Opinion: Honor heroics, sacrifice, citizenship of kids during pandemic

In a guest column, DeKalb writer Beth Collums celebrates the cooperation and adaptability that America’s children displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collums holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and has been a child and family therapist. She has four children. You can read an earlier blog column by her here.

By Beth Collums

For a few years now, our children have borne many of the sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19. They’ve sat out of proms, kindergarten graduations, field trips, and even for some, being in the schoolhouse in its entirety.

As the era of assessing impacts of the fallout from the pandemic are here in the form of mental health statistics and academic performance numbers, it’s a good time to say thank you during this season of gratitude.

Children are thirsty for a framework and narrative to draw meaning and conclusion to difficult experiences. One way to teach children how to write the narrative of experience is to teach the practice of gratitude. Keeping a keen eye for the glimmer of hope, the silver lining in the dark clouds. Gratitude draws our attention to what can be gained to help us cope with what has been lost. As youth so often do, they learn best by example, so here is a message to our children.

Dear Kiddos,

What a ride it’s been the past few years! The ups and downs of living in a worldwide pandemic. Well, you did it. We’re coming to the end of the pandemic, school is back to normal for the most part and we’re getting to see your beautiful faces again. I want you to know that I am so proud of you. We are so proud of you.

To the kindergartner who never got to have a first day of school, to the graduating senior who never got to walk across a stage after 13 years of arduous work; thank you. To the seventh grader with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for learning disabilities who had no special education teacher to help, to the hungry 9-year-old with food insecurity who wasn’t sure where breakfast and lunch would come from; thank you. To the fifth grade girl who had to stay at home alone all day because her single mom works, to the 15-year-old boy who didn’t get to play basketball because all sports were canceled; we thank you.

All the big things and all the little things you’ve given up mean something to us. We see them and we are grateful. We know that you have been shaken to the core and we are with you.

Credit: Alyson Duke

Credit: Alyson Duke

Thank you for adjusting your lives to the lives of others, even at a great cost to yours. Thank you for all the ways you have worn the masks and not complained, listened to news that was conflicting and put your head down and did your work despite all the adults arguing over politics, masks, plexiglass partitions and hand sanitizer. Thank you for doing your homework on a computer before you learned to write. Thank you for dressing up and having a ballet recital on Zoom instead of a stage. Thank you for being OK with walking home from the playground when the swings were taken down and caution tape was installed.

On behalf of the 71 million baby boomers, 65 million Gen Xers, 73 million millennials in this country, all who benefited from this generation of students making sacrifices thank you.

You have sacrificed so much, for the most part, for the safety of others. That sounds a lot like the heroes we read about in school, doesn’t it? I think it does. Doing something when it’s hard, difficult, lonely at times for a cause greater than oneself. Putting the good of the many above the good of oneself.

It sounds a lot like you the past few years.

You were not the reason or cause for the tough times. It wasn’t your fault. It just happened. Bad things do happen sometimes, but what matters is how we respond to them.

It took a lot of resolve to put up with all the mixed messages of adults in the world and we realize, making sense out of this confusion was not easy. You sacrificed for others and showed us adults how to keep calm and continue. You’ve proved yourselves to be incredibly adaptable and creative in the ways you’ve managed yourself.

The world can be a scary and unpredictable place, but you helped it become a little safer, a little better and a little less selfish than it was. Thank you for your service to others and all the ways you put the welfare of others in front of your own; you are truly a wonderful example of what bravery and courage look like. You did it all with little fanfare and no awards. No recognition or pats on the back. We are humbled by your response and it moves us to grateful action.

Now we’re going to do our part; to commit to ensure your generation has a chance, as the others did to finish school on time, to commit to remediate learning deficits incurred in the pandemic, to commit to giving you the mental health services that you deserve because of life-altering trauma and setbacks due to the pandemic and its impact.

I have seen many signs displayed throughout the pandemic, all inspiring, encouraging and beautiful (many of which you’ve even made). “Thank you, essential workers; Thank you, teachers; Thank you, health care professionals; Thank you, researchers.”

One that I didn’t see was, “Thank you, kids.”

We see your sacrifices and lingering impacts of this pandemic and are thankful for your tenacity, your resolve, your valor. We are committed to helping give your generation the ability to advance like the generations before ours did for us.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, kids.