Over the years, my children have been invited to more than a few parties and, generally speaking, I have happily let them go.
However, at the risk of sounding like a killjoy, I have declined a party invite twice on my children's behalf. Why? Because both times, the verbal invitation went something along the lines of this - "(Child's name) has chicken pox, so I was thinking of getting a few of their friends around so everyone can get it now and be done with it."
Sorry, but invites to 'pox parties' get a firm ''no" from me.
It's not that I don't love a good party, I do, but I prefer my children to come home from parties with a face covered in cake icing and the inevitable ensuing sugar high, not with the high chance of itchy, pus-filled blisters and a week or three of feeling miserable and low.
This week, I declined something else - an invite to sign an online petition calling for the Government to back down on the rule for mask wearing in schools for children. According the petition's creator, there's "not a lot of fun in having to wear a mask for a whole day", and the enforcement of the rule is "devastating to many".
The petition creator says she has taught in the education sector for over two decades, as well as being a parent themselves. As someone who is also a parent and trained educator, I feel in a position to respond to some of the points or arguments the petition makes.
Actually, no I don't. Because while I am a trained educator and an untrained-but-seem-to-doing-okay parent of three, I am not a doctor, a scientist or, in any way, an infectious disease specialist. Nor, I note, does the petition creator claim to be.
Of course, we can all have opinions, regardless of our training or any degree, but that doesn't make them qualified ones, just ours. Fortunately, when it comes to my children wearing masks to school this year, there are plenty of qualified people available to seek advice from.
Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles writes (on the University of Auckland website) that while the simple act of talking to a person can come with a high risk of transmitting the virus, the risk is reduced if the infectious person is wearing a mask and reduced even further if both people are wearing a mask.
The petition argues children can be socially distanced rather than have to wear a mask, and while of course social distancing certainly helps minimise spread, even my O Level science knowledge is enough to understand Dr Wiles' point that wearing a mask further minimises the risk.
Also, putting on both my parenting and teaching hats for a moment, my 10-year-old, like most of his peers, is great at many things (like Minecraft, building complicated Lego structures and always finding room in his tummy for icecream) but he's not so great at not touching things or keeping his distance from his friends.
Everything around him is touched, fidgeted with, handled numerous times, so stopping those pesky potentially virus-transmitting respiratory droplets from jumping between him and his peers seems like a good idea to me.
The petition also argues masks hinder children's ability to develop, socialise and thrive emotionally, saying "recent overseas studies" (no links, authors or institutions provided) demonstrate this.
Without knowing exactly what overseas studies are being referred to, it's not easy to work out what may or may not be factually accurate in that statement, however experts quoted in a range of publications and articles on the subject, both here and overseas, don't appear to be predicting any potential long-term effects of mask-wearing for children.
"We should give more credit to our own children ... that being covered for a few hours every day isn't going to make them less able to recognise social expressions." (Eva Chen, developmental psychologist and associate professor quoted in the New York Times)
The choice to protect other children, teachers and families "far outweighs the potential theoretical issue that might come up as a result of wearing face masks", says Dr Hugh Bases, a clinical associate professor of paediatrics in the USA, quoted in a CNN Health article.
Another argument the petition puts forward is that it (the rule on masks) "doesn't make sense when everyone can be outside all together playing with no masks during breaks".
For starters, I would think any educator or parent would know not everything does make sense. Have you ever tried to explain the "i before e rule" in grammar, and then list all the exceptions, or what about the well-known parenting dilemma of teaching our children not to accept sweets from strangers, unless they are dressed as Santa, or it's Halloween, or a random bunny that has apparently run through your garden dropping chocolate eggs around Easter.?
Actually though, the whole masks on inside, masks okay to be off outside DOES make sense.
Ventilation is a key factor in minimising the spread, which is why 5000 air cleaners have been ordered for New Zealand schools.
"As we know, along with vaccination, testing, good hygiene and physical distancing, good ventilation is important in minimising the risk of airborne transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19," said Education Minister Chris Hipkins last week.
In other words, as the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) states, "You are less likely to be exposed to Covid-19 during outdoor activities, even without the use of masks."
While the petition itself doesn't claim it, many of the people sharing the petition have done so alongside statements around the (false) belief wearing a face mask makes children breathe in carbon dioxide from re-breathing the air they breathe out.
Not true, says paediatric pulmonologist Dr Kimberly M. Dickinson on the American Academy of Pediatrics website healthychildren.org.
"Carbon dioxide molecules are very tiny, even smaller than respiratory droplets. They cannot be trapped by breathable materials like cloth or disposable masks."
The petition also states children and their teachers need to be able to work in a safe, inclusive, fun environment and I completely agree. The difference is, I see masks as being part of the solution, not the problem.
Just like I didn't want my children to catch chickenpox if I could prevent it (and thanks to the varicella vaccine, they didn't), I don't want them to experience Covid-19 if possible. I don't want their friends to catch it either, and that's the great thing about wearing masks, they aren't just about keeping ourselves safe, they help keep the others in the room safe too. You can't get more inclusive than that really.
As for fun? Just like my youngest can always find room for icecream, so children are great at always being able to find the fun in any situation. Thanks to the range of fabrics and designs available, his biggest problem with masks is choosing between a Minecraft print or an ostrich one each day. Masks don't kill joy, but they do help stop our precious tamariki getting sick, and that gets a firm yes from me.