My 9-year-old’s birthday is this weekend. Normally, we’d have a party for him at some sort of germ-infested, sweat-streaked trampoline park. This year, he was allowed to invite a couple of pod-friends (cringe) for a socially distanced water-balloon fight, fully masked, in the backyard. No real party. My parents might come over to sit six feet apart on our patio and eat ice cream sundaes. Poor dude. We also had to yank him from Little League; camp is totally closed; and he has no idea whether he’s going back to school in the fall. Yeah, on the surface, life seems grim at the moment. I wouldn’t want to be a fourth-grader right now. (I wouldn’t want to be an adult, either, but that’s a different story.)
His buoyancy and resilience take an extra worry off my mind. Dude is happy playing video games and riding his bike with a few friends. He doesn’t even complain about his mask. Hoping to tap into that inner fortitude, I asked him what he’s grateful for. His answers are instructive for adults, too, I think, and I don’t believe that they’re unique for him. I think kids have a more resilient attitude about this than some adults, because their memories are shorter and their expectations are lower.
“Being alive.” Hey, that’s a big one! It’s nice to actually wake up in the morning with a beating heart and to breathe freely. After this is over, I don’t think I’ll ever take my health for granted again. Well, that’s optimistic. I mean, someday, I’m sure I will. But for the time being, simply being able to have the freedom to exist without pain, fear or lack of air is a privilege.
“Food.” That too. I used to order mindless takeout, throw stuff away half-eaten and run through Market Basket like “Supermarket Sweep.” No more. Even if Amazon Fresh did substitute my kids’ Cocoa Krisps with Brown Rice Krisps, for some strange reason….
“Having a safe place to live. Shelter, I guess?” That’s another good one. Right now, our home is our sanctuary. If your home is a peaceful, safe space, take a minute to appreciate that. Even if it’s a hot mess of toys and tangled phone chargers.
“Don’t we have, like, lots of really good doctors and nurses here?” Yes, we do! I feel grateful to ride out COVID-19 here in Massachusetts, with some of the world’s best hospitals a few miles away. More than that, I’m glad that my son feels some sense of security that, if he needs help, we can get it. (Let’s hope.)
“Air conditioning!” Amen.
“All my fun activities. Things I can do in my home, toys and that stuff.” This is the one that surprised me. In Ordinary Times, I try to ensure that my kids are kept busy: sports, classes, camps. I don’t stack their schedules, but I also make sure they’re occupied. This stretch has been one long lesson in free time and cancellations. However, not once has my son told me that he’s bored. He’s built forts, read books, played with (and argued with) his brother, played (lots of) video games and gone for bike rides. He’s turned our backyard into an obstacle course, which has ruined my plants but oh well, and he’s even taken a few virtual comedy classes that he wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.
“My bed! That I have a bed!” Oh, yes, beds are great: hideout, entertainment center, home office, comfort zone. They’re the chocolate chips in the cookie of life. Something to look forward to at the end of a long day. My son has turned his into a fort filled with stuffed animals, a reading lamp and, well, I don’t know what else, since he has a bunk bed that would dismember me if I tried to fold myself into it. But I’m glad he feels safe.
“My family.” We’ve been spending lots of time together, and miraculously, nobody has completely melted down. We’ve settled into a groove and a routine, as odd as it seems, where everyone has their space and their place. It’s not ideal, but it’s familiar, and right now, familiarity is reassuring medicine.
What are your kids grateful for? Spill it! Personally, I’m grateful that my son is able to put this in perspective (maybe better than some adults) and seems to be rolling with it. I know his birthday isn’t going to be what he expected, but I also need to remind myself that kids don’t need much right now. Except a hamster. He really, really wants a hamster.