How would 9-year-old me have survived a pandemic in 1984?

by Kate Hogan Green

“Would you rather be a red panda or a turtle?”

 “What’s your favorite color?” 

“Can I show you the new room I built in Roblox?”

My 9-year-old daughter, Adelaide has been throwing these random questions at me nonstop since March. Moreover, they come at me while I am trying to work from home. 

Her 6-year-old sister,  Lorelei, demands snacks every 10 minutes, insists I play Barbies with her and just recently tried making me coffee.  

At least I get a reprieve from the constant talking and need for attention whenever Adelaide jumps on her iPad (wait, did I just say “her” iPad; that thing is actually mine) or Lorelei watches endless episodes of Bunk’d on Netflix. 

As a parent, I am both grateful for and resentful of the technology my kids have at their fingertips.  I can’t help but reflect on how different our childhoods are. I wonder what a pandemic in 1984 would have looked like for 9-year-old me? 

I am the youngest of five children. My mom was a freelance artist so she worked from home regularly.  My dad was a newspaper reporter, so he was gone most evenings, leaving mom, who had little patience as it was, alone with the kids. 

I have definitely grown to appreciate my mother since becoming a mom. I can barely manage these two girls. Five kids? No way! 

A pandemic in 1984 would have left me home with my impatient mother, my 20-year-old sister, Mary, who was working and going to school at the time, 14-year-old brother, Tim, and 12-year-old sister, Megan.  At the time, Marty, eldest of the Hogan sibs, would have been living in an apartment away at college or in officer candidate school for the Air Force. In reality, we had the pool at the YMCA, neighborhood soccer games, and slumber parties to keep us busy.  But a pandemic with no access to the pool or our friends and no internet, no Netflix, no iPad?  I shudder at the thought.  

I reached out to Mary, Tim and Megan to ponder our collective upbringing to conceive of what it would have been like to experience what our own children are going through right now. All four of us wondered how our parents would have survived not dragging us to Catholic mass every Sunday. We smiled delightfully at the idea of not being forced to endure the most excruciating hour of the week. 

However, the overarching theme among all of us is that we would have come together to keep our mother sane. Not to be outdone by the need to entertain yours truly — I was an imaginative and athletic kid but I was an extrovert and the youngest child, so my need for social engagement would have required a lot of energy from the older Hogan sibs.  

“You would have been a fucking handful. What the shit could we have done to entertain Kate,” Tim asked.  

OK, really? Come on, now.  I was not that difficult. I was just a spirited child… with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD. 

Tim said he would have designated himself the household fun-time engineer. Since we would not have been able to enjoy the pool at the YMCA, we would have created a water park of slip-n-slides in the backyard. There would have been more expansive make-shift slip-n-slides made with Kroger brand garbage bags, duct-taped together and staked into the ground with wire hangers. 

As ideal an older brother as Tim would have lived up to, there are some things that transcend time and global pandemics.  

“I would have come up with ways to torment you guys to entertain myself,” Tim admitted. 

That definitely checks out, Timmer. Way to do your part to keep Mom sane. 

My oldest sister, Mary, said she was already working as many hours as she could avoid being at home, especially on Sundays (because none of us liked church). Since Mary was 10 years older than me, she was already a tertiary parent. We imagined that on her days off, she would have taken us on adventures, picnics at the park and hikes in the woods.  

“I might have taken you guys fishing,” she said.   After a long pause, she laughed to herself, “I might have.”

Have you ever gone fishing, Mary? Your imagination is quite ambitious. 

Not being able to picture that, Mary and I figured there would have been more backyard games, such as pickle tournaments, swinging statues, red light green light, freeze tag and crack the whip.  

Are my kids missing this part of childhood? Maybe it’s time to turn the TV off, take away the devices and get outside for some more adventures. Ah, who am I kidding? 

At first, I imagined quarantining at home in the 1980s as an absolute bone-chilling nightmare.  After talking to Tim and Mary, I was feeling nostalgic.  Then, I called my sister Megan. 

“I just picture mom strangling all of us with the extra-long telephone cord. At least one of us would have died, but not from COVID-19,” Megan said jokingly (I think). “All of us would have had PTSD.  Mom would have definitely started drinking.” 

Wow, Megs, that is dark. 

I asked Megan how she would have managed all the endless talking and demands to play Barbies from her little sister. 

“You would have made more clothes for Barbie and your Barbie community would have grown far outside of the basement play area. Oh, and you would have shaved all the Barbie heads,” Megan said. 

I was very creative with my Barbie play. My Skipper doll had a shaved head and pushpin earrings all along her ears – she was punk Skipper. If we do reduce the TV time with my kids, I am definitely going to hide the scissors. 

Thinking more about how she would have handled her chatty little sister, Megan said, “I would have spent more time alone in the woods.” 

Wait? You went to the woods to get away? I did not know this.  Good on you, Megs. An introvert’s gotta do what an introvert’s gotta do. 

As my older siblings and I mused about what life with COVID would have been like in the 1980s, without technology and outside of the possible homicide by phone cord, it became clear to me that we would have been fine. We would have grown closer with the very important unified mission to keep little Kate entertained and our mother sane. 

I just wish my own children would unify to keep me sane.  Oh, and I would so love to find some woods to escape to. 

Kate Hogan Green is the mother of two daughters and lives for moments alone in her garden… even though she doesn’t even like gardening that much.