“Will I die of coronavirus?” the boy asked.

“It’s highly unlikely,” I responded. “Good night.” And I put out his light.

He might have been looking for certainty, an assurance from his father that everything was going to be all right. Perhaps some parents do that for their children, apply absolute answers where statistics indicate a small chance exists, but I’ve never been that parent, and he’s gotten similar answers whenever he’s asked about bad men breaking in, fires, or the various other real world concerns he’s expressed in his thirteen years.

When he was afraid of monsters, though, he got a certain answer: Monsters can’t get you because our cats eat monsters.

I wish I could have offered him more certainty than that, but he’s becoming an adult now, and he needs to learn risk assessment and how adults deal with something unknown, scary, and possible but unlikely.

A pandemic threat hits me right in the primal fear. Personally, I think it’s from reading The Andromeda Strain when I was young and getting the willies from it and later reading The Stand and being part of the nineties zeitgeist that had a bunch of films about pandemics (Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, Virus, and the miniseries version of The Stand). I’m not sure I’ve actually seen any of those films, but when I was twenty-something, diseases were breaking out all over.

So I have a tickle of fear when I start hearing about epidemics of deadly infectious diseases. We were scheduled to go to Disney World around time of the hyped 2014 Ebola outbreak, and I considered cancelling our plans because, hey, where are a lot of travelers who might be carrying an airborne version of Ebola going? Florida.

I did not cancel, of course, and I’ve gotten a little less jumpy (internally jumpy, gentle reader; I do so try for the stoic ideal in demonstration anyway). I have considered this month When is it too early to keep the children from going to school and to cancel our vacation plans?

The answer, of course, is now. Although if it ever gets to be too late, I will wish I had acted on my paranoia sooner. It’s a rough life, being paranoid and lazy.

But I do think that this “outbreak” is overhyped, that the novel nature of it make it more newsworthy than the flu but it doesn’t look now like it’s anything worse. Perhaps it is; perhaps I am just scanning the headlines with unwarranted skepticism and reserve.

So my message to my children about how an adult handles, erm, concerns about things outside of his control such as COVID-19:

  • You don’t know the number of your days, so live each one as best as you can and always say “I love you” to the people you love.
  • If you’re concerned about future events, lay up some supplies that you can later donate if and when you’re feeling comfortable. Of course, it’s always a good idea to lay up some supplies even when you’re not concerned.
  • Laugh at what you fear.

    Of course, this will come off as insensitive to people who are losing loved ones to the disease. As you know, I have some family members who are of an age to be at real risk for dying from coronavirus (or the seasonal flu). But I am the kind of unfeeling person who makes inappropriate jokes when his own mother lies in the ICU and the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. So I can separate my laughter from my mourning. And, apparently, my fear of infectious disease.

So that’s the behavior I model for my children, anyway. I hope it comforts them in its consistency.

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