The sword of Damocles

Sword of Damocles - child on treetrunk

Have you ever heard of the sword of Damocles? I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, in relation to having a child during this pandemic. Let me explain.

Sword of Damocles, what-now?

The tale of Damocles is a — most likely fictional — story from ancient Greece. Damocles visited his King Dionysius, trying to sell him something or rather, and exclaiming the virtues and wealth of the King. The King then asked Damocles if he would like to be king for a day. Damocles agreed, but Dionysius had hung a sword above the throne, hung by a single horse hair.

The idea was that, yes, being King granted one wealth, but it also meant one had an ever-present shadow of defeat and death hanging over once life. Or, to put it like Spider-man: with great power comes great responsibility.

You’re calling your kid a sword?

Of course not, my daughter is not a sword of Damocles. However, over the course of the pandemic, the Dutch government has tweaked the Covid rules quite a lot. And the net result of these rules has been that the rules have been hanging over my head like a Sword of Damocles.

That begs some explanation. You see, when Covid first started, we had a lockdown, then slowly things got back to normal. However, that was the first half of 2020, and things changed in the fall. ‘How?’ you ask. Well, as the pandemic progressed, the governments tightened the rules for children, almost like thumbscrews.

Since the fall of 2020, whenever my daughter has a cold, she has to be kept home. That was roughly once a month, for a few days. When the lockdown at the end of 2020 rolled around, she’d missed quite a few days of school already. The lockdown kept us indoors, with bad weather for another two months. That alone was maddening.

When the schools opened back up, the government tightened the rules yet again. Whenever a child had a cold, they also had to get tested, like everybody else. That meant, in practice, roughly a test a month. You can see where this is going.

Now, that was bad enough, but we’re now at the beginning of 2022, and my daughter was only now eligible for a vaccine this week.

Exhausting to the end

I feel for people who’ve suffered under the constant lockdowns. It’s no fun to be unable to go out partying. It must be terrible to be young in this pandemic. You want to experience life, but time and again the government strikes down those hopes.

However, for parents, we’ve had a Sword of Damocles over our heads non-stop since the summer of 2020. No breaks, no end in sight, just endless and unrelenting stress. When you’re in a household with two working parents, a sick child is a pretty stressful event. You have to rearrange your schedule, settle things at work and then take care of a sick child. With the Covid restrictions, we got to experience that on a monthly basis, and without a sick child to boot. And then some lockdowns.

I spent a lot of time with my daughter over the past two years, and I love that, but keeping a child indoors all the time is not fun. At some point you run out of paper to draw on, and games to play. Go to a playground? No, not allowed. Go to a museum? Nope. TV all day? That’s not healthy.

Every cough, every snort, and every sneeze makes me jump these days. I’ve got a reasonable handle on it, but I can imagine other parents have it way worse. And even I am soooo tired of the constant stress.

And to top it off, my daughter now has actual Covid, since exactly one week before she was going to get her first shot.

People say ‘you had a child, this is what you signed up for’. I can emphatically say ‘no, this is not what I signed up for.’ I am very much willing to take care of my child when she is sick. But even with Covid, she’s been jumping on the couch, less sick than from a regular cold.

It is what it is

I added all the days she missed school and we’re now at roughly 21 weeks. And that’s 21 weeks of the roughly 70 weeks that she was supposed to go to school. And the sickest she’s been was a slight fever. One night. In two years. So, we’ve been stuck at home with a small energetic bored child for 21 weeks in two years. Not only that, we’ve also had to deal with work schedules and trips to testing appointments every time. It’s really no wonder that I feel stretched out.

Of course, it is what it is. I can’t change it.

But I will say this: our government f*cked up. More than they should have. They were slow with the Dutch vaccine rollout, they were late with lockdowns, and lazy with enforcing the bare minimum measures outside of lockdown — the rules were there, but they were barely followed. They forced children out of schools, but they refused to give parents any help dealing with that. We were left to fend for ourselves against our employers — which might have something to do with the liberal right-leaning parties’ dominating our government.

And at the end of the day, the booster shots were f-ing late, and the vaccines for young children even later. My daughter isn’t ill at all. But she could have been. The government decided not to order vaccines for young children until after they decided they should get a shot. You know, to save money. Guess how much it costs that half the schools had to close because of outbreaks?


It felt good to rant about this. If you read this and you have children… you can scream in the comments if you like. But, you know, you are not alone. There’s a lot of us. But we seem to be approaching an end of sorts.

But damn, is this taking too long.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands