As we learned of pods creating and family cohorts forming, we found ourselves left out. Left out from those closest to us, and more importantly closest to our kid. In turn, our kid was left out of birthday celebrations, learning pods, holidays, and just plain weekend bike rides in the park. The realization that this was all since we are essential workers laid extra guilt on top of my already guilt filled feet.
We are not the “essential workers” in finance, due to high demand of those with investments. We are not the “essential workers” in marketing of a retail company, due to increased purchases at home. We are the healthcare essential workers. When you need a COVID-19 test or someone available to assess your illness, that’s us. That means we do not have the ability to homeschool our kid or properly educate him via distance learning, and therefore have to use essential worker camps or after school programs.
We found that placing our kid in these necessary programs allowed us to continue in our jobs but led to fear in our friends. All inquiries into park playdates were quickly responded to with “Is your kid still in that program?” And then, passing on a get together. Treating these programs as cesspools of kids just passing COVID back and forth is so far from the truth. All programs we have had our kid in have been excellent on safety, and what I have found is our kid is farther ahead than non-essential kids in precautions.
Which kids know masks are to cover their nose at all times? Essential worker kids.
Which kids don’t ask to take off their masks, and instead wear them hours at a time like a uniform? Essential worker kids.
Which kids don’t share food, actually ask for hand sanitizer, and quote social distancing requirements? Essential worker kids.
In fact, the COVID cases we have heard about in our community of kids have come from the at-home kids, getting together with multiple pods, the babysitter or nanny bringing it into the home, or the house cleaner exposing families. Meanwhile, we have stayed home, alone, for months. I feel like there is an unspoken agreement among us essential workers, which is: don’t screw this program up for us! We need this support, and if you’re careless, we all lose the program for our kids.
Then why the feeling that we should be shunned?
We had friends leave us out of Tahoe meet-ups and outdoor birthday parties and have had others even plan trips for family vacations. They were willing to take their kids through airports – to another state, yet felt we posed more of a risk. That hurt. Other friends backed away from us to join pods, yet they also see neighbors and others, “because they are safe”, essentially expanding their pod to many – just not us.
Weekly, I console my kid’s crying and sadness about missing friends. I know it’s not just my kid. I’m sure his friends are missing him too. Because this new need to create cohorts within the constraints of only including those stay-at home options is done on convenience and availability over substance. Forcing my kid’s friends no choice in their friendships, and instead having to hang out with other kids not quite as good of a match. That’s not fulfilling either.
We are not looking to join get-togethers and parties. But, having no family in the area, we did want to continue safe, outdoor, connections with those closest to us. When I think through months of these conflicting messages, I don’t have real answers to my kid’s questions about being left out, except that we are staying safe and hopefully will see friends again soon. And, I really do hope that is the truth. I hope after more than a year away from those who had been closest to us, this unanswered shunned feeling will dissipate, allowing us to reconnect as before, and more importantly, take back the added loneliness my kid has been carrying for almost a year.
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