I just left a second voicemail at the hotel in Maine we were supposed to visit for my 40th birthday in August. The governor recently declared that out-of-state visitors will have to self-quarantine upon arrival through the summer months, making my dreamy birthday trip impossible. Of course that’s disappointing, but the first thing my thoughts settled on are the Mainers who have always served us so hospitably during our summer visits. The lobster boat captain in Portland, the concierge at the front desk in Cape Elizabeth, the college kid who scoops ice cream at our favorite store in Kennebunk. What will become of their livelihoods now that their state’s tourism is limited in such a stark way?
The tentacles of COVID-19 are far reaching, affecting all industries and families.
Yet if there is an elephant in the living room of every home, it is the grey beast of deteriorating mental health among our children and teens.
Declining mental health is a lot like declining physical health. If I don’t discipline my body through strength training and regular heart-rate increasing activity, and if I fail to manage my food intake, my physical health will weaken over time.
Similarly, when a child is taken out of her routine: school and playgroups, extracurricular activities and neighborhood gatherings, there is a languishing and a loneliness that cannot be satiated no matter how many “mom and me” dates, family game nights or drive thru treats.
For all the ways this virus has spared the lives of our children, it has wreaked havoc on their sense of community. The social structures they’ve worked so intentionally to build, the friendships they’ve bravely strived to foster, only accessible now through the blue glow of a screen.
The elephant in the room is that, whether your kid is saying it or not, he’s hurting. That’s why he lashes out when it’s time for his class Zoom but he doesn’t want to do “any more meetings”; that’s why your toddler cries and begs to go with you to the grocery store; that’s why she’s not FaceTiming her school friends anymore because there is “literally nothing else to say.”
We can keep the schedule, set the alarm, check the homework, turn off the 24-hour news, watch the movies, set up the virtual play date, but until we acknowledge the elephant in the room, we won’t be able to say the most important words of all.
I love you.
I’m here to listen.
You won’t feel this way forever.