Father helps daughter with mask


At Home, I’m The Physical Distance Enforcer And I’m Guilty Of Distance Shaming My Kid

Sep 23, 2020

We are made to touch. We are hardwired to herd — especially in our early teenage years when our friends and crushes are more important than the air we breathe. Of all my back pages, these are the ones I return to most. These are the scenes my inner eye plays in 4K — that June night, just hanging with my pals, in my first second-hand leather jacket, leaning against somebody's convertible and talking to my crush. The magic hour sun in her hair, reflecting in her eyes, made it hard to breathe. Yet I inhaled that moment, fearing I'd forget. I never have.

"Each time she left the house, I'd be the physical distance enforcer."

Those days were like a drug, only never-ending. Life was accelerating, and I wanted to step on the gas. I looked forward to living that time again, vicariously through my daughter. I would be a guide, a coach who could share experiences and mentor her across the highs and lows of these precious months. I think of this as I watch her collect her skateboard and helmet and limber off awkwardly for the skate park. She now wears eye shadow. I know she wants life to accelerate; I want it to slow down.

I remember the moment a few weeks ago when I admonished her and a friend for not physical distancing. The two were reunited after being apart most of the summer. I'm sure they both had the best of intentions. But we all know an adolescent's best intentions are easily overridden in the excitement of the moment — and I was once again thrown into the role of chief physical distance enforcer. I caught my reflection in the glass door distance shaming the girls. It was jarring to be reminded of the alternate universe into which we've all been spun. And what I'd become within it.

It's now been six months of COVID-19, and I see this time in three acts. Act one was the spring when schools and the streets suddenly emptied. The pandemic was new and as ominous as it first seemed, it wasn't without an upside. We'd go for long walks on early April evenings, talking about all kinds of things we might have otherwise never discovered. Even better, the school year was winding down, and we'd finally get a break from the day-to-day pressures.

Let's not forget all the conspiracy theories that have popped up during the pandemic. Read Craig's take on it here.

Act two was summer when we all slowly emerged from lockdown. We gradually loosened the reins of parenting, letting her decide when to sleep and when to rise. She became a night owl, and I read somewhere that parents didn't need to worry about it. I didn't. As she began to visit a few of her close friends, I constantly reminded her of the importance of staying safe: physical distance, wear a mask and wash your hands. She discovered skateboarding and was constantly at the park. Each time she left the house, I'd be the physical distance enforcer. I wouldn't say I liked the role, but I knew it was critical.

As fall looms, the curtain rises on act three. Like many parents, I'm besieged by questions, doubts and fears. COVID-19 stats are on the rise right across the country, just in time for school reopening. Laura and I opted to send her back to school — in this case, her first high school. It is exhilarating for her, and despite the cloud hovering over us, we celebrate that she can experience this life milestone.

My inner celebration is tempered by the darkening cloud of rising COVID-19 numbers. I wonder if we'll all soon be back in lockdown, and she'll lose out on even more precious teen days. I worry about the current, almost unanimous medical opinion that kids are likely to experience higher rates of anxiety and depression as we get through this. I fear the long term psychological impact on kids constantly told by parents like me to keep their distance. Virtual life is no substitute for the real thing, and in these formative years of rapid development, how we interact with the world will help define who we become as adults. What kind of adults will they be?

This writer talks about how well her daughters are handling all the disappointments. Read that POV here.

I am reminded of my great aunt, who years ago told me stories of the 1918 Spanish flu, which she lived through as a child. I recall thinking it sounded horrific and that we were incredibly lucky to live in a time when it could never happen again. And we were lucky until we weren't.

I think that each generation somehow faces its defining moment, and I can live it in fear, or I can live it as a warrior. Because if I am going to help beat this, I think it's important that I be a warrior. If for no other reason than to convey strength and security to my child. That is why I focus on keeping myself positive and strong — because that's the way my kid needs me to be — even if that means I have to be the physical distance enforcer.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and documentary film producer who is passionate about developing projects that explore social issues and innovation. He is currently shooting and producing Long Ride Home, a project that explores innovative healing paths for post-traumatic stress. Craig lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer, and podcaster, and their tween daughter – his most challenging and rewarding project to date!  You can catch his latest work at mediadiner.com.

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