It’s been weeks since my wife and I have seen our two boys, definitely the longest stretch of time they’ve gone without us in their short six and seven year old lives. We chose this for their safety and for my wife and I to be able to effectively and safely continue to do our jobs.
They are with their grandparents having a blast. Sarah’s mom posts pictures and videos of the boys on Facebook. In them you see and hear the joy of two carefree childhoods spent out in the country, in the fields of Eastern Indiana in the hot days of a July summer – playing in the dirt, carting around a wagon, running around in swim trunks, and cooling off in a pool of water.
I FaceTimed with them the other day. I told them I missed them and asked them how they were doing, what they were up to.
“We eat Mac and Cheese every day!” Ezra said with a sense of can you believe how awesome that is?! in his voice.
They are having the time of their lives. And part of the silver lining in this pandemic era we are currently living is that they will have the memories of spending a month in Indiana with their grandparents, hopefully for the rest of their lives.
If time is the fourth dimension, then we have solidly been living in 3D. The concept of time means very little to me right now. It’s hard to calibrate. It stretches and expands and constricts. It stands still; it speeds forward.
Since our home has been in quarantine we’ve been very limited in what exactly we can do. Our days have looked fairly routine and similar each and every day. I’ve jokingly said “everyday is Saturday” because every day feels like it.
We’ve grown together as a home, as a family, for sure. And for that I am extremely grateful. But I can’t help but think about the experiences that have been stolen away by this virus and by this country’s handling of the pandemic.
Sarah and I had planned to go on our 10th anniversary vacation together to California this year. The boys were going to going to participate in summer school and summer camps. The girls were going to have summer school and summer enrichment, as well as sports practices and camps. Two of our girls made the softball team, but we pulled them from the team right before we had our first cases of Covid-19 confirmed on campus.
Academically, the second half of the of the spring semester was completely lost for the boys. They were given work to do via e-learning, but we were not able to be consistent with it. Sarah and I were unable to manage them going to school along with the eight teenage girls quarantined at home with us also trying to do a new version of school.
It’s hard for me to not have anxiety about it all. Ezra missing out on reading and writing and basic math. Micah missing out on the structure of school, much of which enables him to thrive, as well as the help and resources that he receives for his various special needs in school. How will all this impact their academic futures? And what does school in the future really look like for them? (I’m not sure anyone really knows.)
The boys not only missed out on things like practicing reading and writing, but also social experiences and interactions with other kids — time in class as a structured group, playing with kids at recess, learning to work together with others. I assume these are significant elements of early childhood development in the academic setting for our children.
We’ve missed out of visits from friends and family throughout these last few months as well. Since the beginning of March we’ve not had any visitors in our home other than essential workers. Typically friends and family visit us on a fairly regular basis, or we meet them out and around the city. We have not been able to do that this year at all practically. No trips to the children’s museum or to the zoo. We can’t even pop into a gas station to those huge fountain drinks for the girls like we used to do for a special treat.
A defining element of summer for me and my friend Jeff is going on a weekly bike ride in Iowa called “Taco Ride” in which we ride our bikes along a ten-mile path through the woods and end up at a small restaurant along with a couple hundred other people enjoying tacos and drinks who just did the same thing. After a few hours escaping the hustle and bustle of our normal lives we then bike back up the same 10-mile path late into the night to head home.
This has been a tradition for us nearly every Thursday from late April to early October. And this is my first summer while working at Boys Town that we have not been able to go on this ride at all.
Social media loves to show me photos and status updates that I’ve posted in the past, showing me “memories” of what I’ve done “on this day.” Generally, I enjoy seeing those old posts, but recently it has been harder seeing all the photos of what life used to look like. It creates a weird sense of jealousy of my own past way of life. It reminded me of the feelings I had soon after Micah was born. It’s a realization of a loss of a particular sort of freedom.
After Micah was born it was that Well, I guess I can’t just go out on a date with my wife to a movie theater anymore, sort of thing. Having a kid brought new limitations to the life I had grown accustomed to. I wasn’t torn up about it, but I realized that my freedoms weren’t as expansive as they used to be.
