How do you explain social distancing to a 2-year-old girl who just wants to hug her grandparents?
Benjamin Lindquist, MD, a Stanford clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine, gave it a try when he brought his daughter Kiley to see relatives soon after the COVID-19 outbreak began.
To help other parents in the same situation, he wrote a children's book entitled I Love You When You're Close and When You're Far Away. Lindquist is donating proceeds to GetUsPPE.org, a group that is collecting personal protective equipment for health care workers during the pandemic.
I spoke with him about his inspiration and process.
What was the impetus for writing your first book for children?
My family and I had been traveling in Kauai in February for clinical work at Kauai Veteran's Memorial Hospital. After I got back, I brought my daughter Kiley to visit her grandparents. Sheltering-in-place hadn't been announced yet, but we were certainly already concerned about virus transmission and beginning to practice social distancing.
While there, I tried to explain that Kiley couldn't act the way she normally does around her grandparents, which was really confusing for a 2-year old. She was saying, 'Why are we staying outside the house?' and 'Why can't I hug grandma and grandpa?' I wanted to relay to her that even if they can't hug her, it doesn't change how much they love her.
You produced the book very quickly - what was your process?
It was pretty quick to write, as they are super-simple rhymes for a 2-year-old. But publishing it took quite a bit more effort.
My initial plan was to write it for my family; so I ran the text by my wife and sent it to my parents -- and they all loved it. Next thing I know, my sister connected me with an illustrator she knew. I sent the illustrator, Jena Holliday, some photos of my family and described what I thought some of the images would look like. She was so gracious to complete the project in a couple weeks when it normally takes months. Fortunately, my sister designs books for a living, so having her on the team was also essential.
What does Kiley think of the book?
Kiley really appreciates the rhymes and the pictures, especially because the images are inspired by her grandparents and cousins. She doesn't quite have it fully memorized, but she can finish most of the sentences and she'll point to the illustrations and say, 'Kiley.'
When the paperback finally arrived, she requested to read the book over and over, stating 'again' emphatically after each read. It's hard to tell with a 2-year-old how much they understand about what is going on in the world around them.
Over the course of the pandemic, her normal day-to-day routine has been interrupted; she can't go to the library or gymnastics or the coffee shop. She understands the idea of germs and constantly points to everyone's masks; and she'll now say, 'Give them space.' The goal of the book was to help explain some of those concepts.
What has the broad response been?
I've heard from many people that their family can relate to the images, and it's helped them cope with the challenges of this new way of living. I've heard from preschool and kindergarten teachers how helpful it has been for their students. I've even had the opportunity to read the book over Zoom to some classrooms.
Can the book's message resonate beyond the pandemic?
I think it can also be more broadly applied outside of the current pandemic. Many adults have a debilitating illness, like cancer, where their immune systems are suppressed, and they have to be careful around young ones.
Unfortunately, some children also suffer from serious disease where contracting a mild illness can be life-threatening. The book can help explain that even though children may be physically separated from a loved one for a time, they are still loved just the same.
Photo of Benjamin Lindquist and his daughter Kiley courtesy of Lindquist