Britta Gustafson: Don’t put words in my mouth |

Britta Gustafson: Don’t put words in my mouth

A small group of parents doesn’t speak for the greater whole

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
Britta Gustafson for the Snowmass Sun

As a mom, I can understand the view some take of the COVID-19 pandemic as a tragedy for children who must adapt to mask-wearing and other limitations.

But I choose to see this as an opportunity for kids to gain resilience, and more importantly, for them to learn how to put the needs of others ahead of their own.

After last Tuesday’s Aspen City Council meeting, an article headline read, “Parents at Aspen council meeting speak out en mass against mask mandate for children.” I recognized familiar faces and names from a group that attends meetings up and down the valley decrying the impacts of masking, and it made me wonder how such a small segment of our community is still dominating this tired conversation.

The two dozen parents who assembled last week don’t represent all of us, and they definitely do not speak for me.

Of course we all want the pandemic to end. We have all endured life-altering hardships and sadness — grief for the loss of loved ones and for the life that came to a screeching halt two years ago. It breaks my heart for the kids, my own included, to think of the impact this has had on the life we’ve worked so hard to give them.

But like it or not, these mandates are allowing our children and school staff some semblance of normalcy while an ever-evolving pandemic continues to circumnavigate the globe. Public health and school officials have maintained all year that universal masking has prevented outbreaks and helped schools move past the classroom-wide quarantines that defined the 2020-21 school year. So why fix what currently isn’t broken just to appease a contrived squeaky wheel?

I’m not part of some “pro mask” group. I just appreciate in-person learning for my children in a public school during a global pandemic. And I’m grateful that my kids can still attend school, compete in sports, perform in plays and concerts, socialize at recess and carry on with living their lives.

I don’t want to wear a mask or succumb to the notion of wearing them in perpetuity, but it isn’t for me that I mask up.

I wear a mask to better protect young children and infants who can’t participate in mitigation practices and rely on their community at large to keep them safe. I wear it for the elderly in our lives who can still get sick and die, even when fully vaccinated; for the health care workers overwhelmed by surges of the virus; for our teachers, who care for and guide our children and who we trust to keep our kids safe at school.

We do this because we love others in this community, in our families, on our school grounds and on this planet, and that’s what I pass on to my children.

I doubt that allowing “people to party unmasked in packed bars or eat and drink in restaurants throughout Pitkin County” has any relationship to “the hundreds of children ‘forced’ to wear face coverings all day long in school and” — somehow — “it’s impeding their education, eroding their mental health and creating fear of authority.”

I am certain those who claim that their children have not seen their classmates’ faces since 2020 are making a gross exaggeration. The kids take their masks off everyday at lunch and recess. Never mind all the unmasked activities and play dates that could happen outside of school. It’s a closed circuit argument.

As for allowing adults to party unmasked at bars: School isn’t optional, bars are. As most of us learned in 2020, remote learning is extremely challenging and it cannot compare to the in-person opportunities our teachers and administrators have worked tirelessly to provide for us while navigating their own health and safety.

It’s wonderful that mental health concerns are finally becoming part of our mainstream conversations. But I doubt that is due to mitigation measures so much as the general stress of a global pandemic. I cannot begin to imagine how hard all of this has been for families who are working with additional stressors, and I’m sure the uncertainty of a pandemic has compounding effects. But I believe that the mask versus not mask debate is, at this point, political.

Politics should have no place on the playground, and I encourage families who are concerned with the mental health of children to keep their politically fueled emotional responses to masking out of dinner table conversations. Introducing our kids to the debate creates conflicting messaging structures that could definitely lead to mental health struggles for children, and the mental health factors at play during remote learning were easily more concerning. If a mask keeps us in person, it seems well worth the inconvenience.

The mental health of our children is certainly at risk, if we keep fighting in front of them and keep putting their growing minds in the middle of a hostile environment. I believe our kids should not be placed in the center for political leveraging. And it seems we could all benefit from focusing more on raising our kids to be compassionate global citizens, who care for one another.