More Than Extra Stickers

I swear this isn’t a promotional post, but I love shopping at Trader Joe’s. The snacks, the frozen aisle, the chatty employees who strike up a conversation with you about what wine to pair with the chocolate in your cart.

Of course, it’s not as easy to banter with the cashiers these days. Trader Joe’s has the infamous plexiglass shields we see at other grocery stores, but they’ve taken the extra step of having customers wait on a line several feet back from the registers until it’s time to pay. While I totally appreciate the safety protocols, I always feel awkward during this part of the process. Do I try to talk with the cashier from several feet away? Attempt to smile beneath my mask? Usually I just stand there woodenly, hands clasped behind my back like a schoolgirl waiting for the teacher to call on me.

But the other day as I waited, I happened to glimpse the mother and toddler I’d crossed paths with moments ago as we all navigated the impossibly tight cereal aisle. Noticing me, the mom took her child’s hand and gently steered him along as I tiptoed past them. I smiled, and I think she smiled back.

Now I watched as the cashier wheeled their cart forward and the mom patiently wrangled her child back into the seat. In his mittened hands were two full sheets of stickers, and I smiled, remembering how the employees would always offer my kids a sticker or two when they were younger. Two sheets, I thought. That’s definitely an upgrade.

Then it struck me how rare this was: an instance when kids were getting something better during the pandemic than before.

Children have lost so much since COVID-19 upended everything, despite the fact that they’re not the primary drivers of infections. An Icelandic study of 40,000 people indicated “children under 15 were about half as likely as adults to be infected, and only half as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others. Almost all the coronavirus transmissions to children came from adults.”

President-elect Biden has prioritized reopening schools within his first 100 days in office. That’s not soon enough, especially when bars, restaurants, and gyms — much higher risk venues for disease transmission — remain open. One writer aptly asked, could kids just go to school in restaurants then?

Kids deserve far more than extra stickers, token gestures, or to be told they just need to adjust and deal with reality. Children are resilient, but we’ve already asked so much of them, while our leadership stands by as fully grown adults skirt commonsense safety protocols like mask-wearing because “they violate my freedom!” If a two-year-old can wear a mask without a fuss, there’s no excuse for adults to break the rules. It’s utter nonsense.

As an aside, I think it’s awesome that businesses like Trader Joe’s notice kids and try to make what is otherwise a dull outing a little more exciting for them. That’s just one reason I’ll keep shopping there (well that, and the irresistible snack aisle, but that’s another post entirely).

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