- The coronavirus quarantine made me talk to my young children about Stalingrad, the Polish ghetto and the Great Depression. I didn't plan it, it just happened. At the table.
- I didn't try to frighten them unnecessarily, I wanted to comfort them with context: things are bad, but they can be worse, just like they were for members of their family who knew and loved them.
- I wanted her to understand that humanity is capable of doing terrible things, but at least at that moment she is trying to do something good. And they are part of that effort.
- This is a column of opinion. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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The coronavirus quarantine made me talk to my young children about Stalingrad, the Polish ghetto and the Great Depression. I didn't plan it, it just happened. At the table.
I started by presenting the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and how it will dramatically affect your life.
My youngest turned three this week, so she wasn't very interested. But my 10- and 7-year-olds listened attentively as I explained the sad and difficult realities of the present moment and how they relate to our past.
There were immediate changes: you won't see your friends for a while. A long time. The same applies to the interior of a restaurant or the house of your grandparents. You may not be able to go back to school until September, which is an increasingly good scenario.
There were also long-term differences. For my fifth grader, I set out the increasingly likely scenario that she might never go back to school. And it is possible that she will never see some of her classmates again, many of whom are destined to split up into different middle schools in September.
For myself, I have found that the prospect of the next school year starting in September is currently only desirable.
The children also had to hear that the wonderful flourishes of spring and summer are probably out of the question. We will not go to baseball games. The camp is probably over. We also can't go to the cinema.
Summer vacations are essentially not vacations. It will be the same as now, only hotter, but hopefully without extended "distance learning".
They seemed to process the information both as terrifying (for obvious reasons) and as reassuring because they understood that nobody was exempt from this situation. It is a burden for everyone and we are among the happiest of the lucky.
To comfort her with the context when I explained why a significant part of her young life will be difficult and sometimes painful, I factually outlined how much worse it could be – and was.
Talk to your young children about the horrors of coronavirus history
Although I grew up in a loving home and have never had to worry about when their next meal is coming, the concepts of siege and suffering on a large scale are not entirely alien to my children.
They know that their great-grandmother survived the Holocaust. They know that much of their family was murdered by both the Nazis and their Polish neighbors. They were introduced to the concept of a thriving society that immediately becomes barbaric.
These true historical horror stories were particularly well received because their great-grandmother lived until 2018. They knew her, she held her in her arms, she was very real to them.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that these foundations had been laid in her growing brain that gave me the confidence to compare our objectively terrible situation positively with life in the Polish ghetto in the 1930s and early 1940s or the extensive global tragedy of the Great Depression .
To explain the need for quarantines and governmental locks: they were part of the global community's effort to "smooth the curve" and enable scientists to control this pandemic before too many people die. None of us are deliberately punished, as some of their close ancestors did. We only do what the information available suggests is the right thing to do.
It is a generation-defining moment for almost every living generation
As any parent of a small child, let alone several children, can attest, lonely boredom is an unusual thing. Don't get me wrong, many aspects of parenting can be sadistically boring. It's just not the same as "I'm lonely in my apartment and watched everything on Netflix" boring.
We have only been in quarantine for a week, but the family is getting along well. (Check back with me in a month.)
Still, at times when my mental and physical health is fine, when the weather is nice, and when the kids aren't shouting at something trivial in the room next to me, I generally feel like writing thinly. The indefinite reality of five people crammed into a city apartment all day every day continually tests your ability to be the "adult" – the one who relieves children's fears, not aggravates them.
I believe that this is a generation-defining moment for every generation born since World War II. No other event is as devastating or all-encompassing.
So I didn't have much time to think about the very real possibility that my children would grow up when the possibility of mass unemployment and death was secretly lurking around the corner. At this point, I'm hoping for a best-case scenario that will severely impact your education and some fun summer memories that are slowed down by life inside.
When I had the unexpected table with my young children talk about some of the greatest horrors of the 20th century, I hoped to convey a message of empowerment: let us be strong, let us be generous, let us be patient, because society can walk sideways as she did during your family's lifetime.
For a moment it felt bizarre. It didn't take that long.
It felt better not to lie to her, to acknowledge her anger, disappointment, and fear, and then to remind her that humanity can let you down. I also wanted to convey that what we do – staying inside for months – is part of an effort that pretty much unites everyone, and if it works, it would be a reason to continue to believe in humanity.
In a way, I probably told myself.