NBC news has recently been airing a series of reports about the mental health toll of the pandemic on young people. As a youth pastor, I’m well aware of these. I’ve seen the toll this pandemic has taken on the young people in my ministry. I’ve also heard about it from their parents.
To this end, my husband, Doug, and I have counted ourselves somewhat fortunate to have young children. Sure, it’s been hard to have them home ALL THE TIME. Sometimes, impossibly so. But at the same time, we know that our girls are at an age where we can still meet most – if not all – of their social / emotional needs.
But then yesterday, I took Kendall – our 19-month old – to the doctor for her 18-month visit (Yes, we’re behind… Pandemic life. Sigh.) At that visit, three things happened that made me realize the toll pandemic life has taken on even our youngest children.
When we got to the doctor, Kendall insisted on walking from our car to the office. Everything was fine until we got to the office door. I opened it and Kendal reluctantly walked in. Two steps into the office she simply stopped.
I thought she was about to freak out because I wouldn’t let her take off her boots, which is our pattern at home.
She just stood there shaking her head no.
Not knowing what else to do, after a few seconds, I scooped her up and we walked in, where a nurse met us and took our temperatures.
I didn’t think much of it until we got into the exam room and Kendall went absolutely ballistic. I started to undress her so that we could get her weighed and she screamed bloody murder. I attempted to lay her down on the exam table but she cried hysterically, clinging to me for dear life. This went on and on for the first twenty minutes we were in the room, totally uncharacteristic of Kendall, who is typically a mild-tempered delight.
As the doctor and I processed this, it occurred to me that in the last year - for more than half of Kendall’s life – she has not been inside anywhere other than our house, my parent’s house, and the vestibule of one friend’s house. That’s it. While we’ve gone plenty of outdoor places, we simply have not taken Kendall anywhere indoors. I think she was terrified not only by people she didn’t know – but by a place she doesn’t know; By a place that’s not hers.
A few minutes later, we were talking about Kendall’s words, as one does at doctor’s appointments for toddlers. I recounted her words: Baba, Mama, Dada, Cheese, Ball, Book, Box, Read, and Mask. Again, I realized just how much these pandemic babies most certainly have been impacted by this pandemic. Among my 19-months old first words is the word, “Mask”.
As part of this visit, I was also asked to fill out a pretty comprehensive form asking me to rate Kendall in a series of areas. One of the questions on the form was “My child reacts as expected to other kids her age.” This question gutted me.
I have NO idea how my child reacts to other kids her age. She doesn’t see any of them. Our pandemic circle is small and the only other kids she sees are older than her. She’s literally had NO exposure to other kids her age since March 13 last year when the world stopped.
Now, I know that kids are resilient.
I know that Kendall will actually have NO memory of this pandemic year.
But yesterday’s doctor visit filled me with grief. Because even though Kendall will not remember this year, she IS most certainly being shaped by it, in ways that we have not yet even realized.
And that’s a lot for this mama’s heart to take.