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COVID KIDS: In outbreak, kids adjust, stay safe, keep a positive outlook

News Photo by Darby Hinkley From left to right, Cole Rushing, Scarlett Thompson, Poppy Thompson, and Stella Rushing play on the merry-go-round at the Kiwanis Kiddie Park at Bay View Park in Alpena.

ALPENA — Change. Even 5-year-olds know it’s hard.

But kids are showing their resiliency by keeping a positive outlook despite all the changes they’ve been through since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic spurred mass shutdowns, including school as kids once knew it.

“It was kind of hard, at first, because I didn’t really know what was happening,” said Cole Rushing, 11, who will be in fifth grade at Besser Elementary School this fall. “It was just, like, everything was shut down. I couldn’t even do my last game of basketball for the year. Everything closed down for a while. It was weird.”

He and his sister, Stella, 9, live in Alpena with their parents, David and Emily. Their mom brought them to the Kiwanis Kiddie Park at Bay View Park last Tuesday afternoon, along with their friends, Scarlett Thompson, 9, and Poppy Thompson, 5, visiting from Los Angeles. The Thompsons are the children of Jane McCaw and Todd Thompson.

“I thought it was just going to be a short thing, like the flu, at the beginning,” Scarlett Thompson said. “But, after I was stuck at home for a couple months doing homeschool, I was like, ‘This is probably going to last for a while.'”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Cole Rushing, 11, of Alpena, swings on the monkey bars last week at the Kiwanis Kiddie Park in Alpena.

“It was kind of scary, at first,” Cole Rushing said.

Now that it’s been several months, “I’m kind of getting used to it,” he said. “But you can’t really get used to this kind of thing. But, like, it’s gotten easier through it all, and I’m not really that scared of it, anymore.”

He said he’s adapted to the changes, such as wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and social distancing.

But it’s still weird. His sports were canceled and he hasn’t seen his friends as much as he normally would this summer.

“Gymnastics, soccer, and probably more sports,” he said of activities that were canceled. “I think I was going to do tennis practice, even, too.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley From left to right, Stella Rushing, Scarlett Thompson, and Poppy Thompson play on the see-saw at the Kiwanis Kiddie Park in Alpena.

Sailing club was canceled, too, which he and his sister enjoyed in previous summers.

“I was really just kind of annoyed by it,” he said. “It really sucked.”

Cole said he is just a little worried about contracting the virus, but he knows how to avoid it.

“Wash your hands, hand sanitizer, wear masks, cough into your arm, and try to social distance, like, six feet away and stuff,” he said.

Poppy Thompson, 5, is fully aware of the precautions surrounding the public health crisis.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Siblings Kameryn Liske, 12, and Karsen Liske, 10, pose for a photo after talking about how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Asked what she thinks of the pandemic, she asked, “What is a pandemic?”

But once the situation was explained to her, she responded with her knowledge of how to stay healthy.

“I’ve been staying really safe,” she said, adding that her aunt told her she doesn’t have to wear a mask because she’s too young. “I don’t like it, because I have to wear masks. I’m actually really old enough.”

She will be 6 on Aug. 22, and she is headed into kindergarten this fall.

“I don’t want to get sick and get the COVID, so I’m being really safe and stuff like that,” she added.

“At the start of the pandemic, I was scared, but now I’m only a little bit scared,” 9-year-old Stella Rushing said. “Masks are not very comfy … I want to see my friends at school, but I don’t want to wear a mask, but I also want to go to school because my mom’s not the best homeschool teacher. I have to say that.”

Cole Rushing said he’s seen some of his friends, but not as much as usual. He’s been riding his bike, playing on his Xbox, taking walks, going to Long Lake, and playing with his dog, Sailor, a miniature Labradoodle.

“I have a trampoline, so I do flips and stuff on that,” he said.

His sister, Stella Rushing, said it was hard not to see her friends or travel at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I felt kind of sad, because, at my birthday, I couldn’t go anywhere to celebrate it,” she said. “It was also kind of fun, because I got to be with my family. We ride bikes and, well, we had a little trip.”

