Like everyone else going through this pandemic, I’ve had hard days. There was the day my busy 30-year-old business lost every client within one terrifying 24 hour period.
The day I realised my 80-year old mum and 92 year old father-in-law might not get a ventilator should they need it. And the day I discovered my son Sam had been exposed to the virus after his flat mate in London fell sick three days after Sam caught a flight home. That was terrifying, too.
Yet through all those days, I didn’t really cry. Like most people, I felt anxious, angry, disoriented and confused at times, but I didn’t cry. Until yesterday. I howled. I cried for so long I didn’t think I’d be able to stop. I scared the dog. My eyes were sore and my nose ran like a tap. Every time I thought I’d stopped, the tears welled up again.
The thing that finally broke me wasn’t, on the surface, even a big deal. It was my daughter’s phone call, telling me her worries about trying to plan her wedding. She got engaged last year, and their big day was planned for early 2021.
Like many prospective brides, she’s been excited and full of hopes and plans. She hasn’t complained at all about the hardships that have devolved heavily on her generation: in many cases, far more than their more financially secure elders.
Perhaps they don’t have such a fear of dying from COVID19, but they do have the highest rate of job losses; the prospect of trying desperately to pay rent with no money and no savings; and the prospect of a world in deep depression for years with no guarantee of the early return of the generally prosperous world their parents and grandies enjoyed.
What she wanted to tell me was that she’s frustrated she can’t book her flowers, her wedding cars, or her photographer. That she can’t visit dress shops to try on gowns, or meet with caterers. That she can’t even enjoy a meal or coffee with friends and family to go over plans and share the excitement.
That she and her fiancé don’t even know whether Australia will be open for weddings in early 2021, since a re-opening of the economy might be quickly followed by further closures should the virus re-surface. And then, she’d have made her plans and paid deposits and sent out invitations for nothing.
Compared to others, my life is rosy. I’ve a wonderful long-term partner, my three kids are well and doing okay, and there’s nobody in my immediate circle who’s having (that I know of) problems they can’t handle. I live in a country that’s basically dealing with coronavirus well (after a rough start), and I have a comfortable home, fresh air and space to walk, and some savings to try to get through hard financial times.
My daughter, too, knows her problems are essentially trivial. She works for a large company and has a secure job and safe home. She didn’t ring to make a big fuss, but to have a minor whinge to her mum, and throughout our conversation she repeated that she knows she’s lucky, and that ultimately, her problems aren’t important.
So what was I crying about? I think it was the realisation that our kids – all our kids, however young or old they are – are now living in a world we never had to face at the same age.
Many of the smaller ones are missing their friends and grandparents and can’t understand why they’re not at kinder or school and have lost the weekend sport, dance lessons and birthday parties they used to have.
Teenagers are missing the experiences they deserved to look forward to: the close relationships and mutual struggle of Year 12; the sports success and school musicals and trips; the first loves and first concerts and first comedy shows and first 16ths and 18ths and other celebrations and rites of passage.
The twenty-somethings are being denied their first jobs after graduating; the achievement of moving out of home; their graduation ceremonies: even the right to plan a wedding or a first international trip.
On top of all that, of course, some children are in unsafe homes with hugely stressed, financially crippled parents or guardians, and we can only imagine what some of them are going through.
I don’t think we’re paying these losses enough attention. Older Australians are mired in their own problems and, yes, many of these are enormous. Yet we’re forgetting that whatever our current woes, we HAD the inestimable luxury of those good times our children are now being denied, and mostly took them totally for granted.
It never entered our heads anything would interfere with our right to those experiences and growth opportunities. And having had that time ourselves, we need to reflect on what it means for the mental health of our own children that the lives they had a right to expect are now on hold. For who knows how long?
I’m under no illusions that this is a first world problem. Those locked down in India and other places right now are doing it far tougher, and so, indeed, are the many Australians who are without work; who are in danger from violence or abuse; who are in jail, in detention, or live in communities where they can’t keep themselves safe from the virus; or who are scared as they’re elderly or have illnesses and disabilities which make them vulnerable. I don’t forget or diminish their greater struggles for a minute.
But I also reserve the right to have a decent cry for my own child, who deserves a big beautiful wedding with all the trimmings and now doesn’t know if she’ll get it, or when.
Let’s spare a thought for young Australians who are doing it tough right now, who have very little public voice to complain about their lost dreams and plans. They matter too.
And Laura: we’ll get you that wedding, and it will be as beautiful as you are.