I am a life-long New Yorker. I spent the first twenty-two years of my life in Nassau County, fifteen years in Manhattan, and I am now a resident of Westchester County, where I live with my husband and our three young children. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a New Yorker, because it meant something to those who never called the Empire State home: it meant that we have a certain resilience, a certain brashness, a willingness to tackle hard things, relentless tenacity, and that we don’t shy away from the fights worth fighting. Earlier this morning the New York State Senate voted entirely along party lines to keep our kids masked in school. Earlier this morning, New York came right out and announced that it’s placing politics above our kids. I’m not proud of New York right now. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
Over the last two years, Albany changed what it meant to be from here. The marketing machine that began in the spring of 2020 informed us that being “New York Tough” meant locking ourselves away, pulling our kids out of school, masking our faces, vaccinating, double vaccinating, getting booster shots, vaccinating our twelve-year olds, vaccinating our five-year olds, and we did it. The vast majority of the adults in Westchester County––a whopping 96% according to the State’s own website––is vaccinated. We’ve done what the politicians asked us to do, and now it’s time for all of us to demand that New York State allows for mask-choice in schools. Connecticut is doing it. New Jersey is doing it. Maybe Hochul has forgotten that New York typically leads––we don’t follow. Maybe she’s assuming that here in Westchester, where we’ve heavily voted for blue candidates in recent elections, she doesn’t have to listen to us. She’s got us–– so she can therefore ignore us. Politics is funny like that.
We’ve come to the point in this pandemic where parents should be given a choice. I’m aware that until recently, saying you don’t want your kids in masks has been akin to admitting that you don’t like babies, puppies, or your best friend’s aged grandparents. I’d like to remind anyone who still feels that way that the kids have sacrificed more than enough for the adults for way too long. They gave up their whole lives for us: their schools, their friends, their graduations, their sports, their play-dates, their birthday parties, their speech and physical therapies––in the name of protecting the vulnerable. Well kids are vulnerable, too––just not from this virus. If we’re all going to resume life without masks, then the kids come with us, period. This shouldn’t be a question. It shouldn’t be a consideration. It should be a foregone conclusion. For adults to quietly allow the children to be left behind is a pretty clear indication that the days of referring to ourselves as a civilized society are over. If we can have gyms, and bars, and restaurants, and concerts, and Super Bowls, and the Oscars without masks, then the kids can have school. Is this really a hard concept for people to unite behind? I remember a time when we wouldn’t have subordinated classrooms to spin studios and nail salons. I remember a time when we would’ve instinctively put children first without having to think about it. Sadly, my kids don’t––because for one-third of their lives, we haven’t.
Is that what it now means to be “New York Tough”?
No. I really don’t think so.
Shelley B. Mayer is the State Senator for the 37thdistrict, which represents most of Westchester County, and who voted against mask-choice in schools this morning. The day is going to come where the kids turn to the adults in their lives and ask the inevitable question: How could you let them do that to us? I’ll be able to say that I tried my best to fight for them–– that I pushed as hard as I could, and that I begged our fellow New Yorkers to push for them, too. I have my answer.
Erin Duffy of New York is the author of “Bond Girl” and “Regrets Only.”