I was struck the other day by the most basic pre-pandemic desire: I wish I could go out to eat with my husband and son. It’s not that I miss the food that much—we’ve gotten a lot of takeout and dined outdoors a few times before winter hit. It’s that I miss the spontaneity, the ease with which we used to make those types of decisions. One of us would say, “Wanna go out to eat tonight?” and we’d be pulling on shoes and heading out the door as though our very lives weren’t hanging in the balance. How quaint.
All of us, including—maybe especially—our kids have these moments where we deeply miss things it never would have occurred to us to be grateful for before. Could teenagers ever have imagined how much they’d miss going to school every day? Would it have ever occurred to a nine-year-old to be grateful for an impromptu game of tag with the neighbors? Our kids have learned a lot about sacrifice and resilience this year, in the most unfortunate way possible, but if we’re lucky, this experience might make them more grateful for the little things when we get to the other side of this.
Julia Cho and her daughter pondered this same thing recently, as Cho writes in the New York Times:
My 12-year-old daughter, Audrey, told me recently on one of our many walks around the neighborhood that she would never forget this pandemic, and that she never wanted to take for granted having friends over, visiting extended family or hugging her grandparents again. She wondered, though, whether people would really live with new appreciation. Over time, would we all forget? Would a hug or a handshake become commonplace again?
“Write down how you feel,” I suggested. “Record it so your future self will remember.”
So her daughter did. She wrote the most heart-wrenching letter to her post-pandemic self (of which you must read every word); in it, she talks about masks and surging case numbers and missing her grandparents. She allowed her mom to publish it with the hope that it might inspire other kids to do the same. It reads, in part:
I am struggling and would do anything to get out of 2020 and this pandemic, to see my friends and family normally. You are able to do that. You have what I want so badly. So please, I urge you to enjoy your life, your friends, your family, your experiences.
Remember—everything is replaceable and unimportant, but people are the only true thing that matter in this modern-day world.
She is willing herself not to forget that all these long months ever happened, but to more clearly remember them. At 12 years old, she’s already wise enough to know how quickly we adapt, and that if we can adapt into the hard, we might also adapt right back into the easy.
Now that we’ve entered the year in which we (hopefully) will reclaim some normalcy, it’s a good time to have your kids sit down and write their own letter to their future selves. Encourage them to reflect on the big things they miss, like vacations and summer camps, but also on the little things they’ve had to give up this year, such as swimming with their friends in the summer or playing video games with their cousins at Thanksgiving.
It’ll help reinforce what is most important to them, and it will serve as a good reminder down the road, once the sting of the pandemic has finally faded away and they start to forget how much we missed the little things.
Maybe write one yourself, too, and tuck them all away a safe place. Set a reminder for yourself to pull them out once a year, on New Year’s Eve or some other special occasion, so you can transport yourself back to the time when the thought of a simple family dinner at your favorite local diner made your heart ache.