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Lockdown Robs Kids Too

The Good Life

As our children return to school, in person or virtually, teachers, parents and the children themselves are noticing that the COVID-caused early end to last season’s school year has caused this year’s returnees to lose more than some knowledge of geography or algebra.

School-age children don’t quite know how to get along with each other.

I had not thought about that loss of social skills, although it does make sense, since most children have had few or no regular playmates since mid-March.

But I was gob smacked last month by the genuinely pained complaint of a visiting grandchild. Wyatt, age 9, came to us for a week from New Jersey because his mother, a school district administrator, was buried in the chaotic preparations for reopening her schools to in-person studies, internet studies, hybrid studies, who-knows-what studies.

We were delighted. The kid is smart, cheerful, refreshing and just smart-alecky enough to be entertaining as well as challenging. He has a keen interest in newts, salamanders, snails and such, to the point where he collects them. And he fishes with an expertise, imparted by his bass-loving father that made our pond a buzzing hive of evening fun.

But Wyatt’s complaint was not about any of those things.

It was about Sami.

Sami, full name Samantha, is also nine. She lives … what? Next door? In a sense, yes. Hers is the closest house to our house. But the houses are close to a quarter-mile apart in our rural nook of Jefferson County.

Sami is the only elementary school age child in her house. Though she has siblings, she is for practical purposes an only child, as is Wyatt.

So both children were tickled to have a chance to play together, observing the new amenities related to COVID as much as possible.

They played well together, sharing Wyatt’s interest in fish, bugs, chickens, and dogs and, in particular, our four newly arrived kittens.

Eventually, though, things got tense, in nine-year-old terms.

“Sami won’t stop doing what she is doing even though I told her I wanted her to stop,” Wyatt told me. The lad was genuinely hurt that he could not get this girl to do his bidding.

I choked back a comment about, “Welcome to the world of men and women.” I had no desire for a smart-alecky remark like that to make its way back to my wife.

Instead, I asked questions to find out what had been going on.

Chasing chickens, it turns out, had been going on. Wyatt was reluctant to supply all the details, but I gathered that they had been chasing our free-range chickens around the yard while holding kittens in their hands.

Why? Hey, they are nine. Stuff happens.

“OK, watch,” I told Wyatt. We went outside to talk to Sami.

I explained to her that chasing chickens upsets the chickens. Chickens that are upset can and do stop laying eggs. We eat eggs. We like eggs. So does Sami.

Ah. No problem, she said. The chickens will no longer be chased.

Later, I told Wyatt that nobody made him the boss of Sami, just as nobody made Sami the boss of him. When neither person is the boss, “Stop that because I told you to!” does not fly, between pre-teen playmates or, for that matter, between senior citizens like me and my wife.

Persuasion is called for. Offering persuasive reasons is called for. Suggesting alternatives is called for. If none of those work, then perhaps a temporary “time out” is called for.

But bossing does not work. Bossing causes tension. It can lead to physical fighting, though last week’s contretemps did not come anywhere near that.

Wyatt knew that – last year. He was in third grade, in a school with kids bigger and smaller than he is. So was Sami.

But for half of this year, neither child has encountered many “new” playmates, or even semi-regular ones. I don’t know about Sami’s friends, but Wyatt’s have largely been limited to a slightly older cousin.

They might have forgotten the name of the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Or maybe not.

But these two bright, agreeable kids certainly did, in my view, forget a bit about getting along with “new” friends.

I can just imagine the situation with hormone-overloaded middle school and ninth grade students, and even some high school and college-age people

And what about us? What about adults? Those of us who lost our jobs or have been trapped in work-from-home environments have found that, though Zoom gets us through the basics, we have no occasion to josh, banter or even flirt while keeping our words and our body language within acceptable bounds.

That social interaction is a learned skill, one that can fade away from disuse.

Put that disuse together with the shrunken weddings and funerals I mentioned last week, and we are becoming a nation of hermits, isolated in cocoons. No wonder we snarl and growl at each other as a divisive, closely fought Presidential election looms.

COVID has cost us in a whole lot of ways.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net

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