by Allan Shedlin
Dad, Granddad, and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
For 78 million people in the U.S., January 1st is not the primary marker of a new year. We call those people students. For them, the new year begins in late August or early September with the traditional start of school. And to that 78 million, we can add 3.7 million teachers. And to those numbers, we can add their parents and all the other people whose lives and employment are directly tied to schools (pre-K through college).
And to those numbers, we can also add millions more of us who still remember our own years in school, when fall was the time when we began something new – an opportunity for a fresh start. A time met with a combination of excitement and anxiety; of eagerness and some hesitation; a kind of “go-away-closer” moment.
So it is perfectly understandable that as summer reached its meteorological end, the crisis triggered by the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, would reach a crescendo – a covidious crescendo.
I coined the term covidious in an April 1, 2020, Daddying blog post titled “COVID-19 and the New Abnormal.” It was close to the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in the U.S. when the main adjective being used to describe this moment was “unprecedented,” and we were being told this was the “new normal” even while there was nothing “normal” about it! “Unprecedented” and “normal” are a contradiction in terms, so I felt we needed a new word to describe this period:
Co-vid-i-ous \kō-vĭ-dē-ǝs\ adj [fr. Latin co together + vicious wicked, harmful, pernicious + insidious cunning, ambush, harmful.]
1: characterized by great turmoil, emotional/mental/physical exhaustion, and pervasive uncertainty brought on by excessive disaster (natural and manmade), misinformation, and lack of leadership.
2: a lurking sense of dread compounded by a worry that those entrusted as protectors, caregivers, teachers, healthcare workers, and parents may not be able to fulfill their traditional roles.
This was the time when schools were being closed, kids were sent home from college, graduation ceremonies were canceled, and all the traditional end-of-school-year markers were being discarded by necessity. We were under the hope and expectation that this would be short-lived. Surely, the wealthiest, most scientifically advanced nation with the most trusted medical apparatus would be able to lick this onerous threat.
We may have been able to dull the sudden disruption of the traditional school calendar by rationalizing that we might even think about this as just an early start to the summer break. We could deal with that because we assured ourselves that things would be “back to normal” with the start of a new school year in the fall, as that’s the way it has always been.
And so, when fall came around and “back to school” meant so many different things in school districts across our country, and back-to-school plans were being made at the last minute and then changed, it amplified the impact. It shouted at us that this nightmare pandemic was not only still with us, but that it also grows worse by the hour and there is no clear end in sight.
Science and politics are often at odds – as if in a duel for our allegiance. The scientists and news media often begin the recitation of daily hospitalizations and deaths with “grim new numbers;” with new “hotspots” and “epicenters.”
Our national angst is compounded by a convergence of other destabilizing conditions, such as:
A virulent strain of hyper-politicization interacting with a polarization that may be unlike any we have faced since the Civil War – a new Un-Civil War of sorts.
Fear of “learning loss” coupled with the lack of full equitable distribution of the mechanical tools for our new school arrangements
The inability of those whose mission is to protect us to confidently carry out that mission (parents, teachers, healthcare workers)
Chronic and sustained mishandling of the omnipresent dangers
The puncturing of the myth of “American exceptionalism”
The loss of American stature around the world
Worry that we may be facing a “twindemic” as seasonal flu calls on a healthcare system already overwhelmed and struggling to cope
The discordant impact created by an awareness of conditions as they are versus conditions as we are told they are by our highest elected and politically appointed officials
The assumption at those levels that we may not be smart enough or strong enough to handle truths because we may “panic” – an insulting, paternalistic underestimation of our individual and collective strength
The false assurances we are given that things are not as bad as they actually are when we look at the facts and the real numbers of hunger, evictions, unemployment, and deaths
The realities being bared about longstanding and shameful racial and socio-economic inequities
Nature asserting the reality of climate change in dramatic and furious ways by historic wildfires, record temperatures, increased numbers and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms, rising sea levels, etc.
The real concern that our very democratic form of government is at risk and does not demonstrate it is up to the tasks ahead, our Congress fiddles while we symbolically, and in some cases literally, burn.
The covidious nature of this time may affect each of us somewhat differently due to our unique life circumstances, personal history, personality, and temperament. When our automatic pilot existence is interrupted, it can be disorienting. But we likely all are deeply disturbed by the rampant uncertainty and a lurking sense of dread, a sense that the world is coming apart at the seams.
For me, personally, the uncertainty manifests in a greater effort needed to maintain my usual sense of optimism; a sense of worry that somebody dear to me will become mortally ill; that one of my college-age grandchildren will yield to the various temptations of college life that heightens their risk of contracting the illness; and my sleep being more “troubled.” And all these manifestations occur beneath a fog of a type of survivor’s guilt when I realize how lucky I am that these are my primary issues.
As I struggle to reclaim some equilibrium between my chronic optimistic nature and the factual realities, I’m buoyed by the recognition that in many ways I’m very fortunate that my personal worries are mild compared to so many others whose worries are much greater and more immediate.
I’m also buoyed by the many hopeful signs I notice on personal, local, national, and even global levels:
The many spontaneous acts of kindness that are readily apparent if we notice them
The immense number of citizens marching in peaceful protests representing an unprecedented (surely the most used word of 2020) cross-section of ages, races, and gender in our nation’s history – a veritable/visual declaration of interdependence, acknowledging that we are indeed in this together
More people re-examining priorities as they take a fresh look at who and what is really important to them
A reminder to be more appreciative of workers often taken for granted, such as teachers, nurses, first responders, supermarket workers, public transportation workers, etc.
Greater gratitude for the blessing of waking up healthy
Increased realization/examination of what we can live without and what we can’t live without
Some of us discovering that more “social distancing” can lead to greater “self-connecting,” reacquainting with ourselves
Increased opportunities to bond with immediate family
Choosing to focus on learnings gained rather than “learning loss,” with an understanding that most academic skills un-practiced will be re-gained
Our collective trauma giving rise to more frequent acts of kindness, bursts of altruism, and displays of our most empathic instincts; and
An ability to read smiling eyes while masks obscure mouths.
My basically-optimistic nature continues to prevail and believe that we are fitfully inching toward a decrescendo, a COVID convalescence, a new age in which our common humanity triumphs, our better angels prevail, and we forbid our personal interests to bully our common interests. And so we will arrive at a time when our angst dissipates and a clearer vision of possibilities emerges. When a pandemic of kindness trumps our base temptations, one in which the sequelae include a highly contagious strain of kindness and with greater exposure will likely lead to improved outcomes for all of us.
For further reading, here are some useful links to assist you in addressing children's fears during uncertain times:
Holiday Parenting in A "Not-If-But-When" World, by Allan Shedlin
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” 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 founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, and 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 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.