Lockdowns will enact a price from our kids for a long, long time to come

The other day I was talking to the woman who owns the fitness center where my kids take a variety of classes: sports skills, gymnastics, a baby-movement class.

I asked her a simple question: “How many kids signed up for classes next year during your pre-enrollment period?” Usually, May is her most profitable month, as hundreds of families lock in the lowest prices of the season to take classes the following year.

Her answer shocked me: We were the only family out of hundreds who usually take classes to sign up.

All around us, we are hearing about closures. A local gymnastics studio that has been in business for more than 20 years closed its doors. Another indoor play space announced its decision to close the week before. My daughter’s dance-studio company just sent an e-mail asking if parents would even be willing to return their kids to classes in the fall; I’m not hopeful.

And then there are preschools. In the last week, I’ve heard from three different friends working at preschools who have decided to quit. Some schools aren’t coming back, some schools are still deciding. They aren’t sure if they’ll even have enough students ­enrolled to open, and if they do, they don’t know how to possibly run a classroom full of young children with all the social distancing we’ve come to expect; 3-year-olds won’t keep a mask on all day, sorry.

The closures are tragic for the owners and employees. And they’re devastating for parents: What will be left of our kids’ childhoods?

Though at minimal to no risk from the novel coronavirus, our kids aren’t going to come out of this situation unscathed. Not remotely. The academic impact will be significant: The fallout of one interrupted school year and the probability of a late start to another will be noticeable for years to come and widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Children without parents prioritizing education at home will fall further behind.

But that doesn’t mean kids on the other end of the privilege spectrum will emerge unscathed. Children of all ages and across economic classes are facing long-lasting emotional damage from having their lives abruptly ­interrupted in this way.

They need outlets. Will museums, aquariums and zoos survive to provide them with weekend ­activities?

As I write this, I get the final e-mail from my kids’ camp for the summer. The operators may still be able to run it this season, but with a long list of protocols in place: “Counselors will maintain a distance of at least six feet from campers, and all activities will take place outdoors.” Instead of holding camp on site, they will be hosting it at families’ homes in “pods” with a maximum of seven kids per pod. How fun.

We had signed up our kids for the full camp experience: Spending the summer in a stranger’s backyard, having their temperatures taken daily and not going near their counselors — that isn’t what we wanted for our kids’ summers, and as such, we asked for a refund (minus a $200 per child donation to the camp).

But that decision came with some guilt: How many kids are going to participate in this pod version of camp? Will the operators make enough money to justify holding it at all?

Most important: Will the camp risk running next year, the operators knowing they may have to eat the administrative costs if there’s another mass cancellation?

I’m a planner; I am the kind of person who buys a planner for the next year in May. I love to imagine what our next school year will look like at the close of the last. And as I consider what our lives are going to look like, I’m overcome with sadness.

As of now, it doesn’t appear like anything we loved in previous years will survive to serve my kids in the future.

That’s not just a loss for business owners, but a profound loss for my kids’ childhood as well. Every new closure or cancellation announcement is another piece of the tapestry of their lives disappearing.

Twitter: @BethanyShondark

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