Pandemic burnout | Entertainment | heraldmailmedia.com
Area students were tentatively planning to head back to public schools after Nov. 30, given adequate metrics. They had started playing ball again, and my youngest son had just played his first tackle football game of the season.
They checked in safely, each player and coach wearing a mask and getting his temperature measured and recorded at check-in. After eight-plus months of coronavirus pandemic shutdown and a slow, gradual reopening, the game was like a deep breath of fresh, life-giving air after months of collective shallow breathing.
The sun was shining. The boys let loose their pent-up energy with good sportsmanship and gratitude to be on the field. The crack of helmets and pads was music to ears of parents and families whose autumns typically revolve in large part around the sport.
Meanwhile, the numbers started to rise again. COVID-19 cases were up, as were hospitalizations and ICU admissions. Things were getting a little dicey, but hopes were still high.
Then Nov. 10, the decision was announced. The small fraction of students who had returned to school were headed back home, and schools were shutting down again for at least a few weeks. Gov. Larry Hogan was going to hold a press conference at 5 p.m. to address the status of the pandemic in Maryland.
Meanwhile, I headed home from work to tell my 13-year-old son. He is a reasonable, easy-going guy. He always has been. Back in the spring, when school closed and the stay-at-home order went into effect, he was not thrilled, but he understood the importance of it and took it in stride.
Distance learning was not his favorite and he missed his friends, but he continued to do great with his schoolwork and to roll with the punches. By the time Nov. 30 was announced as a Return to Learn benchmark, he was chomping at the bit to get back to school. Then I went home and dropped the news.
His face… This usually upbeat kid looked like his dog had died. This is a boy, who from the time he could talk, would comfort those around him no matter what the situation by looking compassionately and saying wide-eyed, slowly, optimistically, “It’s all RIGHT!” It’s become a warm joke amongst family members, to encourage one another in his style with his words, tone and inflection. But when I told him school was a no go, and football likely would be too, his face told me it was not all right.
When the shutdown initially happened and people were immediately crying foul for the mental health of their children who were otherwise healthy and well, I was quietly irritated. I realized there are children with disabilities and in vulnerable situations, and for them, I did have concern and did what I could to help personally. But the average child of most people surrounding me have more than they need and can sacrifice a little bit for a little while out of consideration for the the community.
It also rubbed me the wrong way that having one’s children at home seemed to constitute such a hardship for so many parents. Again, there are exceptions to which I am sensitive. I realize that many parents did not have the option to be home with their children, and were facing work challenges and financial difficulties. But with the many who were simply panicked to have their kids around, I struggled to relate.
At this point, I feel like families are playing a whole other ball game. Things are not quite open but not quite shut down. Adults and kids are growing weary, and both the present and the future are filled with uncertainty.
My son has not seen some of his friends since March. Despite the commendable efforts of his teachers, he is rarely being challenged at school. Thanks to the commitment and dedication of his football league directors, he was able, for a while, to stay active and engaged in a modified season of a sport he loves. But to learn he won’t be returning to school, that life as he knew it is once again moving more toward “closed” than “open,” and that football is precipitously ending too, now he’s had it.
I realize people have lived through world wars, the Great Depression, and worse. I know that many still live without enough food and water and without a roof over their heads, let alone cars, cell phones, video games, more clothes than they could ever wear and more food than anyone really needs. And I know that my son will be fine. At the same time, I know that his disappointment and his pandemic burnout are real.
Sometimes smooth sailing and clear waters cloud us to the basics. This time of a rough ride on stormy seas can serve as a good reminder to me and as a valuable lesson to my son. It is good to be grateful for our innumerable comforts and luxuries. It also is good to be sensitive to one another’s struggles. Part of living well is walking through sadness and choosing joy as we look forward to the next time the sun breaks through and a deep breath of fresh air fills our lungs and lifts our spirits.