Can we get back to normal?

2020 has been a crazy year to say the least. COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of people around the world. What is more troubling, it seems like there’s no end in sight. With school closures continuing this fall, and no organized youth sports or even practices you cannot but think about what all of this is doing to our children? What are the long-term effects on their psyches? Who is advocating for our children these days? These challenging times of COVID-19 remind me of a lot of growing up throughout the Croatian War of Independence that took place between 1991-1995. It was scary and difficult, but the adults around us chose to keep families and children living, not hiding in fear despite the risks. Growing up in a war torn country I remember spending most of my freshman year in high school ready to evacuate school and running to the underground shelters. Classes were regularly and abruptly cut short by loud sirens which meant run for your life. But, we still went to school, and the teachers still were willing to teach us kids. Even with the risk of losing our lives throughout the war, we did not stop living, and adults kept children in regular routines as much as possible despite the enemy still occupying military stations within the city. For me throughout the war, having water polo practice and school was the best thing because I could see my friends and get my mind off the stresses of war. At the time all pools were closed because they were used as back up water reservoirs in case the supply of water was cut to the city, but our team still got together to train and play other sports as much as we could to get exercise. I remember our indoor pool windows looked like Swiss cheese with all of the bullet holes.  Our “normal” was living with the threat of enemy snipers on roof buildings and mandatory city wide blackouts that allowed me and my teammates to sneak across pitch black streets, avoid certain buildings, and actually crawl under a concrete wall to get into our gym. The blackouts were really orchestrated to prevent enemy planes from seeing their targets, but we kids used them to our advantage so we could go to practice. Once we were in the gym we were safe because all of the windows were blacked out. I don’t remember anyone in our group being scared or thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. All we were thinking about is being with friends and playing sports. We often traveled close to enemy lines just to get to our competition. Our water polo team went on to be known as the best youth generation of players in our Club’s history (POŠK, Split). Later as an adult, I asked my coach what he was thinking about when he had us play sports and practice in those circumstances and he told me, “that was the only way to give you the normal life at the time.” He explained to me that It was the only way to keep us occupied so we didn’t see everything that was going on around us. It was much like today with mass graves caused by COVID deaths in large cities, people losing their jobs, the looting, the rioting, and all the uncertainty about what tomorrow brings. We didn’t have to know all of the details, we were just kids.  I hope that my kids will be able to experience normal life without living in fear. We know the risk of COVID-19 just as my coach and my parents knew the risk of war. The question that we need to ask ourselves right now is does that risk outweigh the benefits? The benefits of kids growing up, socializing, learning, playing and becoming productive members of society.