This Pandemic Through the Eyes of a 6-year-old

6 weeks ago, the state shut down schools because of nearly overwhelmed hospitals due to Covid-19. Matilda had been in distance learning for the 2 weeks before that and the Monday we closed would have been her turn to be back on campus. School opened up last week in a week on/week off schedule for each student, but it Matilda’s turn to be on campus last week. So, it’s been 8 weeks since my first grader has been inside a classroom.

All last week we kept a daily countdown going. This weekend, she kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m going to school on Monday!”

On Sunday we came to campus and went rollerskating/rollerblading in the gym. When we arrived, we had our temperature taken by the guards. After a few clicks of the infrared thermometer, the guard asked us to pull into the parking garage and try the checks again. Sometimes, she said, the car interferes and makes the temp look higher.

We parked, and when we got out, the guard did Matilda first. She showed it to me. 37.9 C. “That’s high, right?” I asked in Portuguese. “Very high,” she answered.

Matilda speaks enough Portuguese to know what we were saying. She looked up at me and her eyes over that rainbow mask were wide. “I have a fever? That means I can’t…” Tears welled up in her eyes.

I put my hand to her forehead. Maybe it was warm? “It’s okay,” I said quickly. “It’s okay.”

The guard reset the thermometer and checked everyone else’s temperature. Calvin, fine. Everett, fine. Matilda…36.3. Normal.

“You’re normal, it’s fine. It was just the car. You’re okay.” I rubbed her back. She immediately brought her fists to her eyes to rub the tingle and tears away. She sniffed quietly and nodded. I could see her try to shake it off, but she seemed fragile.

That whole encounter was maybe 3 minutes but it felt like time dilated. I could see Matilda imagining her week on campus taken away from her. She was devastated. I was surprised to see that she completely understood what that fever might mean. She knew that the temperature checks were important. She knew that a fever could get her locked out. After 8 weeks and being so close, to have school taken away would just be too much.

Just before this current lockdown, we had a bunch of cases that crept closer to our family. We took extra tests. Hospitals and ICUs were at 90 some percent capacity. There was a count in the paper of how many people died waiting for a hospital bed. I was really scared. But even more than being worried about getting Covid, I was worried that one member of our family testing positive would mean Matilda would miss her turn for in-person school. I said to my therapist, “I just can’t handle any more bad things.”

I saw that in Matilda’s face in the garage. She just couldn’t handle any more bad things.

This morning, Matilda bounded out of bed at 6:11. She was bouncing around and changed her hair 3 times, settling on a Carnaval headband with a fake sunflower on it. She dressed in her characteristic hobo fairy princess aesthetic (black pants with gold stars, a dress with a rainbow skirt, and a teal/peach sweater). She snapped a polaroid selfie during breakfast.

When we got to school this morning, Matilda and I walked toward her class down the long hallway that runs like a spine down campus. I heard Matilda say something, muffled behind her mask.

“What’s that?” I bent closer.

“It’s so crowded.”

There was worry in her eyes as her eyes darted around, scanning the kids and teachers walking by her. Even though the hallway is split into directional lanes. Even though there was distance between people. One sixth of Matilda’s life has been spent being told to spread out, wear a mask, don’t get so close. She hasn’t been in a mall, or an amusement park in a year. She hasn’t been in a school hallway with kids in 8 weeks.

It hurts my heart. I’m so glad she’s on campus. I’m so happy to see her happy. But she’s also worried, she’s scared. People talk about how this generation of kids might be affected by this pandemic. I can’t guess what the long-term effects will be, but they’re more fragile than they seem. They understand more than we think. Maybe they, like us, are happy to have some normal life back, but they’re still afraid they can’t handle one more bad thing.

(How did it all go? See below for Matilda at the end of the day.)

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