She was talking about bringing home her best friend, Scarlett, and her sister, Poppy, whom they picked up in Idaho (the families met halfway) for a weeklong visit. During the state-ordered stay-at-home period in the spring, Stella and Scarlett actually grew closer, though they were thousands of miles apart.

“It brought me and Stella closer together, because we started FaceTiming all the time, even though we haven’t seen each other in four years,” Scarlett Thompson said.

She was sad her in-person mixed martial arts classes were postponed for a while, but she does MMA and gymnastics at home. She is also in soccer, tennis, and skiing at different times of the year. She also loves doing artwork with her dad, who is an artist, and horseback riding. She and her sister share a horse named Jack.

“He’s a very funny horse,” Scarlett Thompson said. “He likes drinking beer.”

She said the hardest part about the pandemic has been not being able to see extended family, socialize with friends, or leave the house much. She said she is not worried about catching COVID-19, but she is tired of the pandemic.

“It has made me a little claustrophobic,” the 9-year-old said. “But it has been pretty fun being able to be with my family more. They help me learn and stuff.”

That same Tuesday afternoon, 12-year-old Kameryn Liske talked about how she misses spending more time with her friends and the activities like dance and sports canceled because of the pandemic. She also used to have a lot of sleepovers after dance and activities, but she had to halt that during the stay-home orders. She is going into seventh grade at Thunder Bay Junior High.

“I had to miss dance for a few months,” she said, noting that she is now back in dance class, but it is different. “We have to put X’s on the floor at dance and stand six feet apart, which is hard because, in dance, we’re kind of supposed to stand closer together.”

She is in ballet, jazz and tap now. She used to do hip-hop and acro, she said.

Her brother, Karsen Liske, 10, added that he missed hanging out with his friends during the stay-home period at the beginning of the pandemic. He was still able to play baseball with the Blockheads travel team, but some games were canceled. They are the children of Matt and Alicia Liske, of Hubbard Lake.

Karsen Liske said he likes to play hockey, baseball and golf.

“I just went today,” he said last week about golfing.

He’s ridden his bike a lot and jumped on their new trampoline, a reward for earning good grades this year. His family also built a batting cage this summer for him to practice baseball.

At first, Kameryn Liske thought the pandemic would quickly pass.

“I just thought that this wasn’t going to be a big deal, and this is just going to pass, but it turned into way more than I thought it would be,” she said.

As a whole, the six kids interviewed here said they prefer in-person school to online learning, and that they are looking forward to getting back into the classroom, even if it may look a little different this year.

“School, if it starts up, it’s going to be really weird how it turns out,” Cole said. “I think you have to wear masks and everything. It’s going to be really weird. It’s really confusing. I don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

He said doing homework online was much more difficult than being in the classroom.

“I did a little bit of online stuff,” he said. “I feel pretty ready” for fifth grade. “I just really don’t want to do the online stuff. It was pretty hard for me … It’s just hard not being able to talk to somebody for help.”

Kameryn Liske said it will be strange to only go to school for a few days a week at the junior high level. Alpena Public Schools plans to alternate in-person and online classes for older students so fewer students are in the building at one time.

“Well, he’s going to school all five days,” Kameryn Liske said of her brother, who is still in elementary school. “And I’m pretty sure I’m only going for two days a week. Just because the junior high is a lot bigger than elementary schools.

“I don’t like it at all,” she said. “When the pandemic first started, we had to do kind of an online school when we figured out that we weren’t going back to school … It was way too stressful. Just, it’s a lot harder than being in actual school, where you have teachers there to help you. But our parents aren’t, like, home all day to help you. They’re at work doing stuff.”

She is not looking forward to wearing a mask all day at school, either.

“It makes it hard to breathe,” she said. “And it makes my glasses fog up.”

Since she has been home during quarantine, the seventh-grader has busied herself with hobbies such as painting and making beaded jewelry. She has also enjoyed spending more time with her dog, Nola, a chocolate Lab.

Their grandparents have a cottage on Long Lake, so they have spent a good deal of time out there this summer as well.

When asked if he could think of anything positive that came from the pandemic, Cole Rushing said, “A longer summer.”

“Next summer, probably every kid is going to be like, ‘Why is summer so short?'” he added.

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