I was born in 1984 and grew up listening to the baby boomer generation laud themselves as having gone through so much in their lifetimes. For goodness sakes, they had to hide under desks during bomb drills in elementary school! They also walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow, but that’s beside the point. In my short 35 years on this earth, I feel as though my cohort of contemporaries have been through more than our fair share of strife.
Let’s start in the mid ’90s, when AOL became popular. We all invented ridiculous screen names and logged on (or dialed up) to chat with one another. While it all began innocently enough, we were the first generation to endure cyberbullying. I can recall so many memories of classmates and friends inventing fake screen names and harassing others. Pretending to be a boy who liked a girl, only to laugh at her when she admitted she liked him, too. Calling someone out on a fault they had, setting them up to incriminate their friends; it was all just so mean. You could say anything to anyone with anonymity. Our parents didn’t even realize they should have been monitoring our internet usage – it was all so new!
Moving on, to 1999 — I was a freshman in high school and lived through Columbine. Words could never describe how terrifying it was to think about going into a high school after that happened, side-eyeing your classmates and wondering who might be the Eric or Dylan of your town. Sure, we went to school before safe corners and lockdown drills were prominent, but that may actually have made it even worse. As a public school administrator, it is very clear to me now that schools in the early 2000s had no idea how to prevent or how to respond to school shootings
Senior year of high school met with 9/11. Growing up in a New York City suburb, I can’t count how many classmates’, teammates’, and neighbors’ parents or relatives were killed during one fateful morning. Watching the towers be struck and then fall live on television, while knowing they were less than an hour away, has permanently scarred me. Imagine making your decision as to where you were going to college while the country literally fell apart – it all seemed so pointless. 9/11 was hard for the whole country, particularly in the areas surrounding New York City. Now add onto that the social-emotional functioning of a 17-year-old and imagine how well you could process it. To this day, I have trouble functioning on 9/11. A friend of mine had a bridal shower on that day many years after and I thought to myself, really … you couldn’t pick literally any other date in September to celebrate yourself? It just never felt right.
After college, we Xennials were met with the financial crisis of 2008. Picture trying to get a job for the first time in that economy… let alone trying to buy a home. Ah, the American dream. Not to mention that we are the generation that has been burdened with absurd amounts of student loans with lofty promises of high paying careers immediately upon graduation to pay them off. Luckily, I survived all of that, and even went on to earn a doctorate degree (and more loans) in 2012. I was able to buy a house for the first time the same year and began dreaming and planning for a family of my own.
Fast forward to 2020. I have two perfect children, a husband, and a great house in the suburbs of my own. But not only do we have a reality star as a president now, we have a country more divided than ever. So, of course, it makes sense to bring COVID-19 into the mix. Now, I have to decide whether or not to send my children to school in September. Do I risk their health or keep them home? Am I doing more harm than good not sending them to school? If I send them to school, am I contributing to the risk of educators’ health?
I know teachers are afraid to go back to school – I’m afraid, too. Never has a generation of parents had to make such important decisions about their children’s education and health with such limited information. I have to struggle with keeping my babies healthy, as well as not exposing my parents to the germs coming in from our schools and workplaces. The germs that could potentially kill that generation of vulnerable Americans.
I’ve read that kids are safe and the risk to them is minimal, but what about their teachers? I’ve read that we don’t really know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children yet, and they may be terrifying. I’ve heard that masks will keep my kids safe in schools and not traumatize them. I’ve heard that kids are resilient enough to withstand this. I’ve heard that we will be socially and emotionally scarring our children if we send them into these schools that resemble war zone triage centers. Basically, I’ve heard it all.
All I know for sure is that no one could have imagined this kind of pressure, anxiety, or stress to hit an entire generation of parents all at once. So, I’m sorry Boomers, but this is just too much. You may have had to walk to school uphill, both ways, but at least you didn’t have to do it wearing a mask.