Getting back to simpler times for kids

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, June 7, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

I don’t know how the kids do it today. They are tougher and grittier than I ever was.

My generation wasn’t on the receiving end of a flu shot year after year when we were kids. In fact, there was no such thing as a flu shot back then. We just hoped we wouldn’t get it. 

We were the recipients of other shots, but not on an annual basis. The tetanus booster shot comes to mind – the one that protects you in the event you step on a rusty nail. You were supposed to get it around sixth grade. Of course, I found out about it while in fourth grade. I then dreaded it for the next two years. 

Not much has changed all these years later. I still hate shots, needles or any medical procedure that, as Arlo Guthie says, “injects, inspects and detects”.  

My earliest memory of a shot was the cooties shot. There weren’t any doctors or nurses around, and it didn’t take place in a cold, sterile doctor’s office. Instead, it was given to me by another kid probably somewhere between the sliding board and the monkey bars. To this day, it’s the easiest shot I ever received. Circle circle, dot dot. That’s how I got my cooties shot.

The best part of all, there was no needle. Just an index finger. And our imaginations.

No one wanted the cooties. But if you had it, your job was to give to the other gender on the playground.

It was a game. And it was life. Things were a lot simpler on the playground.

Times have changed. In addition to the flu shot, kids are now having to get tested for the coronavirus. Currently this level of testing involves pulling into a drive-thru where spacemen-looking medical professionals reach into your car window and shove a six-inch Q-tip-like instrument up your nostrils and tickle your eyeballs. Or at least that’s how I’ve heard it described.

How do you mentally prepare for that? I would dread it. I can’t imagine that horror as a kid. At least today, as a grown man, I do better. Mainly, because I know I have to. I get the big picture.

I’ve been pricked before. And I’ll get pricked again. I willingly submit to have blood work taken at least twice a year. I even get an annual flu shot now. 

I don’t enjoy it. I will never enjoy it. I just accept it. 

I don’t expect the kids to accept it. At least, not right now. They’ve already endured enough this year. 

They’ve missed out on hanging with their school friends. They’ve missed out on field days, field trips and other school-related activities. They’ve even missed out on recess – that unstructured time at the playground – living and playing without a care in the world. 

But the kids are resilient, they say. They will adapt. And I believe they will, with our help. That’s how we’ll all get through this. 

Hopefully we can show the kids that the weeks and weeks of unexplainable inconveniences have been worth it. Let’s hope we’ve bought the medical experts and scientists some time so that they can do their thing and come up with a way to manage this awful virus. 

I am hoping they can so we can get back to those simpler times once again. If not for us, at least for the kids.

Because I believe once we bring back the playgrounds, those wild imaginations – the ones where anything and everything is possible – will return with it.

Maybe even the cooties game will make a comeback. Life was so much easier when the worst thing you could have was just a case of the cooties. And all you needed was two circles and two dots to make it go away. The cure was in our hands, hearts and minds all along.

Hopefully that will be the case with the coronavirus, too.

Columnist Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. His column appears in the Herald-Journal and newspapers in Western North Carolina.