To mask or not to mask: A lesson in care and confidence

The headlines that flooded my newsfeed and inbox this week were nothing short of frightening. And they were not the headlines about the violence in Afghanistan, the fires raging in the west or the weather pounding the eastern and southern United States.

Nearly every other headline was about whether school-aged students should — or should not — be required to wear masks. Involvement of courts, application of federal statutes, bans, fines and expulsions. I had to read some of the headlines twice to be reminded of the story in front of me.

While I have been hesitant to wade into a debate on masking, I do want to come into a conversation with others about how to use this moment to talk about care and confidence. Care for self and care for others. Confidence to speak up and become our own advocate.

Raising two middle school boys (as a single mom, nonetheless) is a challenge in and of itself.

Raising two middle school boys who need to be reminded (truthfully) to brush their teeth and shower (I know you hear me, fellow parents!) every day is also exhausting.

But raising two middle school boys who have chosen to wear a mask in public spaces — including school — is not a challenge I have faced over the last year-and-a-half.

My boys’ commitment to wearing a mask has nothing to do with the policy their charter school (or our school district) has put in place. Their commitment to wearing a mask has nothing to do with their mom nagging them each day. And their commitment to wearing a mask has nothing to do with scare tactics or news headlines.

My two boys have routinely been wearing their masks because 18 months ago, we started talking about how we can care for other people, particularly when we really don’t have any idea of what is going on in their lives, with their bodies, or in their homes. The refrain of “You never know what someone else is going through, so be kind. Always,” has become the mantra of our family through 2020 and into this year.

We have talked a lot about why people may need to wear a mask. Their tolerance for the virus may be diminished. They may have someone at home who is immunocompromised. Their values may be ones that are different from ours. 

Which has led to a conversation about confidence.

Confidence?

Yes. Confidence. The confidence to speak up when something is uncomfortable. The confidence to speak up when a situation feels dangerous. The confidence to speak up when values don’t align. 

The boys have both been in situations over the tenure of the pandemic that have been uncomfortable for them — in crowded spaces, closed train cars and even small gatherings — and they have spoken up. Asked people around them to wear a mask, open a window or step outside.

I have been looking for silver linings a lot over the last year-and-a-half. The silver lining to wearing a mask is that I have been able to teach my boys ownership and agency. Ownership of a decision and agency to speak up on behalf of themselves and others, whom they may know to be in danger.

I hope this lesson will carry into their young adult lives, and beyond. And one day they can look back at the mask tucked away in a trunk or memory box and see it as a tool that empowered them, not an object that silenced them.

Alison Griffin
Alison Griffin is a Peak to Peak Charter School Parent & Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Colorado League of Charter Schools.

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