When you have a baby you understand that with the loss of particular freedoms comes the privileges of being a parent. When you get married, the losses of freedom as a single person comes with the gains of sharing a life with someone that loves you. When you have a roommate, the losses of freedom you have living alone comes with the gains of social interaction and sharing of expenses.
Generally speaking, these sorts of decisions are of the kind that we deliberate about and calculate in our mind and determine are worth the loss of various freedoms. With the pandemic however, the freedoms we are choosing to forego are in exchange for the most basic of things: our very lives. That still sounds dramatic, even after 130,000 people in this country have died. But it’s true. I understand that the lives we are protecting are not necessarily our own lives, if we are particularly young or healthy. But no one truly knows for sure how Covid-19 will affect them or their loved ones. You personally might be plenty healthy, but still get the virus, be asymptomatic for the most part, and then pass it on to someone in which it does dramatically impact their health, even to the point of death. In response, we are being asked to give up certain freedoms for the sake of the very lives of others, both for those we know and for those of whom we will never meet.
This is has clearly been hard for our country to do. I could pontificate as to why I think this is true, I’ll sidestep that for now, but what I will say is that masks have been shown through all sorts of studies to be beneficial to stopping the spread of the virus. And despite how dangerous we personally feel the virus is, or how much of a risk we personally want to take regarding our own health and the health of our own loved ones, we are being asked to help contain this virus by wearing masks.
It’s a simple loss of freedom, the wearing of masks. Maybe we feel goofy, or out of place, or uncomfortable. But if it helps stop this virus, let’s just go ahead and feel goofy and uncomfortable. If we all do it, we won’t feel so out of place, either.
When one of the girls in our home wants out of Boys Town or is simply tired of just trying to “fake it to make it” they show it through poor behaviors. There’s an irony to it all, though. If you are dead set on wanting to leave Boys Town and start breaking rules and displaying oppositional and disrespectful behaviors in your frustration, it only elongates your length of stay. Administration, probation officers, and judges will see those behaviors as justification for keeping that youth in treatment at Boys Town for even longer. That’s exactly the opposite outcome the teen wanted. This scenario is not uncommon.
Interestingly enough, the same thing goes for those who are ambivalent about being at Boys Town. Most kids eventually figure out that Boys Town is a really great place to be. We love to spoil them in as many ways we can while we shape their behaviors. Of course it’s not ideal to be separated from family and friends, but sometimes it’s for their best interest and safety. (Side note: I will always respect the parents who make the nearly impossibly difficult choice to place their child at Boys Town. And it will always humble me that they trust Sarah and me to help them and their child.) The kids that can accept the reality that they are at Boys Town for at least a year and then buy into the culture here, those are the kids that are the most successful and are often the ones that end up discharging the quickest. They were willing to humble themselves, buckle down and do some hard personal work, and accept some of the loss of freedoms a typical teenager would have.
We as a society need to be like the kids at Boys Town that “get it.” It’s not at first intuitive. I definitely understand that longing for life to be back the way it was. It’s a strong pull. But it affects our behaviors poorly. And we must recognize that.
If we want this pandemic to stop as soon as possible, then we need to stop letting our frustrations about the various losses of freedom get the best of us. Because through not wearing masks, not following the social distancing guidelines laid out by the CDC, and by taking unnecessary risks in public, we then only prolong the length of this pandemic.
We all want this to be over as soon as possible. Believe me, I want my children to go back to school like is has been in the past. Most of us have that jealous longing for what our own lives were like in the past. If we want to get there as soon as we can, then it means that we have to make some hard and uncomfortable decisions now. We might have to upend our lives as we know it for a while for us to get to a place that can be considered safe and normal again. But we have to do that together. It doesn’t work otherwise.
To modify a saying of Jesus, I suggest this concept, adapted from Luke 9:24:
Whoever wants to save their freedom will lose it, but whoever loses their freedom for the sake of others will save it.