Jessica Smartt: Coronavirus -- How your kids remember this time in history depends on you

A few months ago the kids and I were eating sandwiches when my phone blared with a warning: a tornado was on the ground ten miles away. We didn’t know how bad or how big; we only knew it was heading our way. I herded the kids in the coat closet, we threw on our bike helmets — and we waited.

(Spoiler alert: we lived.) You know what’s weird, though? When our kids talk about this day (In Which We Barely Missed A Giant Tornado), it is a good memory to them.

I know that sounds weird, but here is the thing: I am fascinated by tornadoes. Send me all the storm chaser videos from now until the end of time. And the kids pick up on my excitement.

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A tornado warning isn’t an ominous, scary experience for my crew. Nope! It’s a weather adventure.

As it turns out, we parents are the lens through which our children interpret reality. And that means…you guessed it…COVID-19 is our moment — a giant, pandemic-sized opportunity to teach our kids lessons they’ll never forget.

Maturity is not ignoring your own suffering but looking past it for a minute for the good of someone else — someone else who needs you.

I’ll be honest, though. Right this minute, I don’t feel like teaching someone a lifelong character lesson. The tornado was over in minutes; COVID-19 is dragging on mercilessly.

To put it bluntly, I’m over it. I’m done with the dishes from here until eternity and over twenty-nine people talking me to at the same exact time. (There are not really twenty-nine people in my house. There are three small ones with super loud voices.)

I may be 38-years-old, but I feel like someone should be parenting me. I’m looking around for someone to rescue me, to relieve my discomfort, to assure me that all will be OK.

Which is probably why, come to think of it, my own mom recently shared a story from her own childhood that she thought I needed to hear. Her “tornado memory,” so to speak.

I stirred the pot of oatmeal and read her text:

“When I was a little girl, maybe five years old, our barn caught on fire in the middle of the night and burned to the ground. What is the most long-lasting memory of that night is what my father did for us. After the fire trucks left and neighbors went home, he drew us all together in Mom and Dad’s bed and told us we were all safe and we could sleep with them. It made everything ok. We were little children and we trusted our daddy to take care of us. Keeping us close to him that night and reassuring us that we were safe with him made all the difference. None of us were traumatized by that night or left insecure or anxious because he sheltered us.”

It’s a touching story but think about it for a second from my grandfather’s perspective. Horses, as it turns out, were his livelihood.

This was not a grand Kentucky plantation with recreational thoroughbreds. No, those horses were bread and butter for their family. Butter, if you were lucky, that is!

My grandparents scraped for every penny. That barn, those horses — an incredible, devastating loss.

And yet my grandfather, my Poppy — tearing himself away from the smoldering ashes, kneeling down by the old worn bed, tucking in sheets under toes, wiping hair out of faces. It’s going to be OK.

That is maturity.

Maturity is not ignoring your own suffering but looking past it for a minute for the good of someone else — someone else who needs you.

Our children are looking to us. The barns are burning around them, the horses running wild at night. It’s dark and it’s troubling and it’s unexpected.

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Do not doubt it — our children absolutely will remember this time. It will a defining moment in their stories. Their Great Depression, their 9/11.

When our children look back on COVID-19, what will they remember?

Will they remember us nervously rationing rolls of Scott two-ply in the closet, or how we always brought groceries to the widowed neighbor?

Will they remember us stressing out about virtual school, or how we did our best and then played yard games until dinner?

Will they remember stressful conversations about finances, or how we prayed together that God would provide?

Will they think they were victims, deprived, or cheated?

That is up to us, you guys. We set the tone. They hear us, they see us, their little emotions pick up ours like radar off a satellite.

Maybe you feel like you could use a redo on the Pandemic of 2020 in your home. It is not too late to start, today, to be an example to our children of how to face adversity well. Here are three specific steps.

  1. Have hope. Together as a family, dream about what you’ll do when this is over. A beach family reunion? A cruise? A camping trip? This reminds our kids this will be over and that good times are coming.
  2. Reframe the narrative. There is always someone who needs help, always someone to love. Find someone worse off than you and love the heck out of them.
  3. Make memories anyway. So much of life is making the best of things, isn’t it? This very day, have a movie night, a bike ride after dinner, a family Monopoly game (OK, start small…Uno works, too).

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It’s difficult to be hopeful and intentional as a parent when you feel discouraged yourself. But we can dig deep. We can acknowledge our sadness, and then we can be the grownups.

Someone else needs us.

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