Where Are the Rules?



I’m a rule follower. I drive at the speed limit, keep my kids in the appropriate size car seats, and always meticulously measure out the teaspoon of salt in a recipe. Following rules gives me security in my actions and defense that I am doing the right things, that anything adverse is out of my control.

These last three months have been challenging, less so about staying in the house, and more so about navigating interactions for myself and especially my kids. With public health officials advising a continuation of vigilance and our elected officials itching to get the economy moving, there are no true rules in the most important part of our lives right now.

In my ideal world, my family and I would still be in a small cocoon in our house, receiving deliveries and airing our packages out in the sun for three days. I still haven’t set foot in a grocery (or other) store in three months, I’ve postponed my preventive care visits, and I’ve stayed vigilant in staying more than 6 feet apart, and only outdoors. I still give my husband dirty looks when he ventures to UPS. Yet I’ve allowed, even encouraged, my kids to go out and interact with others. Yet I’ve grabbed up spots in the skating rink for my youngest and enrolled in backyard cheer camp for my oldest.

While my friends can’t understand why I would let my kid run free for hours a day but refuse to go into a store, at least the New York Times threw me a bone. The concept of giving yourself an “exposure budget” and allocating your points among activities is completely rational, it turns out. One starts with however many points represent their overall risk tolerance and then calculates point values for each activity. You might use up all your points on a few high-risk activities or spread them among many low-risk ones. Points exist within a family, because, well, contagion. As with all things we parents do, a big chunk of our points go to our kids.

And interactions between kids is what’s the most difficult to navigate. With families all making our own rules, following our own extrapolations of our favored articles, and aligning with our favored politicians and public figures, we parents all have different rules as well as wildly different interpretations of six feet. And when our kids mix, it’s hard.

In the COVID-19 world (and only in the COVID-19 world), I find myself to be somewhere in the middle of non-neurotic. Some of my kids’ friends have yet to leave the perimeter of their yards while others are unrestricted in their interactions. And to further complicate matters, we can’t control what our kids do when they are out of sight. Unlike most safety issues, like car seats, what your kid does (or what you do, for that matter) impacts my kid (and my family), and suddenly we’re all intertwined with someone else’s exposure budget.

I, for one, can’t wait for a return to school in the fall with a new normal, one in which rules are established that can at least set a standard for what our kids become accustomed to following. Whatever they are, I know that at least they will take the burden off me being the Debbie Downer for some and the wild woman for others. Bring back the rules!


  1. I’m still on the fence about spending time indoors around people, even limited numbers. It feels to me like we should be playing it safe until the threat is actually neutralized, only making exceptions for more necessary exposure. The hard part for me is figuring out what is necessary. For example, visiting with family and having some social interaction in person is important for our mental well being. I can imagine having older children is especially difficult. They have minds of their own, and are harder to keep in a controlled environment. The politics are maddening. Public health should unify us, not divide us like this. If only everyone respected (real) science equally!

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