“How are you handling it?”
“You’re worried about war.” Oh… “How are you handling it?”
That was my six-year-old’s response to my question about her mental wellness during the pandemic. Her sister’s response: “Well, I’m whatever.” She sounds more like a moody eleven-year-old than a six-year-old…
“Well, that was how you were at that age, weren’t you?” I guess Tolly’s right… I was dusting my own room at that age, and it seems like Leoša’s picked up the habit. Though I can tell she’s stressed. Furrowed brow as she makes her bed, and she’s more irritated by things in the room not being exact. As for Ai—I know she’s restless. There’s tension in those taut six-year-old’s muscles, those shoulders of hers. (When did she get so tall? She’s taller than her sister now…) We haven’t gone to the library “in forever.”
“No. We haven’t gone to the library in eight months,” she corrects me. She definitely takes from her mother’s side of the family. (“A frightening thought,” says Yumeka. “Indeed,” says Nova.)
My co-worker’s deeply worried about her preteens. They’ve lost “the ability to people,” and the capacity for self-regulation and delayed gratification. “They’re glued to their YouTube, they don’t even have the patience to watch a movie with me anymore. You know, because a movie has to take its time to tell a story, build up, and—it’s just been really problematic.” They saw cousins recently, the first time in a long time. They sat on the sofa and did and said nothing.
I can’t speak much about her family affairs. I know that they were all going to counselling for a while—at one point, she threw a chair at her husband. “I’m not a good Christian,” she once admitted to me.
Surprisingly, Tolly and I haven’t thrown furniture at each other.
We’ve come pretty close to each other’s throats—never in front of the kids, thankfully—but we’ve always made up. “We’re like the Democratic and Republican Party,” he said. “We clash fiercely on tactical matters, only; there are no real differences of principle between us.” And the kids have always witnessed the making up process. Between us, between other members of the family. We raised them a bit like Papua New Guineans: “Who’s that? What is he doing? What is he feeling? What’s his relation to so-and-so?”
They see their Mama’s different to me, to Bedi, to Iseul, to Julia, to his brother. Whereas public school is the primary source of socialization for most American kids, for our two, it’s the home—homes—and it’s a big village, full of adults who play a lot of different roles in relation to each other. Everyone offers multiple internal role models. Speaking as a former kid raised in California’s decrepit public education, I don’t think other kids here are great sources of interaction. Other kids bully the shit out of others for being different (e.g. autistic, which both my kids are), aren’t exposed to anything culturally that’s edifying and so can’t transmit culture to my kids, and disrupt other students’ learning in the classroom environment. (And don’t get me started about the classroom environment.) One of my kids is genderqueer. God, I am not going to subject her to transphobia from her peers—Tolly unforgivingly describes them as “unimaginative, cruel, selfish little bundles of zero emotional regulation”—or from her educators.
She wouldn’t stand it either. They’re my kids—and Tolly’s their mother, and Ant’s their mother, god help their enemies—, so they’d probably kick their bullies’ asses. And these are under circumstances where kids aren’t even allowed to play tag at school anymore—pre-pandemic. “We don’t want them to get hurt” really means “We don’t want to be dragged into the yawning black hell of a lawsuit inflicted by overly litigious upper middle class parents.”
It’d be nice for them to build Hey Arnold! or Recess-type relationships and memories with their peers. But let’s be honest. Even before the pandemic, kids were glued to games that monetize every aspect of play, and segregated from others by age (and a big part of peer development is the ability to mentor younger kids in play and tell stories to others, regardless of age).
From The Atlantic:
During quarantine, Lisa Acker’s three college-age sons all headed back to their parents’ New Jersey home. Acker has noticed that their social lives have suffered. “If I say, ‘What would you be doing?,’ they say, ‘I’d be going to house parties, dorm parties, concerts. I’d be with my girlfriend,’” she told me. “When they do reach out to people, they have nothing to talk about.”
Do you kids not have lives outside of dorm parties, concerts, and dates with girlfriends? Do kids not make things for themselves anymore, or read?
Honestly, this pandemic hasn’t greatly affected our ability to raise a family. (Thank god for multiple caregivers.) Most of the stress has come from other sources, and we’ve managed to bounce back and build a modus vivendi that’s rougher than we’d like, but still comfortable. I get that’s not something most people can say these days. The fact that our crew could homeschool two kids no problem pre-pandemic (again, thank god for multiple involved caregivers and the varied social, cultural, and vocational resources we all can provide them) says a lot about the stability of our situation.
“I don’t wanna be with Auntie Yumeka, he’s a witch.”
“Why don’t you want to be with him?”
“Well… I… I don’t want to be a witch!”
“You don’t have to be a witch if you don’t want to, and you won’t be a witch just from spending time with him.
I sit down. “You don’t have to practice what he practices. It is possible for him to love you and be a good part of your life, while still being a witch.”
Child supervision is a constant worry for most parents. “I can’t go back to work if no one can watch my kids.” “I can’t stay with my kids if I have to go back to work.” For other families, the enforced stay-at-home time has increased the frequency and severity of domestic abuse. In 2008, after the recession, the UPMC Children’s Hospital reported that more children died of abusive head trauma than of accidental head injuries. Home isn’t safe, and I can’t imagine being the first-grade teacher who witnessed one of his seven-year-old students being raped during their Zoom class, or the parent who finds out from an FBI investigator that their nine-year-old was being coerced into making porn of themselves over TikTok.
“…I’m handling it as best I can. Russia’s truce fell apart, Armenia and Azerbaijan are bombing each other again. I read the news, to see if anything’s changed.”
“What will you do if we go into a war against Russia?”
“Well… I’ll go to work. I’ll try to keep a roof over our heads. But I don’t know how long that’ll last in a serious war like that, where countries bomb the houses in each other’s countries. I’ll go to work, and maybe all of us at the hospital can fight against the war, and other workers in Russia will want to do the same, to not go to war, to be able to keep their houses and spend time with their families. If enough of us say no, then Congress and Russia’s Federal Assembly will have to punch out their war themselves.”
“OK. It’s good to hear that you have a plan to keep you calm.”
“So, back to my question. How are you doing, and what do you want from me?”
“Quarantine is frustrating, and I’m worried about the fish at the aquarium. I want to go to the library so we can get more books about folktales.” (Didn’t she want to read about architecture…?) “I want you to spend more time with me and less time on Simone’s problems. Please ask her to stop bothering us.” She’s stone-cold, just like her mother. “What do you want from me?” And now she negotiates with me as an equal.
“I want you to reason with your sister whenever she’s unfair to people who disagree with her, but aren’t hurting her. She means well, but she has to learn that limited cooperation can be possible and is important. We’re not Native, but we respect the people who depend on white sage by not buying it, even though sage tea is delicious, because we don’t know if the plants are being stolen off Native lands or not.”
“That’s true… I’m sorry.”
“I’ll keep her in check.”
How are the kids? Still scary. Somewhat taller. (Is Ai going to take after my height…?) Eating well. Learning to bake with their Auntie Yumeka—or rather, teaching him how to bake. “I made rosemary dinner rolls!” Czech recipe that Ai taught him.