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What's Our COVID-19 Plan?

A Dad Talks with His Family about the Coronavirus

· Fatherhood

“What’s our COVID-19 plan?” she asked me.

My wife always has a plan for everything. I really admire that about her. It’s not that she is rigid or unwilling to go with the flow. She just likes to be prepared so that when the moment arrives, she can be fully present.

So, a few days after the Coronavirus started making headlines, it came as no surprise when my wife wanted to know what our plan would be as a family. A large silver mid-century modern floor lamp hung over our heads, casting a dim yellow light across the lofted bedroom. Our daughter was asleep for the night, and we were sitting on the floor of our bedroom processing the news about COVID-19.

“I guess I hadn’t really thought about it,” I said. With updates about the virus coming in by the minute, I'd been too overwhelmed to think about how our family might prepare.

“What were you thinking?” I asked. In our almost ten years of marriage, I’ve learned that if my wife asks me what my plan is, she has more-than-likely already formulated her own plan and is kindly inviting me to contribute.

“Well, I think we should take this seriously,” she said. “At least for the next week or two.” We observed many different responses to the news about Coronavirus, ranging from sheer panic to negligent dismissal. As usual, my level-headed wife was aiming for the in-between.

We observed many different responses to the news about Coronavirus, ranging from sheer panic to negligent dismissal. As usual, my level-headed wife was aiming for the in-between.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” I agreed. “What exactly does that look like?”.

“So far, we’re all healthy, so that’s good. Maybe we lay low and try to keep out of the house trips to a minimum, especially if we have to go anywhere with a lot of people, like the grocery store,” she said. Even though I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of social distancing, I knew my wife was right to be cautious about limiting unnecessary trips. It’s better to be mildly inconvenienced for a few weeks, and still healthy, than to be sorry later about something that we could’ve avoided.

My wife is a professor at a local college and I’m a stay-at-home dad, so we had the flexibility to voluntarily ‘shelter-in-place’. I thought about my friends and family who didn’t have the option of working from home, risking their health in order to keep the country running. Many of these folks work in schools, the food industry, public transportation, and hospitals. Thinking of these heroes made me remember the Mr. Rogers quote where he said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

I snapped back into reality as I heard the sound of our daughter whimpering softly. The soundbar on our baby monitor spiked and then went flat again as she fell back to sleep.

“What about our daughter?” I asked. “Should we still take her to daycare this week?” Even though I had been providing childcare most days, we were taking our daughter to daycare twice a week to ensure that she gets socialization with other kids and to allow me time for self-care. We had read that children are the least affected population when it comes to COVID-19, but we still wanted to be responsible parents. Even though the risks might be low for her, she can still spread the virus. Schools across the country were closing or going online and we didn’t want to look back on this time and wished we had made a different choice related to our daughter’s daycare.

Schools across the country were closing or going online and we didn’t want to look back on this time and wished we had made a different choice related to our daughter’s daycare.

“I say we keep her at home,” said my wife. “At least for the next few weeks, until we get a better idea of how all this is going to play out.” I nodded.

“What do we do if we get sick?” I asked. She was quiet for a few seconds. We had to consider the possibility. No matter how cautious we were with social distancing and hand washing, there would still be a strong chance that either, or both, of us might contract the virus. If that were to happen, we’d need a plan. I guess my wife and I were both planners.

“Good question,” she replied as she rolled the idea around in her head. “We shouldn’t go to the hospital right away. There are a lot of other people who are more high-risk than we are.” She was right. From what I’ve read, the biggest concern related to the spread of Coronavirus is not necessarily the severity of the symptoms for people who get it, but the pressure that will be put on the healthcare system when lots of people show up to the hospital at the same time. Hospitals just don’t have the capacity to deal with that kind of demand. Those who have a prior respiratory illnesses or other serious medical conditions will be at even higher risk because the medical care that they rely on will be taxed by a massive influx of Coronavirus patients. This will be especially true for those from marginalized communities with limited access to resources.

“Since we’re relatively healthy, maybe we start by calling the doctor if we have any symptoms,” I said. This plan would have different implications, depending on whether it was me or her who got sick. If it was her, I would go on providing care for our daughter. If it was me, it would mean that my wife would have to try and work her full-time job while also looking after our toddler. We had friends where both parents were working from home due to Coronavirus, but still had to send their children to daycare. Not having to make that choice was just another example of why being a stay-at-home dad is such an incredible gift for our family. “And if our daughter gets sick, we call the pediatrician right away,” said my wife. “Of course,” I replied.

Not having to make that choice was just another example of why being a stay-at-home dad is such an incredible gift for our family.

