It’s coming up to a year soon. Friday the 13th of March 2020. That’s when it all started, when we got locked indoors with our children in Spain for 66 days. Kids had fewer rights than dogs during spring last year, because at least pups were allowed for a walk. A year next month. And the end is not in sight. Right now, we are again in a half lockdown here in Valencia, with no cafés open, no possibility to see our friends, and even the city boundaries are shut over the weekend. We have been wearing compulsory face masks outdoors, in shops and in schools, since the middle of July last year, including children as young as six.
How long does resilience last?
I am not one to start a huge debate on this blog. That’s not what my blog is about. My blog is about optimism. But right now, it’s hard to still be that upbeat person. I have watched the debates and the online mud slinging on social media, between the sheeple, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, the Qanon brigade, the obedient rule-followers, the people absolutely petrified of catching Covid and everything in between. It is a war zone. And, there is no right and wrong, really, because everyone has their own reality and circumstances. Someone whose business has gone bust because of the pandemic has a very different reality from someone who is physically not strong enough to survive a lung infection.
I have kept clear of speaking out much about this topic online, as it just upsets me to see so much hatred. Expressing any vague doubt about the strictness of the lockdowns gets you sent straight into the tin foil hat corner. But today I want to speak out. I am speaking out on behalf of the children. The forgotten generation of the pandemic. The little ones, who have just got to do what the grown-up world tells them to do, and have no say. Mask on, honey, out you go.
A very long pause in their childhood
They line up in front of their classroom each morning, with their hands stretched out in front of them, to get ‘gelled’ and disinfected. Storybooks are no longer sent home, as even the books have to be quarantined for three days. Play parks are taped off, sports lessons are cancelled. The swimming pool is closed. The kids can’t see their grandparents. No birthday parties. Children are robbed of so many things that give them joy, social connection, and (mental) health. A normal childhood, setting them up for life. Kids are spoilt rotten these days, you say? Sure, toys and games enough around the house, and sticking them in front of a screen is always an easy pacifier. But what about teaching them about life, love and common sense?
It is coming up to a year now. And I am not expecting this situation will improve much for the rest of 2021. So for the good part of nearly two years, children as young as six will have been covering their mouths, following incredibly strict rules at school, if they’ve been in school at all, and have had to constantly adapt to new situations. “Can we go to the park, mummy?” “No, sweetheart, we can’t this week.” “But we were there last week?” “Yes, I know, but we are not allowed now.” “Why mummy?” “Because of Covid.” “Is there Covid in the park, mummy?”
Rise in OCD cases
We spoke to a psychologist, who told us that her clinic is currently full of children with OCD and other anxiety disorders as a result of the pandemic. Continuous handwashing, germ paranoia, wear that mask, or you might die! Fear. Caused by an environment of scared parents, stressed teachers, passers-by keeping a ‘safe distance’. Every. Single. Day. They hear it at home, at school, on the street. They are told not to cuddle anyone, share toys, or even talk during lunch when they have their masks off for 30 minutes. Let that sink in.
Two years is a long time for a child. Even one year is an eternity. And I am no psychologist, scientist or other researcher, but I cannot help to wonder how this will have a lasting impact on the well-being and mental health of our young ones. The future generation. The ones who will have to deal with the consequences of the economic crisis as a result of lockdowns. The ones who have been told that being close to people can make you sick. The ones who, perhaps, have also lost grandparents to Covid, and now believe that everyone may die if they are not careful, distant and disinfected enough.
Built up of stress
I want to be optimistic. And I know that children are strong and adaptable. Most kids don’t appear to be depressed. Mine have shown a lot of resilience over the past year, and we certainly do our best to have a family life as normal as possible. We still try and find ways to escape into nature, or go to the beach, on weekends, enjoying a home-made picnic, and some freedom. We have to try and distract ourselves from negativity and fearmongering. But I also see, in my own children, the anxiety and frustration that has built up inside them over the past eleven months, and which may flare up in sudden, unusual outbursts of rage, over nothing. Such a lot of stress, simmering in a developing body, what does that do to a child’s health?
The hospitals are at capacity, the ICUs are full. So we have to do this for the vulnerable, the old and our public health staff. I understand. This is the general story we all know, and I am no Covid denier. I have an enormous amount of respect for nurses and doctors working their asses of to care for so many patients. And I do not want to go into a debate about how many of the dying are actually dying of Covid, or with Covid. Or the fact that nearly all people who die of (or with) Covid, are very old, and had an underlying health condition already.
But nobody is particularly concerned about how our children are doing. They just get on with it. Right?
My children have not seen their nana and grandad in Wales since Christmas 2019. Their Dutch grandparents have also been missing them for a year. We all know how fast children grow. It breaks my heart. When can we hug our grandmothers again? After a vaccine? With a mask on? Is this all worth it? Is it ‘just the way it is’ right now, a sacrifice worth making? Doesn’t nana want as many hugs as she can get in those final years of her life? And do all these rules make any difference at all to the statistics? I have yet to see some facts that stack up and are coherent across all European countries. How many Covid outbreaks are known to have started in an outdoor play park, on the swings?
But I am not looking for a fight. I am making a noise on behalf of the children. Because I want them to be heard. We read about the ‘importance of mental health of children during lockdown’, but in reality, it is never a priority. O
Every week a new set of rules, or a different restriction. We can see our friends, oh no, now we can’t. We can go to the beach, oh no, now we can’t. We can go for lunch. Oh, no we can’t. Because of Covid. “Is Coronavirus everywhere, mummy?” It is confusing for anyone, let alone a child.
On the square in front of our house, a forgotten face mask lies on a bench. A toddler waddles towards it, ready to grab it with her tiny fists. Her mother runs across and shouts in a panicky voice:”No, don’t touch! It’s Coronavirus!” She hurriedly gets her disinfectant gel out of her bag, and tells off the small child. The child looks at her with her big wild eyes. Her mummy means it.