness I sent him into; this strange new world full of raging viruses and a sense of abnormality.
A few months ago my gynecologist and I were renting In the car, the doctor delivered my three children. I asked her, as I often do when I see her, how the practice was, and she stopped and looked at me. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like this — a lot of my patients just don’t know if they want to bring their kids into the world, and I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t know how to answer.”
I don’t know what to tell my kids about monkeypox, mass shootings, or about that unstable feeling. Seemingly bubbling under the surface of American life. Some people who are parents believe (or pretend to believe) that everything is going to be okay, but I don’t know if it’s going to be okay. Nobody does.