AShe got an email from the people at the learning center, where my children go on days that school is closed. It is a city-run facility in a leisure center, staffed by the New York Parks Department. They are not teachers; They are a young, enthusiastic and diverse group of people who, over the past four months, have provided emergency child care to thousands of parents. They put on puppet shows, threw Halloween parties and, with extraordinary patience, handled Zoom’s endless logistics of remote children’s schedules. The lives of my children have been enriched by meeting them.
It has taken me a while to feel the benefits of this change. In the early days of the pandemic, all I could see was the tremendous disruption of the school closing and the loss of face-to-face teaching for my children. Looking for an edge seemed like a shifting accounting, the kind that results in fragile good spirits and an inability to see things as they are. It seemed to me that the only sensible option was to acknowledge how bad things were and to work towards some acceptance.
I cannot say precisely when this changed or why. It could just be a case of acclimatization. It could be a function of observing and learning from the resilience of children, for whom all change is material for development. And it could be a year-end thing, with the last relief it can bring. At this time of year, when we’re all crawling, elbow over elbow, toward the finish line, listing things to be thankful for smoothes the path.
Where, then, to apply one’s gratitude? There are the big things: health, friendship. We have not been sick, not just from Covid, but from anything. The masks are horrible and claustrophobic, but they work, and unsurprisingly, there hasn’t been a single cold or stomach bug in my house since last March. (It didn’t stop nits, but nothing stops nits, not even, a friend reports, to our mutual amazement, chemotherapy.)
The friendship thing is strange, given that there has been very little in-person socialization. The pandemic has reduced things, or alternatively, exploded them, eliminating casual acquaintances and friendships and, although there is something to be missed about the serendipity of the holidays and the new people who accompany them, this year it has left us with a very good impression. firm count on who exactly matters.
Time is another stranger. All we’ve had for nine months are our families. For long periods, there was no truce in the cycle of work, home-school, chores, dinner. I yelled a lot and complained even more and fell asleep every night in a state of abject exhaustion. However, I have a feeling that, looking back, it won’t seem so gloomy. Ten years from now, when I have to beg my children to give me the time of day, this period of forced union will seem like a gift, even if we spend a lot of time yelling at each other. At a time in my life when the years have begun to pass at a terrifying rate, this has been a period when the days seemed to have no end.
You can get too Pollyanna-ish, I know. Being in a position to enjoy any aspect of this time is a luxury, although it remains true that moments of crisis increase sensitivity in a way that can generate joy as well as anxiety. With no plans, no journal, nowhere to go or be, we have been rooted in a present time that has made ordinary things more vibrant. Picking up my children from school, walking around the neighborhood on weekends, meeting someone sporadically to chat on a park bench, they don’t seem, now, boring days without plans, but the essence of what is and should be the lifetime.
It is also about evaluating free time. The strangest thing, looking back, is what I have often thought about national holidays. In September in the United States, schools closed every five minutes for one holiday or another and, along with most of the parents, I greeted each of them with a groan. Why did the mayor do this to us? Why were we forced to spend so much time with our families when we could spend more time at work? What was he trying to do to us? My feelings towards Bill de Blasio have obviously not improved, but this attitude towards free time now seems strange.
The excitement of all this manifests itself in surprising ways. One Tuesday morning, while the kids are at school, I put work aside for an hour and sit on the phone with a friend, a small shift in our priorities that leaves both of us in mild awe. With a force of feeling bordering on eccentric, I send an email to the parents of another friend in Australia simply to thank them for her; At the beginning of the pandemic, she and her wife were my good friends. Now, after spending the summer, Thanksgiving, and next week, Christmas, together as part of the same pack, they are family and I am almost crying gratefully.
The email from the leisure center staff announced their plans for the last day of school next week. They are not subject to school tradition or the protocols of the department of education. Instead, they’ve planned what people in their twenties imagine five-year-olds might enjoy, and of course they’re absolutely right. There will be hot chocolate, popcorn, games, music, and dancing, and children are invited to appear in their pajamas. In the midst of the gloom of the final season of this terrible year, it is wonderful.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.