Making Time: Superheroes Wear Masks
How toddlers remind us we’ll all be ok
By Jason Springer

“Daddy, when is my Zoom meeting? Is it now?”

Words I never imagined my toddler speaking. And yet, here we are, more than 7 months since the world changed in ways we never imagined, and I’m suddenly feeling more like a personal assistant to a small adult than a parent. But I’ll remind him about that at his Bar Mitzvah.

When his world first moved online to Zoom, he didn’t understand that his teachers on a screen were live and not like his favorite cartoon characters. We tried video chatting with family members as a way to connect, but he was easily distracted. But if you want to have a laugh, watch Brandon video chat with his peers. And if you have more than 2 toddlers on video chat at the same time, utter chaos ensues.

We never could have planned for any of this – especially that one week after our second child, Adam, was born, Brandon came home from daycare as a result of the state shutdown and would not return for 6 months. We never could have pictured having a newborn and a toddler at home 24/7. And we never could have envisioned just how resilient a toddler truly can be.

We found ourselves constantly considering, and reconsidering, how we could make sure Brandon had special time with each of us despite the massive upheaval his world had suddenly experienced: a newborn in the house, the playgrounds and museums closed, no friends or family to visit with in person and no school to attend. But each morning, Brandon was smiley and cheerful, doting on his new little brother and wanting to play and cuddle.

From masks to social distancing and all the other new terms and changes, teaching a toddler about these new “rules” while at the same time learning them ourselves took some creativity. Even the little things required explanations in this new normal because how do you make a 3-year-old understand he needs to wear a mask and keep his distance without scaring him? Well for masks, we watched lots of cartoons where we saw superheroes wearing things that covered their faces. So Brandon declared that because “superheroes wear masks Daddy,” he was ready and willing for any action-packed opportunity.

Still, Brandon has absorbed the world and the unspoken tension around him in his own way. He is wary of large crowds and people without masks in public, and he doesn’t want to eat at a restaurant quite yet (even if we offer to eat outside). As the world slowly reopens, Brandon is the one who reminds my wife and I to put on our masks, even before we leave the house. At first he refused to go back to the supermarket with my wife as they used to each week. He still won’t sleep over at his grandparents’ anymore. And when he touches various objects, he runs to get hand sanitizer for himself (which he has renamed “hanitizer”).

When daycare reopened, we committed to sending him back if he wanted to go. Brandon informed us that he wanted to see his friends and go back to school. So we packed him up, reviewed the rules, and off he went. The only visible worries were ours about making sure he was happy and safe. And happy he is. (Although he was full of thoughtful questions before he returned, such as “How will we eat lunch at school if we are supposed to wear our masks Daddy?”)

From the start, we did our best to be honest with Brandon that the world has changed, but we will do our best to keep him safe. I realize some of the concern and restlessness my wife and I had may have been an attempt to shield Brandon from the inevitable changes we have seen yet didn’t understand ourselves. At first we were afraid of his reaction to seeing everyone in masks, of not going out, of not going to school. But Brandon has taught us that being resilient, flexible and accepting change may be the best path forward, because as he regularly reminds me, “It will all be ok Daddy.”

November 2020
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