I write this shortly after my nine-year-old has been dropped off at a summer day camp.
Your reaction to that line will range from some variation of “Hey, that’s super!” to “What the hell are you thinking?” And as a parent in these pandemic days, I’m rolling up and down through the range of those reactions myself.
On the one hand, there’s a definite downward trend of Covid cases in Ontario (and more key for us, Toronto), so people are slowly, carefully coming out of pure isolation to start interacting a bit more like they were in The Before Times. (Or at least, the level-headed ones are. Some yahoos who never saw the benefits to isolation and wearing a mask and social distancing in the first place are barrelling ahead with whatever they can do ASAP with zero safety measures in place because, evidently, damn the risks to their health and the health of others.)
On the other hand, most of the world is still in a pandemic. So why are any social interactions beyond absolute needs–let alone summer day camps–even being considered?
The fact is that as parents, we’re also of course watching out for our daughter’s mental well-being along with her physical well-being. And physical social interaction with other kids, along with being with other authority figures, is a big part of that.
Since the isolation started in mid-March, she’s been in contact with classmates and friends via phone or FaceTime/Zoom/whatever, but given humans are by nature social creatures, there’s undeniable mental benefits to being and interacting with people instead of just talking to them or interacting with them on a screen. She’s been playing with friends at times–pool noodle tag and the classic jumping through a sprinkler on hot days, etc.–but we strive to stay on top of those times and keep refereeing the social distancing as needed.
Having said that, the flipside to her being among others is that she’s of course at more risk that way. The game cafe where she’s doing these day camps is going as hard as they can putting safety measures in place and maintaining them. They have a 19-page document about their policies for these camps, and 95% of it is about their Covid-related safety measures. They’re taking it extremely seriously and, if anything, have covered aspects of how things will work to a granularity that I hadn’t considered.
Yet, all around the world, some people taking all possible precautions are still catching this virus. Physically being away from others matters.
Yet, we’ve heard of a mom we’re loosely connected to taking her kids to the grocery store for the first time since isolation started, and one kid was just fine as they were around other people, while the other was terrified about it and had a full-on anxiety attack. That had never happened to her before. It was simply because the child had gone months without that in her life. Everything she’d known, her very reality, had become staying at home and avoiding being around other people to keep her safe. Which is just a harbinger: I guarantee that in coming months and years and decades, there will be a mental well-being backlash suffered by kids from this unprecedented global isolation.
Parenting these days is like doing an improvisational, interpretive dance to music that’s always changing. You feel that you’re always trying to figure out what to do, like you’re maybe just out of sync with what’s playing now, and you probably look bad to at least some of the people watching.
To bring it back around, the main question is: These days, when is something like a day camp okay to do?
And the answer is: With this virus now a thing, I don’t know that I would ever be unquestionably, 100% fine with her doing this. Even if the numbers here or everywhere were zero for a time, there’s always–perhaps thanks in part to my well-lubricated imagination (aided in no small part by pandemics happening in waves with lulls between them)–the question of “What if…?”
You can’t live your life that way, of course, because there’s no end to those, and dwelling on them, or letting them unduly determine what you will or won’t do from one moment to the next, would be paralyzing.
But the “What if…?” is always there, lurking around the edges of my brain, and I need to ensure they stay that way by being practical about things so that they don’t start creeping too far into my real world decision-making.
As with all things, there has to be a sensible balance. And finding the right balance between a child’s physical and mental well-being is the same challenge.
It’s all tied up in a package of life (and parenthood) as a whole, that we all deal with: We try to do the best we can with what we know, and there will absolutely be mistakes made along the way.
Here’s dearly hoping this isn’t one of those times.