After my cancer diagnosis, and I might say after the initial shock wore off, I was impressed by how my children–ages 8 and 11 at the time–asked such great questions and often had mature and thoughtful insights into the situation. Their resilience, together with their questions and comments reminded me of that old saying, “Out of the Mouths of Babes.” As it turns out, this is actually a reference to Psalm 8:2: “Out of the mouths of babes…has thou ordained strength” (NKJ). It is also the title of an essay I had published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Recently, I had another conversation with my daughter Lydia who is now 13. We were talking a walk on a Saturday afternoon, enjoying some unusually mild December weather when she suddenly offered this astute observation:
“You know, prior to the pandemic, I used to see someone in public with a mask on and feel sad and think, oh no? What’s wrong with them? Now, when I see someone in public without a mask on I think, oh no? What’s wrong with them?”
I laughed out loud at this one because it rings true, on so many levels. Either, this person has terrible asthma or some other condition that makes them unable to tolerate a mask, or, this person might be trying to make some sort of political statement. Masks have become very divisive, not just in the public sphere or in the news media, but in our private lives and family situations as well. With the upcoming holidays, I am hearing about families arguing over who should be wearing masks and when or where, or even flat out refusing to participate in any family gatherings because of this issue.
But rather than debate all the nuances of mask wearing, instead, I chose to reflect on the fact that once again, children demonstrate how much more resilient they can be compared to adults. I asked Sam just recently if students were really wearing masks at our school, and he replied yes, and that personally, he wears his all the time. “It doesn’t really bother me anymore.” Lydia has been known to coordinate the mask with what particular outfit she is wearing that day; I don’t get to do that, since I am constantly in my standard pale blue surgical mask. I do admire the “collection” of masks Lydia has for her different looks; the black and white paisley mask with black skinny jeans, the maroon and gold stripe to match U of MN gear, or the blackwatch plaid to complement school uniforms.
I know this may not be true for every child, particularly the younger set, but overall I am impressed by how quickly they adapted to mask wearing. And without any of the usual “drama” you are seeing from adults. I have said all along, regardless of one’s position on the effectiveness of mask wearing, if that is what it takes to get our economy open, I am all for it. In fact, if PPE works as well as we think it does, we should talk about opening 100% for the younger low risk population. Schools, businesses, and restaurants could be fully operational with masks and social distancing in place. I know it is easier said than done, but something to consider as we don’t see this virus going away anytime soon.
I am somewhat heartened to hear the conversation shift from “when will this end” to, “how can we live with the virus.” In addition to the much anticipated vaccines, masks might be part of the solution here, regardless of your political stance or your take on the data. We’ve flattened the curve, and that is good news; we are now much better at taking care of covid-19 patients with far lower mortality rates than observed initially. Now, we must think about how we can become more resilient, embrace change, and take the needed steps to get back to the new normal.
Maybe, just maybe, a colorful mask collection will be on my Christmas wish list.