Britta Gustafson: Waiting for hugs
Kids long for the anticipated hugs and the promises of restored human connections in 2021.
Our kids spent 2020 adjusting their lives to an altered tempo, from how they learned and played to experiencing childhood in a culture shift. And as much as we adults try to protect them, the youngest among us are still reconciling with the disruptive cadences of 2020.
“Adults, I mean they can tell us everything is fine. But we know. We are not blind,” explains my 11-year-old daughter Lia. She has been navigating an “unforgettable” year as she embarks on her middle school years through a pandemic.
“No one can forget the year when the skies turned orange, we all stayed home and the world seemed to slowly shift,” she said. The possibility of catching a potentially deadly disease and spreading it to her family weighed on her, she said.
Last year seemed filled by the pandemic, but there were other “insane events, too,” as she put it: wildfires, the Black Lives Matter movement, a historical election.
“Although some of us may not have been in the movement, it moved us,” Lia said.
Kids talk about it with each other, they ask us questions we can’t always answer, and they have had to grow up, far more than I would have asked from them, during this past year.
“Scary,” is how my 9-year-old son Noa described last year, even when I thought he was acclimating well to a loose schedule with more down time and unfiltered play. He remembers the year as the “stay-at-home” year.
“I think it was the main part of life in 2020,” he said, “but we stayed safe.” That was an important upside to the year for us, he added.
My 10-year-old nephew Ryder describes 2020 as the year of “Social Distancing.” “If we went out, we had to be at least 6 feet apart (even at school), that was hard.” But he explains there were some perks to getting to do things with less people around. “Sometimes it seemed like we got to have the whole mountain or river to ourselves.”
But for him missing family and friends was rough. “It’s hard to be online so much. I really miss my friends and relatives. But we are more tech savvy now,” he added.
Emma, my 9-year-old niece, said 2020 was “strange.”
“It wasn’t like normal years. I miss smiling people,” she said. Though being outside a lot was uplifting, Emma really looks forward to seeing smiles again, and to “all the hugs” she is missing.
Her little brother Spencer, who is 5, described 2020 as the “masked year.” For him, donning the protective attire may have included some super powers, “‘cause it keeps you safe from the virus,” he emphasized with a Spider-Man gesture.
“The coronavirus is bad, you don’t want to get it,” Spencer explained, furrowing his brow and nodding to us over a Zoom meeting, “cause you might die.”
That’s a heavy burden for a little mind, but he is resilient and ready to quickly shift gears. For Spencer, being close with his family was a comfort and his personal highlight in 2020. He also liked the “anarchy,” (his word, not mine) of 2020, as only a 5-year-old would.
My kids and I interviewed our youngest relatives, with masks and through a closed door, and we learned a lot about the impression 2020 had even on the littlest minds.
For my youngest niece Evelyn, who experienced most of her third year of life with a pandemic always in her peripheral vision, 2020 was “confusing,” as she put it. For her, the year was one big question mark: “What?”
“Now we grow flowers in the house, and it’s always family time, and we never know what we are doing now,” Evelyn said. “And it’s like lions and tigers and everything is masks, masks, masks, masks.“
Her older sister Kaylee, who just turned 7, said 2020 was an “exciting” year — “because…Coronavirus! (duh) The chance of staying alive wasn’t for sure.”
For Kaylee, the hardest part about 2020 was worrying about the virus.
“I was always a bit worried about being sick. I mean there is this virus that was attacking everyone from everywhere,” she said. But Kaylee did feel safe once she felt empowered with some safety skills. Masks and hand washing helped her to feel like she could protect herself. And she really enjoyed feeling connected to her Aspen Elementary School class even while remote learning.
“We are all attached together there now,” she said.
Both girls love all the family time and playing outside as much as possible. But more than anything, they are looking forward to hugs. They have been gathering jars of confetti to throw in celebration once they can have a party again. Evelyn said she can’t wait to hug her grandparents and “eat together with all of my family, and hold hands again… and not even wash them right away,” she added.
For my daughter Lia, the best thing about 2020 was the family time and the chance to spend more time outdoors.
“It really showed me the peacefulness of not having to rush and always be on the go, that was amazing.” she said. “I learned to explore outside and observed the changing of the seasons in real time. It was so different to experience it happening while being outside all the time watching it. The pandemic was like a nightmare, while beauty was all around too.”
Lia wonders what life will be like when there isn’t a pandemic.
“Will I be able to go back to the way things were, or will anyone?” she said. For her, it’s hard to imagine pre-pandemic activities like restaurant dining without felling stressed.“I just don’t know if seeing the smiles will feel the same, or will it feel different forever?”
Lia and her cousins long for the anticipated hugs and the promises of restored human connections in 2021.
“The first thing I want to do is hug my grandparents, have breakfast with them, and pick up my cousins and spin them around. And just spend time with my friends,” she said.
2021 holds the promise of reuniting us all. And growing up during these times naturally instills some resilience. Kids may now, more than ever, be prepared to embrace whatever the future may bring.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind. After all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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