What If He Can’t Wear A Mask?

Growing up, the word “Mask” always made me think of Jim Carrey mugging it up for the camera and shouting, “Smoooooking!” Ha ha. Good times. Man, I miss those days. Now, due to the coronavirus, it makes me think of controversy, pandemic, and Armageddon. Welcome to the jungle, Ace Ventura. We’re all going down.

Now look, I’m no a scientist and my 8th grade Earth Science teacher would gladly back that up. I am, however, an adult who has grown up learning that you don’t want people to get their mucus on you. That’s kind of a universal rule I’ve lived by. Coronavirus or not, keep your mucus to yourself.

maskFor that reason alone, I am totally on board with wearing masks indoors when around strangers, at least for the time being. You don’t know where I’ve been. I don’t know where you’ve been. I am not offended. Even in the absence of a pandemic, I don’t want Joe Q. Public breathing on my neck while we wait at the Target checkout. Six feet, pal. You’re nasty.

I guess people argue that masks don’t actually kill coronavirus. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure that plexiglass and shirt sleeves don’t kill many illnesses either. But I’m not about to demand that people stop covering their mouths when they sneeze or petition that they take the sneeze-guards off of the salad bar at Sizzler. I mean, seriously. Would you eat lettuce that the neighborhood has been blowing their nose in over the course of an afternoon?

I wanted to get that out of the way, although none of it matters in the context of this post. That’s not what I’m writing about here. No matter what side of the political fence I may land on, one thing is definite – in New York, we have to wear masks when walking indoors at most establishments. From restaurants to doctors’ offices, you are expected to cover your breathing holes upon entry.

That presents a major problem in my inner circle. My nine-year-old, non-verbal son with autism has always been fiercely anti-mask…although not for a political reason. More for the “get that thing off my face” reason.

Lucas’s Halloween costumes have long been mask-less because of his sensory issues. Last year he was Elvis. The year before, he was John Cena. You have to take the clock back a few years to get to one that had a face cover –  his Kindergarten Incredible Hulk outfit. With the exception of the ten seconds he wore it while I snapped a picture, he wouldn’t put that thing anywhere near his face and spent the day without it. His costume ended being a jacked up human with a mutated green body. He was The Incredible Skin Disease Man.

The mask mandate has kept us grounded for months because, well, I know my kid. I remember those days. I know the battle to balance a rain cap on him to block the downpour or hovering a nebulizer breathing mask below his nose because he refuses to strap it on for a treatment. He used to be a really tough customer when it comes to those things.

And there’s that magic phrase – used to be.

I’m operating on memories and preconceived notions here. Few, if any, examples are recent since I surrendered the mask fight years ago. After many battles to keep his head covered for silly costumed reasons, I gave up. In a world of battles with my child, I learned to pick and choose when I went to war. Halloween costumes never really made the cut. If my little guy didn’t want a mask, my little guy didn’t wear a mask.

This, however, isn’t about tricks or treats. This is real life. This is about family outings and dinner dates. So, yesterday, when we were heading out to celebrate my 29th birthday for the 14th straight year, I knew he had to don a facemask for our walk from the entrance-way to the table. It was less than a minute of his face covered, but it still brought me hours of worry.

And, once again, when the time came for him to do what was needed, Lucas hit it out of the park like a champ.

masksNow don’t get me wrong. He didn’t love it. He’s not ready to don a facemask and star in an off-Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera, but he handled it. Sure, he pawed at it a bit and we had to hold both his hands through the parking lot, but he kept it on until we were seated. There were no meltdowns or screams of bloody murder. As is usually the case, he exceeded expectations and obliterated my fears. That’s my boy.

It could have gone horribly wrong and, if I simply gasped on to what he used to do as an example of what he will do today, I never would have known it was possible. Instead, I gave him the chance to show he could do it and, sure enough, he did it.

So, is that the moral of the story? Put a mask on your kids and they’ll be fine? No. I’m sure there are many people out there reading this who would have had those very same meltdowns I envisioned. In fact, had his mask requirement stretched beyond sixty seconds, things would have probably entered the danger zone. We could have easily been on the verge of a catastrophe. Some other families in our position might not have been so lucky.

Please be conscious of that. Try to offer those struggling in a world of new safety regulations some compassion. Not all people can function with something strapped on their faces. They may be melting down outside a supermarket or, in many cases, stuck in their homes with no end in sight. The unique nature of this lockdown and all that comes with it affects many families differently. Some might not simply be “impatient about getting back to normal”. For them, it could be much more detrimental.

We hung up our rainbows. We clapped for the medical staff. Now, try to remember those who are unsure of how or when they can ever leave their home. More than ever, we need each other. If you know a family with a member who might have issues with these mandates, you can always offer to help them out – whether with shopping, errands, or even just support. Even if they say no, they’ll appreciate the offer more than you may realize.