Annie's Poem: A Child Copes With Pandemic Anxiety
By Allan Shedlin
Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
Annie wrote the following poem during the pandemic. Annie is nine years old. She and her parents have given their permission to share it here in the knowledge that all feelings are okay and naming them is an important first step to coping with them:
I am a boat leaking with worry water
I am the sea that carries it far beyond the sunset
I am the fish that feasts on the worry water
I am the eagle that feasts on the worry fish
I am the girl who reads this poem
I am her mind that breathes in the worry
I am the body that meditates the worry boat
To worry island.
Although Annie’s ability to express herself with these words may be exceptional, the worries she expresses are all too common. Ever since COVID-19 hit, the world has become a scarier and more uncertain place. As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association – which collectively represent more than 77,000 physicians and more than 200 children’s hospitals – have labeled the children’s mental health crisis a “national emergency.” When difficult personal issues present simultaneously, they may precipitate and amplify whatever worry we might be feeling.
When Annie shared her poem with me, I asked her for permission to share it with some friends and colleagues who I knew would appreciate it. She enthusiastically agreed to share it. One of my friends, Kirsten Porter, a freelance editor, poet, professor, and guest lecturer sent me this response to forward to Annie:
My friend Allan shared your inspiring poem with me. I’m so grateful he did!
When I was just about the same age as you are now I started writing poetry to help me make sense of the world. There were so many good things I can remember that brought me joy at that time – climbing trees in the summer with my best friend, cuddling with my dogs, making peach ice cream with my grandpa.
But sometimes the world felt scary and confusing and bad things happened that I didn’t always understand. That’s when I decided poetry could help me find words to write about my joy AND poetry could also give me a space to write about what scared or hurt me.
When we keep our feelings inside, they have a way of getting bigger and bigger until they feel like they are going to explode. Poetry gives us a safe place to write out how we feel, so we don’t feel like we’re going to explode. Your feelings are so important. I can tell you are such a strong, brave, and bright young woman. This world needs more girls just like you!
Annie, please keep writing your beautifully honest poems and (when you feel like it) sharing them with others. Poetry will help you write out your worries so that you don’t keep that sadness inside of you and feel all alone. And I promise you that even on your hardest days, there is a tomorrow that is filled with sunshine and goodness just waiting for you to experience. You are such a special light in this world. ♡
Sharing Kirsten’s note, and a number of other responses with Annie, meant the world to her.
Please consider this an invitation to share Annie’s poem with your children as a catalyst for
inviting a conversation with them about their feelings and as encouragement for them to write or draw something as well.
And given Annie’s appreciation of receiving words of encouragement and support, please consider writing something to Annie. You can send an email to me at allan [at] dadvocacyconsultinggroup [dot] com, and I will forward it to her.
Additional Resource for Parents and Children:
Shy Spaghetti and Excited Eggs: A Kid's Menu of Feelings, American Psychological Association's Magination Press. Understanding what your own emotions and feelings are telling you is very useful, even for kids! How do you know what you're feeling and how to deal with it? A note to parents explains the importance of feelings education and shows parents ways to help kids understand what they feel, why they experience an emotion, and what they can do when feelings get too big or hard.
If you have other resources you feel worthy of sharing during these very challenging and stressful times, please share by leaving them in the comments below. Daddy on!
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, and numerous "bonus" children and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.