Audrey Joseph, 17, of Ronkonkoma, has the same kind of conversations with her grandfather that many kids have. “My grandpa always says, ‘When I was little, I had to walk to school. We didn’t have technology and fancy gadgets.’”
Growing up during the coronavirus era has made Joseph realize she'll have her own go-to phrase when she talks to her grandchildren. “Now I can say, ‘Well, when I was little I lived through a whole pandemic.’”
This generation will remember a childhood that includes history in the making. “I tell them, ‘Your kids are going to be reading about 2020 in their textbooks,” says Jessica Varghese, 41, of Syosset, who teaches nursing at the New York Institute of Technology and has four children, ages 3, 5, 11 and 12.
What impression is all this leaving on the children, and how do they predict their experience might affect the rest of their lives? Here’s what Long Island kids had to say:
They’ll remain skilled hand washers. “I take my hygiene more seriously now,” says Annabella Barbuto, 15, a rising junior at Farmingdale High School. “I’m more aware of germs and bacteria. I wipe down surfaces more. I’m cleaning my phone and my computer.” She says it scares her now if people sneeze or cough in public, whereas before she didn’t notice it. She’s also more hesitant to touch door handles and stairway rails. “I realize how many people touch that in a day. I think I’ll always think of that now.”
They’ll be more grateful to essential workers. “It made me really appreciate my mom because she is an essential worker and a nurse,” Joseph says. “I have a lot more respect for them seeing it in front of my very eyes on the news. I will never forget to thank my doctor or anybody who comes in contact with me who helped with the coronavirus.”
They have a new appreciation for school. Hayden Fishbein, 17, of Huntington, says there have been days during her childhood when she hated having to go to school. “Now, all I want to do is go to school,” she says. “It kind of came out of nowhere and school was just over.” Leila Joseph, 16, of Ronkonkoma, agrees. “I, personally, realize how much I miss school. I’m going to be running in the first day. I cannot wait.”
They now understand that life can change in an instant. “It’s just good to know this stuff could happen whenever and just appreciate it more,” Fishbein says. “I’m much more grateful for what I have. Anytime I’m stressed about work, I’ll think it could have been worse than this and it has been, and I’ll just think back to this time.” Barbuto says she’s more aware that “every day isn’t promised to me. I’ll take with me during my life that my life is precious, and I shouldn’t take it for granted.”
They’ll always wonder how much this changed the course of their lives. “It definitely put me on a different track. The course that my life was going to take has been altered,” says Gianna Tantillo, 17, of Melville. Tantillo was planning to participate in a science lab-based summer program that’s been canceled. She’s doing a virtual research program instead. “I definitely know there were missed opportunities. That will alter the next few years of my life, the connections I would have made,” she says.
They may choose to simplify their lives — or not. “All of our lives were so fast-paced, go, go, go. I barely had an hour to eat dinner on school days,” Tantillo says. “I don’t know if everything will go back to normal. I would go back to that in a heartbeat, I like being so busy."
They’ve realized screens cannot replace face-to-face social interaction. Kaitlyn Blanck, 16, of Holbrook, is a competitive dancer. She says she misses her teammates even though their practices have moved to Zoom. “We can text each other and send videos; it definitely makes it easier, but it would be a lot better if we were in person,” she says.
They’ve become more independent. “I’ve learned to make a lot more meals,” says Aidan Blanck, 14, of Holbrook. He’s experimented with chicken entrees and egg dishes. While he’s primarily been cooking for himself, “I might make stuff for my family, too,” he says.
They’ll cherish their families. “Having my sisters with me this whole time has made me so much closer to them and glad that I have them,” says Audrey Joseph of her younger sister Leila and her older sister, Rubie, 21, who came home from the University of Buffalo. Says Parker Wellen, 8, a third-grader from Melville, “We’ve gone on a lot of family hikes. Me and my dad, every day, take bike rides.”
They’ll remember milestones altered or missed. “Today was supposed to be my last day of sixth grade,” says Kayla Varghese, 11, and she’s sad that she didn’t get to experience it. Leila Joseph had to celebrate her Sweet 16 with a drive-by car parade, which she says she’ll describe to her children one day. She says she doesn’t mind the modified celebration: “Not many people can say they celebrated their Sweet 16 in a pandemic.”