Today’s Rose Parade cancellation prompted news from a friend that her daughter had long been scheduled to perform in Pasadena on January 1, and would no longer have the opportunity. Her plight was appreciated here, where our family has suffered through a similar series of losses and disappointments since COVID-19 overtook the nation. For a year, our daughter Elizabeth had been cast as Dorothy in her dance studio’s The Wizard of Oz performance, the culmination of 15 years of dance classes. It became clear by April that she, and we, would have to let this go.
More setbacks followed. Elizabeth’s high school graduation was cancelled, and soon after, she learned her freshman year of college at Long Beach State would take place entirely on Zoom. She is a dance major. Here is her studio.1Not entirely uncoincidentally, this is being published on her 18th birthday.
Our daughter Lauren was recently engaged to be married, but her August ceremony will take place high in the mountains with only immediate (and socially-distanced) family in attendance. Her reception will be in our front yard as people drive past.
Our church meetings have been cancelled (voluntarily—not by government fiat) since March. Our sons’ activities—Boy Scouts and church youth meetings—meet digitally, if at all. I spent months awaiting the beginning of the 2020 MLB season. A 60-game fanless mini-season begins next week, though whether the teams will make it to October is anyone’s guess.
Undoubtedly, if one asked all 330 million Americans about their experiences over the past four months, one would hear similar kinds of stories, and far, far worse. The job losses are staggering. The economic reverberations are devastating. The loss of life is overwhelming. The social consequences are only now becoming manifest and will linger for decades. When we comfort our children about their losses—and we must do so, or we are insensate—nevertheless it is these far vaster impacts that lurk at the outer reaches of our consciousness.
But they stay there, suspended, filtered, held out of our children’s reach—to whatever extent they can be—by our affirmations. It never seems to be the right time to apprise innocent kids of mortality’s perils. So we tell them their disappointments matter. Their dreams are not selfish. There’s always 2021. All things can, and will, be made whole again. It gets better. Whatever the defeat, we conclude that result alone must be chastening enough. Our children don’t need to know a lifetime of it will follow.
We feel a duty to say these things, but sensible parents know it is hard to deliver these messages with any conviction. Into these conversations we carry our own stinging disappointments and broken dreams. We know the future is guaranteed to no one. We know that things shatter—hearts, relationships, lives—beyond recognition and, often, beyond repair. We know betrayal, deceit, frustration, longing, loss. More than anything, we wish we didn’t know the grim realities we know.
As children age and begin to realize the parts they weren’t told, they may wonder why. But someday they will age, and they may have their own children. Those children will suffer from their own disappointments. And then our children will speak with their children the same way we spoke with our children. And, then, they will know why.