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The End of Innocence: COVID Gave My Teens Grown-Up Worries

My teen and tween were already dipping their toes into young adulthood, clutching at the shirttails of childhood in that awkward realm of in-between. But now, with Covid-sized worries, I mourn those last bits of carefree innocence, which seemed to vanish as this storm settled in.

Before all of this, their biggest worries revolved around school projects, making the Math Bowl team and having the right-sized bat for baseball season. Or if they should go roller skating or to a movie. Or who to invite to their birthday parties.

My children have been stoic. My youngest didn’t even complain when his two-day school trip to Chicago was canceled, even though he’s been looking forward to it for years. They’ve been playing along, as if online video games are some kind of fair trade-off for giggling all night at a sleepover to mark your 12th birthday.

They don’t whine about what they’re missing anymore. You would think I’d be happy about that.

But instead, I miss their adolescent ways as the pandemic casts its shadow over everything.

They stopped complaining late one Monday morning when I came home from the grocery store in disbelief. I had returned without bread or tortillas. There were no eggs, cheese or yogurt. No pasta or rice, either. Of course, there were no cleaning products or toilet paper. My son drinks aloe juice for a medical condition, and that was missing, too. That’s when the enormity of the situation hit home.

We made do with what we had and, in time, the situation improved. But that first week, with news of the shocking lack of food supplies for the first time in memory, I saw an immediate change in my sons. I’m not an alarmist, not even close. But I was scared. Disappointed. Shocked. And I didn’t hide it. And it never occurred to me to shield them, at least a little bit, though maybe I should have.

Realistically, I knew we could order a pizza. We weren’t about to starve. Yet, I couldn’t quell this crushing sense of unease.

They knew what was happening. Of course, they knew.

Suddenly, there was no school, no baseball, no after-school job, no parties (birthday or otherwise). Hey, you made the Math Bowl team! Well, congrats, but oh wait, there’s no longer a Math Bowl.

I would give them updates on the health of my parents and sister, but I’m sure they sensed my worry and frustration. As our weeks together stretched, our grocery bills skyrocketed. With every grocery order I would grumble, unthinking, about our astronomical food spending. In retrospect, I wish I would have been more appreciative and less crabby.

On the same day they canceled school for the year, my husband’s company made across-the-board pay cuts. We’re thankful, very thankful, that he’s been able to keep his job and work from home. But it was still a shock to get such a sudden reduction in our family income.

When I told my teenager, who stands six feet tall and happens to be going through another growth spurt, he looked me straight in the eye and promised not to eat so much. Told me to stop “wasting money” on groceries for him.

I was gutted. He should be thinking about homework. And girls. Skateboards and which movie to see this weekend.

I hate that my kids are worried about grocery bills and nonchalantly tracking death rates.

I had to blink back tears when my youngest asked to wear his facemask on our recent bike ride, because he knows his underlying health condition puts him in a higher risk category.

Again, I know we are the lucky ones. We haven’t been touched by the virus directly. Our family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads and so much to be thankful for.

Yet, I still have the nagging sense that Covid-19 took my boys’ innocence. It snatched away the last carefree remnants of childhood before any of us were ready for it.

When not worrying about her teenagers, Jacqueline Miller is writing about them. Her recent work appears in Parenting Insider and on her website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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