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As we wrap up the hell year that 2020 has been, I can’t help but wonder what the aftereffects of pandemic pandemonium might be. Psychologists and therapists warn that children, though generally more resilient than we expect, will probably grow into adulthood with a few phobias or syndromes. Personally, I have been most disappointed about the reversal of bad habits that we had all just started to curb.

  • The use of plastic has ticked upward­—to-go meal paraphernalia, fear of infected reusable shopping bags, etc.
  • Multiple unnecessary vehicle trips—attributable to newly acquired habits of ordering groceries and meal delivery (I’ve observed multiple single-delivery vehicles pull up to my neighbors’ homes on a regular basis)
  • The re-emergence of anti-bacterials and sanitizers—which destroy beneficial microbes as well as dastardly virus particles and find their way into sewer systems and then into larger bodies of water where they damage native plants and creatures.
  • Wasted water—a result of lengthy and repetitive hand-washing
Norah 1917

In a recent interview a child psychologist predicted that as pandemic kids grow up, they will likely carry many of these habits forward. That comment sparked an epiphany about my grandmother. Besides her fiery red hair, my defining memory of Grandmother Noni was that she was a germaphobe—a compulsive cleaner. Now I realize that when the Spanish Flu of 1918 swept the globe, Noni was a young mother who had just lived through WWI. She had a five-year-old child, my mother, to look after at a time when plumbing and waste-water treatment were not particularly trustworthy. Perhaps her cleaning phobia was a result of the 1918 Pandemic rather than—as I had assumed—a symptom of a highly unstable emotional state.

Of course an obsession with cleanliness is but a small price to pay for the year that was. Considering the children who have lost aunts, uncles, grandparents, or even parents to COVID-19 (or pandemic-related suicide), a cleaning obsession is nothing. And of course, there are the millions of children for whom cleanliness became impossible the day they found themselves living in cars and shelters after unemployed parents were evicted.

The times are strange and frightening. Lets look out for each other, set aside our differences, and try to repair the damage that has ripped about our families and our souls. Bring it on 2021.