"Was there germ-time when you were in kindergarten?"
Our car at a standstill in the drive-through lane, you ask me quietly at first. "Was there germ-time when you were in kindergarten?"
You're five years old and waiting patiently in the backseat. The promise of a cookie from a drive-through got you out of the house and gave your dad a short break.
You say it again, as you eye me in the rear-view mirror. "Did you have germ-time when you were little?"
"Germ-time" is how you refer to the coronavirus pandemic. Honestly, I like it a lot better than the real name.
"Well, this is a very unique event. It last happened 100 years ago," I start to tell you.
We talk about how long ago 100 years is. Not your parents, not your grandparents, lived through something like this. Some of your great-grandparents did. No, they're not around for us to talk to.
No, I can't tell you what characters would have been on my masks. (Probably Rainbow-Brite and Where's Waldo.)
I can't tell you what it's like to begin your school career behind a screen. Would you believe we didn't have laptops when I was your age?
Your great-grandparents were about 10 years old when the Spanish Flu of 1918 happened. Yes, they went on to live long lives after. That's how you got to be here.
What would we ask them? What did they learn? It's all so hard to say.
But when you're older and looking back on this time, what will you have learned?
Here's what I hope you'll take away from "germ-time:"
How to cherish every hug. Every cuddle. Every kiss.
How to reach out to loved ones, no matter where they are.
How you need people. And they need you.
How a smile is everything. How you can see one even behind a mask.
How technology is a gift. Even if not everyone knows about mute buttons.
How to enjoy simple pleasures. A walk in the woods. A puzzle at home. Hand-drawn
firetrucks slipped under the door of a friend.
How travel is a joy. How we can still dream and plan, even if we can't go just yet.
How to be patient. Oh, so patient.
How science is amazing. Learn it. Appreciate it.
How everyone works together to help each other. To help society.
How your decisions affect other people. You have an important role to play.
How to show others you care by making difficult choices.
How life can change overnight.
How you are so strong. Stronger than you ever thought. Stronger than I ever imagined. Stronger than I hope one day to be.
We're urged to move up in line. We've been waiting so long we could have baked our own cookies by now. But you're still so patient. We talk about how you're going to learn lots of lessons, important ones, life-defining ones.
I'll have patience, too. I'll give you room to absorb, process and live. This is your childhood, after all. I'll remember this conversation when I'm juggling work, scouring the house for your math workbook, staying up late to order groceries, putting in yet another load of laundry and reminding myself to breathe.
We finally pull up to place our order. You ask me to find out what shapes of cookies they have.
"Just one type today. A mitten," says the voice on the other end.
"That's exactly what I wanted," you say with a big smile on your face.
At such a young age you're already learning to be thankful. To cherish what you have and not ask for more. (Usually.)
You have so much to teach me. That's my biggest lesson of germ-time.
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