When Cole was a kid, we used to play a game on the swingset. I’d push him a little bit higher with each push, and each push represented a stage in his life.
“Now you’re being born” set the swing in motion.
“Now you’re a toddler learning to walk and talk” and his feet left the ground.
“Now you’re going to your first day of kindergarten”; feet in the air.
“Now you’re in grade school.” A little higher.
“You’re in middle school.” Higher still.
“Now you’re a moody teenager in high school” and his feet were as high as his head.
“Now you’re an adult and you’re going to college.” Toes topped hair.
“You’ve graduated and you’re working your first job.” Or some days I’d say, “You’re going to graduate school.” And he’d fly above my head now.
“You’re married and have your own family” and Cole was basically flying on his own now.
Sometimes the script would be different. “You’re a world traveler.” “You’re a millionaire.” “You’re a veterinarian saving animals’ lives.” “You’re President!”
As he got older, Cole took over the game. I would always start, but by the end he’d be pumping himself, imagining his own future as he aimed his feet to the sky then finally hurtled himself into the air, landing on the sand, laughing.
This was our special game, one we loved so much I bought him a T-shirt that celebrated it, a white drawing of swings and a child flying through the air on a soft gray fabric, made by a local artist.
Today, the swings are closed, the playground roped off with yellow caution tape.
So please, stop blaming the kids.
The youths you see out trying to do what young people should be doing — living, laughing, loving, having fun — they didn’t create this mess.
Yes, they should stay inside as much as possible. Yes, they should be staying six feet apart, minimum. Yes, binge drinking in clubs during spring break is not, and never was, a good idea.
But what kind of world have we given the next generation: A world where they can’t play with their best friend? Or pet a cute dog? Or hug their mommy when she comes home from a long day of saving lives at the hospital? Where the playground looks like a crime scene?
The kids didn’t stick their heads in the sand — or cash in their stocks — when all the world’s scientists were warning of a critical health crisis.
The kids didn’t lie that there were plenty of COVID-19 tests when there were not, because they know that liars’ pants catch on fire.
The kids didn’t fail to have enough face masks, hand sanitizer, and respirators ready to be released from the national emergency stockpile because with or without the Scouts, they know to be prepared.
Even the kids know better than to shake hands and stand shoulder to shoulder with a group of people at a press conference at which you declare a national emergency.
Almost three months after the Chinese government first notified the world of a new virus, the kids didn’t fail to pass even one piece of legislation guaranteeing free virus testing, health care, protective health gear and mandatory paid medical and family leave for all, because they know that if their life paths have to be interrupted by this natural crisis made immeasurably worse by an incompetent government, they at least need their mommies and daddies to be home with them, without losing their jobs and incomes.
Don’t blame my kid if you see him driving the car he bought with his own money for the 17th birthday whose celebration was robbed from him by shelter-in-place advisories. He may not be able to drive to school, or to work, or to Knott’s Berry Farm, or to his friend’s house, but at least he can drive.
Don’t blame the kids riding their bikes, or skateboarding — why do we always blame the skateboarders? If we cared about their health as much as we care about us olds, we’d remember that kids need exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, and kids need to play.
Not everyone has backyards.
And please, don’t blame the kids for spending a LOT of time playing video games. What else are they supposed to do?! Online, they can chat with their friends. Online, they can shoot the bad guys who helped get us in this mess. Online, they can play.
Kids need to play.
Don’t blame the kids. They didn’t create this sick world and elect the people who head its greatest power.
If you look out your window and see the kids racing by on their wheels, their feet, or their imaginations, and you are seeking someone to blame, look at the face reflecting back at you, and think about what that person should be doing to give the kids back the lives we promised them.
For an excellent article on the long-term effect of closing schools on kids during the ebola crisis, read Robert Jenkins’s Los Angeles Times op ed published March 13, 2020.