One day it will be said. It will be said by my kids. It will be said by my kids to their kids. My grandkids will hear many times, “When I was a kid, there was a pandemic. It was called COVID-19. You have no idea dear children what we endured.” I wouldn’t say that I overuse the, “when I was a kid” mantra, but on occasion it is not only appropriate, but I would argue necessary, to give perspective to the current generation of what life was like in previous decades.
I used the “when I was a kid” when my children would complain about their bedtime. They assured me that other parents were allowing their 8-year-old children to stay up and watch late night television while their cruel and vicious mother forced them to bed at 8:30. “When I was a kid,” I would inform them, “we would get off our 45-minute bus ride, change into our ‘everyday’ clothes and head to the fields to pick rocks for a couple of hours, just in time to get home, eat supper, do homework and be in bed by 8 p.m.” I literally went to bed at 8 p.m. in eighth grade. I remember this because when I was 13 I started babysitting several nights a week for a family with five children under the age of 8 who stayed up later than I did. I recall dozing several times while the kids were watching their last cartoon of the evening.
The “when I was a kid” seems to be most effective on children from maybe 7 to 10. This age group still likes their parents and are interested in what they have to say. My niece once said to my mother, “Grandma, tell me about when you were little. You know, about the black and white days.” I don’t know how old she was when she learned that there was actually color in the 1940s. It just wasn’t recorded in photographs.
“When I was a kid, we drank out of the garden hose and rode in the back of a pick-up and didn’t think twice about it,” I informed my kids. “When I was your age of ten, not only did we not sit in a car seat, we didn’t even wear seatbelts. In fact, child, I was the fourth of seven kids. I was relegated to sit in the back of a Mercury Marquis station wagon where not only were there no seatbelts. There were no seats. Basically, your mother sat in the trunk of our vehicle until the age of fifteen.” I know this because I was fifteen when my brother left for college, and I was finally promoted to sitting in the middle seat between my two sisters. “Did I have to sit where the hump was? Yes, but I was so grateful not to be hunched over in the back that I never complained.” (I hated the hump and definitely complained, but still it was a promotion from the trunk which impacts my posture to this day)
“In 2020, when I was a kid,” my grandchildren will hear, “there was no toilet paper, and we had to wear masks over our faces all the time.” To an 8-year-old, this will be amazing. I am sure many 8-year-old children wouldn’t even think the absence of toilet paper as a hardship. They would also likely envision wearing a mask as something akin to what happens at Halloween, and how fun is that? “No, we wore paper masks and dorky cloth masks with flowers on them, but luckily nobody knew if we brushed our teeth or not because of the mask.” I found out that people were neglecting their dental hygiene when I proudly reported to my dental hygienist that working remotely had increased my rate of flossing, from maybe twice every six months to once a week. She wasn’t overly impressed, but told me a lot of her patients confessed that they had not been brushing their teeth in the morning since working from home. Apparently, many of us brush our teeth not for our own benefit, but so others don’t find us repugnant.
But my teenagers may not find too much sympathy when they tell their adolescents about pandemic life. “During COVID-19, we weren’t able to go to school,” “Really, mom?” “Well, actually we went twice a week. The other days we would wake up 2 minutes before class started, not brush our teeth, and wearing pajamas, would Zoom into our class from the comfort of our bed.” “Mom, that sounds like the best thing that could ever happen to me.”
“Well, also during the coronavirus, we weren’t able to go to church and instead had to watch it on the television from our living room couch.” “Oh my gosh, Mom, that sounds amazing. I wish I could go back to 2020.” “Yeah, well your grandma made us dress up and still stand and kneel like we were at Mass. When I was a kid, your grandma was not near as fun as she is now.”
“In 2020, we weren’t able to attend sporting events,” my kids will tell their children. “You mean you weren’t able to waste money to see the Twins and Vikings lose?” I wish I could be hopeful, but I believe that the Twins and Vikings will still be terrible in 2040. “Yes, but actually in 2020, the Twins got into the playoffs. Finally, things were looking up during a most dismal year, and then they lost two straight playoff games marking the most consecutive playoff losses of any team in any sport.” In a regular year, this would have crushed a Minnesota sports fan, but this was during the pandemic, so we had bigger things to worry about, like finding toilet paper.” I wonder if my grandkids will find the Twins getting into the playoffs more astonishing than a shortage of bath tissue.
I asked one of my kids what they will tell their children about the pandemic. He said, “that everything was on the table.” During COVID, the most routine thing could be taken away and, although we often didn’t like it, most of us adjusted to it. My kids might tell my grandkids, “When I was a kid during the coronavirus, we spent more time with our family than we did with our friends.” Their teenage kids might groan at the thought of this and rethink their time travel wish. But maybe, just maybe, my kids will say, “yeah, it was rough, but in some ways it was also beautiful.”