Thoughts about Life in the Age of COVID-19 on the Occasion of My Daughter's 13th Birthday

By Alan Minsky

We're four months into this thing with no end in sight.

Already, it's fair to say that nothing outside of the two World Wars has altered the day-to-day existence of global modernity like this pandemic. As such, it's been 75 years since we've known anything like this. There's nowhere to run, only our domiciles to hide.

If you've ever wondered what it's like to live through the plague years, you've got your answer now. Not so dramatic, is it? Let alone spectacularly horrific?  Most of the time it feels much like before; only more stagnant and doom-laden; with a steady drumbeat of dread. We dodge contagion by routine; masked and anonymous.

Yet it's difficult to generalize too much about how we're experiencing life in the age of COVID-19 - because even with all our digital connectivity there's little sharing of emotions amongst the still-healthy majority. The most common reflections I've heard are that "it's surreal," or frustrating 'cause it's dragging on (i.e. the novelty is gone).  I'm guessing there's a whole lotta repression going on. The fact that there is no cure in sight, and only rumors of a vaccine, is surely dire; and more than a little terrifying.

It's also a buzz kill. The longevity of this circumstance pretty much precludes any "eat, drink, & be merry for tomorrow we die" revelry. The Stooges "No Fun" suits the moment; and, at least for me, offers some solace through defiance. (Or, better yet, this cover version, ominously the last song the Sex Pistols ever played together.) The surprising near-absence of gallows humor betrays the level of our anxiety.

Of course, I'm just like everyone else not yet directly impacted by the calamity. I've developed coping mechanisms (mainly via my workaholism) to limit my awareness of the reality that we are now living in a dystopia.

What breaks me out of my routine, and brings me to write these observations is that today is the only day in my daughter's life that she will become a teenager. On this occasion, I can't help but consider how much damage this all might be doing to the person I love most in life; and what I can do to better protect her, and provide an adequate environment with everything so dramatically altered.

(One thing for sure: I will disobey any orders by the idiot on Pennsylvania Avenue forcing kids back to school; and stand in solidarity with everyone willing to defy him.)

Becoming a teen is hard enough. For my part, I'm learning (or trying to learn) that being a good parent to a teenage girl is about rolling with circumstances, choosing the right moments to (try to) connect. I am blessed to have a daughter for whom love and joy are never far off even during a rough patch of early teen turbulence.  For all of this, Lisa Damour's Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood is a blessing (I learned about the book in the middle section of this podcast.) D'Amour is my Virgil, guiding me through what, in the context of the waking-nightmare that is 2020, could otherwise feel like an inferno.

Still, there's no getting around a long list of deep concerns I have about how this unexpected historical turn will impact my daughter (and, yes, I didn't anticipate this; I'd be lying if I said otherwise, no matter how much Mike Davis I've read).  From missing her friends, to the impact of isolation and the abundance of screen-time (even school itself is on a damn screen), to the painful postponement of a Billie Eilish concert, to the absence of travel and visiting her relatives, to contending with fear from all-too-real health concerns, to the proximity of widespread death - none of which I had to deal with at thirteen; or ever, until now.

And yet...

As I drove with my daughter earlier today to pick up one of her two friends who came over to celebrate her birthday (by necessity, it's a tiny birthday party this year), we got to talking about the successful pranks that have been played on Trump via the social media app TikTok in recent days. My daughter loves TikTok, and sees herself as part of a generational community that is active on it. As such, she is thrilled by the impact, and the righteousness, of these pranks.

While she was talking, we came to a stoplight and I looked over at her. I realized that for all that is going wrong in the world, and for all the travails of becoming a teen - so far so good. My daughter is more than surviving, she's thriving.

When she finished describing a favorite anti-Trump TikTok post, a thought popped into my head and I decided to share. 

"This pandemic is certainly terrible, but if we can survive it without too much damage being done - given how political your generation is - well, I think we're finally going to see a movement strong enough to do what's necessary to tackle the climate emergency and keep the planet habitable for humanity." She nodded. I continued, "You're all so smart, you recognize that this pandemic is related to the fact that humans are not in harmony with the planet; and you're going to do what you have to do to change that."

She looked over at me and said "yeah." Then she paused, looked back at the road, and added, "that's obvious."

Happy 13th Birthday Mills. You give me hope and so much more. 


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