We both sat quietly. Outside our window I heard the sound of sirens in the distance. Maybe I was imagining things, but I swear I had been hearing more sirens and seeing more police cars around the neighborhood since all of this started a few weeks ago. I shook off the thought. My mind has a tendency to go to conspiracy theories way too quickly, and over the years I’ve learned that that is not a positive thought-pattern for my mental health.

Outlining our plan and walking through the concrete steps with my wife gave this whole Coronavirus thing a weight and a gravity that it hadn’t had before. Reading about it on social media and hearing the updates on the news kept it all at arms-length. For the first few days, it had been out there; something theoretical that other people might have to deal with, but not us. Now that my wife and I had talked, it was becoming increasingly clear that this was going to seriously impact our lives, whether we got the virus or not.

Now that my wife and I had talked, it was becoming increasingly clear that this was going to seriously impact our lives, whether we got the virus or not.

“This is a big deal,” I said. I had plenty of doomsday scenarios bouncing around my head. Like I said, my mind tends to jump to worst-case scenarios. I didn’t want to invite panic, but I did want to allow for some space between my wife and I to talk about our fears. It would be good for me to know that I wasn’t the only one wondering if this was the end of the world, or the opening scene of a zombie apocalypse movie.

“Really big,” she said. “Maybe bigger than 9/11.” My stomach tightened. I hadn’t yet placed this moment into historical context, but as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. Summer conferences were being cancelled. Schools were beginning to call off graduation ceremonies. The economy had already taken a downturn. International travel bans had been issued. Even though it had only been a few days since everything started, it was clear that this was not just going to be a short-term hiatus, and then back to life as normal.

“What do you think this means for our daughter?” my wife asked. “It’s hard to say,” I replied. “She’s only a year old, but this could change the course of her whole life.” The words rose from my lips and slowly lingered like smoke from a candle. My wife nodded; her shoulders hung heavy. “I know she’s too young to understand,” I said. “But we have to try and explain it to her. This is too important to not say anything.”

“I know she’s too young to understand,” I said. “But we have to try and explain it to her. This is too important to not say anything.”

“What do you mean?” asked my wife. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I just think she needs to hear it from us. I’m sure she can tell that something is up. Our energy is different. You've been working from home every day. She’s really perceptive, you know?” “It’s true,” my wife replied. “She notices everything, and she understands way more than we think she does.” “So, I just think we should say something. Even if it doesn’t make sense to her,” I concluded. My wife played the scene out in her head. “Sure,” she finally said. “It can’t hurt.”

It was settled. We would sit down with our seventeen-month old daughter and try to explain the Coronavirus. I had no idea what we would say, but the words weren’t as important as the act of speaking openly about real world issues. As parents, we will shape how she comes to think about this moment in history. I know that she probably won’t even remember this conversation when she grows up. In some ways, this moment would be more for my wife and I than for our daughter. It would set a precedent, establishing an expectation of communication in our house.

It was settled. We would sit down with our seventeen-month old daughter and try to explain the Coronavirus. I had no idea what we would say, but the words weren’t as important as the act of speaking openly about real world issues.

I want my daughter to grow up in a home where we talk about things that matter, regardless of how scary they are. I want our home to be a place where she can bring all her fears out into the open. I want my daughter to know that in our house, she can always share her genuine thoughts and feelings without worrying about whether or not we will listen. And for that to happen, my wife and I have to take the first step.

The world can be a harsh place, and I suspect the future will not pull punches for my daughter. First of all, she will be a woman in a world where men still hold power and make decisions. She will also be multiracial, which will likely result in a lifetime of racism and being misunderstood. Now, add to that list Coronavirus and all the unforeseen challenges that it will bring for my daughter. This is just the beginning. No doubt, there will be other hurdles for her. But if we start now, we can create a place in our home where she feels safe to be herself, completely and unapologetically. With any luck, she’ll learn how to carry that sense of self-confidence with her throughout the rest of her life.

This is just the beginning. No doubt, there will be other hurdles for her. But if we start now, we can create a place with us where she feels safe to be herself, completely and unapologetically.

I took a deep breath and turned out the light. “Goodnight,” I said to my wife. “I love you.” A few seconds later she said, “I love you too.” The tick tock of the alarm clock drummed on from my nightstand as thoughts about the future swirled in my head. I guessed I wasn’t the only one losing sleep that night. There were probably lots of dads out there lying awake, thinking about what all of this would mean for their kids. In my mind’s eye I pictured my daughter, smiling and laughing. Even now, with the world turned upside-down by Coronavirus, she was teaching me to be present and find joy in the moment. As always, she was my greatest teacher.

Resources

If you are a parent and you want to talk with your kids about the Coronavirus, here are some great resources that can help with starting the conversation:

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