“This is something you’ll tell your future kids all about.”
We’ve all heard this sentence uttered about any number of singular human events, from epic snowstorms to epic travel nightmares; from hurricanes to earthquakes; from unprecedented elections to unprecedented wars.
The phrase nicely conveys the comfort of eventual distance. No matter what trial or tragedy befalls us in this moment, there will almost certainly come a future moment when we can look back at that setback and turn it into an eye-popping, jaw-dropping tale of intrigue — rather than the heart-clenching, gut-wrenching event that we experienced in real time.
You can utter this sentiment to those who haven’t yet had kids but plan to do so. But it also applies to those, like Danielle and me, whose kids are too young to have even the faintest conception of the events that are currently unfolding. With only minor re-wording, I can say to my wife: “This is something we’ll tell our kids all about in the future.”
It’s an odd and awe-inspiring thing to live in the presence of small creatures who do not yet know about human suffering. Tiny humans who are unacquainted with the ravages of nature or the ravages of mankind. Children who don’t know the meaning of the word “virus” or “quarantine.” Including a 3-year-old who, if I mentioned a “pandemic,” would likely smile playfully and say, “That sounds like a panda! They live in China!”
To quote an album title from Explosions in the Sky, one of my favorite bands:
How strange, innocence.
The 4 of us are largely quarantined at this point. We will not be doing any non-essential errands, other than visiting Grandma and Grandpa now and then. But the kids aren’t yet aware of this, and they don’t have even a trace of an idea of the health crisis that is rapidly unfolding around the world right now. Someday we will tell them all about it. But I am grateful that day will not come this year, or next year, or the year after that.
As Greyson’s and Violet’s parents, it is our sacred duty to not only love and protect them, but also to absorb the weight of all this uncertainty and terror into our own somewhat shell-shocked minds. We do this so that they don’t yet need to absorb any of it. So that they can experience early childhood as it was meant to be experienced — carefree and unencumbered.
Parents of school-age children do not have this luxury, of course. And I ache for every mom and dad who has to conjure up for their 6- or 10- or 14-year old child a calm, lucid, panic-resistant explanation of why the world looks and feels so different right now. To be sure, Danielle and I will have to endure that burden about future tumultuous events once our kids are older.
After all, given a long enough span — at least 18 years in most cases — the wheel of parenting fortune lands on almost every possible outcome. Our time will come.
Innocence is, for better and for worse, made to be lost. (Eventually.)
But for now, we are carving out a safe space for our children that is filled with wonder, saturated with joy, and resistant to the news. We are giving them a vision of the world that is expansive and vibrant.
Or to quote another album title from the band I mentioned earlier, we are teaching them this basic sentiment:
The earth is not a cold, dead place.
I will do everything in my power to help my children grow up embracing this evergreen sentiment, deep in the soil of their bones. And I will do everything in my power to keep embracing it myself, no matter what the ultimate ravages of this virus prove to be.
I may not have known it 4 years ago, but this is precisely what I signed up for.
And these are the 3 people I want next to me in a quarantine.
Even though 2 of them have no idea it’s happening.
And that’s 1 comfort I still have.