I realize that title sounds a bit strange, or maybe even upsetting. Just bear with me for a moment. There were good things about the Covid-year, by which I mean 2020.
Yes, I know that Covid-19 isn’t gone yet. It’s still sweeping through places—even my hometown—leaving pain and sadness in its wake. We’re still not through this. Not entirely.
But a lot of people are content to pretend that we are. And while there are good reasons for the pandemic to be over … there are bad ones as well.
Yesterday, I was out for a bike ride. Long-time readers know that I’m a regular bike rider. I live near a river trail that runs through a good chunk of the city I live in, and it’s a great way to get some fresh air and exercise.
But I noticed something as I was shooting along this trail. Something that took my brain back to some comments I’d made during 2020, at the height of lockdown. See, this trail takes its course past several very nice parks, each of which has playground equipment such as swings and slides.
And I noticed, with a bit of sadness, that a decent amount of this equipment was, in the early evening, unused.
See, back during Covid, when the lockdown was going on, I would go for rides and find that the parks were much more in use. In fact, I made a note of the detail that no matter what time of day I went for a ride, the parks with their playground equipment would always have at least one family in them. The parents would be masked if others were nearby, and keeping distanced as they talked, but they’d be there. The parks were alive with the sounds of kids playing, either with siblings or with what I would guess, given my locale’s decent Covid prevention numbers, neighbors who had so far remained free of Covid.
I saw more parents out with their kids during the lockdown than I’ve ever seen before on that trail. Parents helping their kids learn to swing or watching them run up slides. Parents having picnics. Parents feeding ducks or explaining plants to curious children.
It was everywhere.
At the time, I praised it. Yes, Covid was awful and yes, the lockdown was hard on a lot of people. But at the same time, the lockdown did force a lot of us to step back and examine just what we were doing with our lives. That, combined with a lot of other elements such as ruthless exploitation atop declining wages, is in part what has led to the “Great Resignation” so many companies are experiencing currently (No joke, just last night a relative of mine took to Facebook in a complaint thread about how minimum wage had been fine for him so everyone today is just lazy … while declaring an amount that was $20 an hour by modern adjustment).
But there were other aspects of their lives people noticed during the lockdown. And a big one, one that I hold important, was the realization that they did, in fact, have children.
Okay, I jest a little. But only just. I actually did read some very encouraging posts from parents who realized, for the first time, that they didn’t know their eight year old child. That they didn’t even know what their ten year old’s interests were, because so much of their life was dedicated to work and everything around that, holding two or three jobs or spending 80-100 hours or more in the office (salaried, of course, so that there’s no overtime, because why would a company interested in profits deny themselves that?), that they didn’t know their own children.
When the lockdown hit there was a flood of these stories. Parents that admitted that they’d talked to their son or daughter for the first time in memory. That they’d realized that all their labors for a company that didn’t care one bit about them had led to the side effect of never knowing the child that labor was supposedly for.
This is a major reason there’s a great resignation. I recall multiple posts I read on Facebook, Reddit, and other places online, all from parents that realized they’d been so slavishly dedicated to an uncaring job that they were missing the very thing that job was ostensibly supposed to support. That the job only cared about supporting the job and the welfare of the upper management and shareholders, not the family the employee was raising (in fact, some jobs now that we’re in the midst of the Great Resignation have made it very clear how little an employee’s family matters).
Parents realizing this began speaking of changing their priorities. I recall one father who realized that he had missed every year of his son’s life, every party, every celebration, and didn’t even know what his kids hobbies were. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to know, but that he’d been spending 80-120 hours a week working for a job that cut him without so much as a backwards glance once Covid arrived and never had time to spend with his son. Upon discovering how much he’d missed and having fun with his son during the lockdown, he posted that he’d taken a job that paid 25% less … but only required 30 hours a week compared to the soulless 100+ he’d been doing before, and he’d realized that his job was first and foremost to be a father, and his job needed to support him and that.
Without getting sidetracked by America’s brutal and abusive relationship with rich, lazy business owners, I consider this realization a massive positive of Covid and the lockdown. The realization that there are things in life we’re all missing, like family connections, because we’ve been conditioned to just think “Well no, why would I ever spend time with my kids? Who has time for that?”
The playgrounds being constantly in use during lockdown though was a sing of people realizing that not only could they have time for that, they wanted to have time for that. That they could spend time with their children, learn their likes and dislikes, watch movies with them, play in the park with them, go on excursions. I saw more parents laughing and smiling during the Covid Lockdown than I ever have before.
And I don’t see as many of them now, and I think that’s sad.
To be fair, I still see more than I did pre-Covid. Pre-Covid it was not uncommon for me to ride the entire length of the trail and not see a single park in use. Now? There’s always at least someone in the evenings at more than half the playgrounds. So yes, things still appear better than they were pre-Covid. There are more parents out with their kids than I used to see. And the communal swimming holes that appeared during the summer of 2020? I still see groups of kids using them, and as things continue to warm up I’m sure I’ll see more.
But I did notice that while people are still using the playgrounds, it’s not as many as it was during the lockdown. And I think that’s a bit sad. We often talk about what sort of “impact” Covid and the lockdown of 2020 are going to leave on kids, but if you listen to the news it’s only ever negative … Usually because the news wants to push an agenda that serves them best.
But what about those positives they want to ignore? What about the kids that, for the first time in their lives, got to spend time with their parents. What about those families that got to spend time together hitting the parks or playing board games or realizing they new less about one another than their coworkers?
Now look, this isn’t to say I want the lockdown back (that’s a whole ‘nother topic). There were downsides to the lockdown to be sure.
But there were upsides too, and I really hope that as we move more and more into finally pushing past Covid that we don’t forget those upsides. That we don’t forget what we gained and learned. That we don’t let ourselves slide back into the trap of “My children are people I never see” or “I know my coworker’s birthdays and interests, but not my daughters.”
Or the absolute worst of the lot, the “my out of work spending time with coworkers at the bar is mandatory, seeing my family is not.”
I don’t think there’s any benefit to going back to that. But as I rode along the trail yesterday, seeing the empty swings at a few parks, I couldn’t help but wonder … did we? Is that why the parks are emptier? Did too many decide to surrender their family and devote themselves 110% again to a job that will never care for them the way their family will?
Did we forget? Have we gone backwards and regressed on the lessons we learned just a few years ago?
I hope not. Maybe it’s just the unpredictability of the weather. Maybe next week when the sun is out in full without any wind or hint of rain I’ll see dozens of families using the parks and playgrounds again.
I hope so. 2020 was a rough year, but we did gain some good from it.
I truly hope we haven’t sold it back for pennies already.