I’ve written before about my sister, Anna Maria. She was the 11th child in my parent’s family of 17 children. One of my earliest memories of her is when she was two years old. Every time I saw her, she was clutching her security blanket. It didn’t matter whether she was sitting, standing, walking, running, or laying down, it was as though her security blanket was attached to her body. She was always happy, and out of all my sisters, she had the sweetest disposition.
Anna Maria was born in 1965, when I was eight years old. Despite all the years that have passed since she carried her blanket around the house, Anna Maria’s sweet disposition, kind and loving attitude, and joy for life have not changed.
After she graduated from high school, Anna Maria worked for a few years and then married Peter Jude, a good-natured, hardworking devout Catholic from Minnesota. Over the years, Anna Maria and Peter had 10 children. Some of their children are married and have children of their own and their three youngest children still live at home. Anna Maria has always been a devout Catholic who has dedicated a significant share of her time and effort to promote the Catholic faith and to bring people closer to God.
Several years ago, Anna Maria and Peter organized a perpetual adoration program at the Church of Saint Timothy, in Maple Lake, Minnesota, and they have continued to faithfully promote and manage the adoration program at the church.
A few years ago, one of Anna Maria’s friends — I’ll call her Jane — started a small business that offered in-home childcare for newborn children, until they reached the age of one. The childcare service was geared toward higher income career couples who had the ability to pay a premium price for high-quality care for their newborn babies.
One of Jane’s first couples was a young professional couple who needed someone to care for their newborn son. Jane asked Anna Maria if she was willing to consider working for Jane’s company and care for the new baby boy, two or three days a week. While Anna Maria was intrigued by the offer, she hesitated because she didn’t want to take time away from her family. After her family assured her that they would be fine if she was gone a couple of days a week, Anna Maria agreed to take care of the baby.
It didn’t take very long for her to fall in love with the baby. She became so attached to him that when he turned one and she had to move on to the next baby, she felt as though she was leaving her own child behind. She loved her new “job” so much that she continued to care for other couples’ babies.
Last year, when the COVID pandemic hit, Anna Maria was taking care of twin girls two to three days a week. In November 2020, she received a text message from the girls’ mother that asked if she would be willing to wear a mask while she took care of the girls. At that time, the girls were five months old. She replied to the text by asking when a good time would be to discuss the issue on the phone. The mother responded by asking Anna Maria to call the mother’s husband in the evening to discuss the issue with him.
When Anna Maria called the husband, he told her that he was getting more and more concerned about the COVID virus and he had decided that anyone who was in his house or around his family had to wear a mask. Anna Maria told him that she understood his concern and asked if he would be open to her wearing a clear shield over her face instead of a mask. When he said no and insisted on the mask, she told him that it was her belief that it was of critical importance that the children she took care of could see her face when she interacted with them.
She told him that if she smiled, prayed out loud, talked, or sang to his daughters, they needed to see her face. She expressed her belief that in most instances, the expression on her face while she interacted with his children was more important than the words she used to communicate with them. She also told him that she was concerned that the girls would be confused and out of sorts if she showed up with a mask on her face and continued to cover her face while she was with them.
When the husband made it clear to Anna Maria that he had to insist that his new mask policy be followed, she regretfully told him that she was not going to be able to continue to care for his children. She felt bad that the girls who had grown to love her would abruptly be cut off, and she was upset that she would no longer be able to see or take care of the children she had grown to love.
I did not know anything about what Anna Maria had gone through until last month when she traveled to Peoria so she could spend time with some of her family members in Peoria. While she was in town, she came with my parents to the baptism of my daughter Maria’s new baby boy. After the baptism, I had a chance to visit with her and I asked if she was still assisting couples with their newborn babies. She responded by telling me about what had happened when she wasn’t willing to wear a mask while she cared for the twin girls.
I thought about Anna Maria and her experience with the father of the girls last week when I read about a study that had been conducted at Brown University. The study showed that the IQ scores for children who were born during the pandemic had plunged by more than 21 percent. The lead author of the study was Sean Deoni, an associate professor of pediatrics at Brown University. Deoni said, “You don’t typically see things like that, outside of major cognitive disorders.”
The study looked at 672 children who lived in Rhode Island who were tested on verbal, non-verbal, and early learning skills. The tests that were performed have traditionally been performed on children who range in age from three months to three years.
The factors that likely contributed to the shockingly low IQ scores were the limited stimulation children were experiencing at home, the reduced interaction children had with the outside world, and the impact that mask-wearing adults had on children’s development because the children were unable to observe and learn from facial cues.
When my sister had her conversation with the father about his decision that she had to wear a mask around his girls, I’m sure that it did not occur to her that the wearing of a mask could have a negative impact on their IQ levels. She did not know that a study would be released at a later time that proved she was right. Her belief that facial expressions are a critical factor in effectively communicating with children was an obvious fact to her and that the placement of a barrier between her and the young girls she was caring for would be harmful to them.
How was it that Anna Maria developed such a belief? It came from the experience, wisdom, and intuition she developed during the years she cared for her own infants and young children.
I do not want to give you the impression that I believe that the father of the two girls was wrong about what he did. He obviously loved his children and wanted what was best for them. I could make a compelling argument that he did the right thing when he insisted that everyone who entered his house had to wear a mask. I could also make a compelling argument that he made a serious mistake.
After I read about the Brown University study, I called Anna Maria and asked her if it was okay for me to write about what she had shared with me. Here’s what she told me:
If you want to write about it, that’s okay with me. I trust your judgment. But I don’t want you to make it appear as though I’m a holy person who doesn’t have any flaws. There are a lot of things I need to work on. It just didn’t feel right to me to deprive those girls of the relationship that we had. I can’t take credit for what I know and for what I’ve been able to accomplish. Whatever good that I’ve done has been because of God’s grace and guidance.
This is what happens when a woman (or a man) dedicates their life to God and is willing to engage in the prayer and sacrifice that is necessary to discover and follow through on God’s plan for them. They increase in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and fortitude, which benefits everyone they have a relationship with.