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An email came in from the folks at the learning centre, where my children go on the days that school is closed. It’s a city-run facility at a leisure centre, with staff employed by New York’s parks department. They’re not teachers; they’re a young, enthusiastic, diverse group of people who, for the past four months, have provided thousands of parents with emergency childcare. They’ve put on puppet shows, thrown Halloween parties and, with extraordinary patience, managed the interminable Zoom logistics of the kids’ remote schedules. My children’s lives have been enriched by knowing them.
It has taken me a while to feel the benefit of this shift. In the early days of the pandemic, all I could see was the tremendous disruption of school closure and the loss to my kids of in-person teaching. To look for an upside seemed like shifty accounting, the kind that results in brittle good cheer and an inability to see things as they are. The only sensible option, it seemed to me, was to acknowledge how bad things were and work on achieving some acceptance.
I can’t tell precisely when this changed, or why. It might simply be a case of acclimatisation. It might be a function of watching and learning from the resilience of children, for whom all change is grist for development. And it might just be an end of year thing, with the last-ditch relief that can bring. At this time of year, when we’re all dragging ourselves, elbow over elbow, towards the finish line, listing things to be thankful for softens the path.
Where, then, to apply one’s gratitude? There are the big things: health, friendship. We haven’t been sick – not just from Covid, but from anything. Masks are awful and claustrophobic but they work and, unimaginably, there hasn’t been a single cold or stomach bug in my house since last March. (It didn’t stop the nits, but then, nothing stops the nits, not even, a friend reports, to our mutual astonishment, chemotherapy).
The friendship thing is a strange one, given there’s been so little in-person socialising. The pandemic has boiled things down, or alternatively, blown them up, eliminating casual acquaintances and half-assed friendships and although there’s something to miss about the serendipity of parties and the new people who come with them, this year has left us with a very firm headcount on exactly who matters.
Time is another odd one. All we’ve had for nine months is our families underfoot. For long stretches, there was no let-up from the cycle of work, home-school, chores, dinner. I shouted a lot and complained even more and fell asleep each night in a state of abject exhaustion. I have a feeling, however, that looking back, it won’t appear so bleak. Ten years from now, when I have to beg my kids to give me the time of day, this period of enforced togetherness will seem like a gift, even if we did spend a lot of it yelling at each other. At a time in my life when the years have started to flow by at a terrifying rate, this has been a period when the days have seemed endless.
One can get too Pollyanna-ish, I know. Being in a position to enjoy any aspect of this time is a luxury, although it remains the case that moments of crisis heighten sensitivity in a way that can deliver joy, as well as anxiety. With no plans, no diary, nowhere to go or to be, we have been rooted in a present tense that has made ordinary things more vibrant. Collecting my kids from school, kicking around the neighbourhood at the weekend, sporadically meeting someone for a chat on a park bench all seem, now, not like dull days with no plans, but the essence of what life is and should be.
It’s about the assessment of free time, too. The strangest thing, looking back, is how I have often thought about national holidays. In September in the US, the schools shut every five minutes for one holiday or another and, along with most parents, I greeted every one of them with a groan. Why did the mayor do this to us? Why were we being forced to spend so much time with our families when we could be spending more time at work? What was he trying to do to us? My feelings about Bill de Blasio haven’t improved, obviously, but this attitude towards time off now seems bizarre.
The emotion from all this comes out in surprising ways. On a Tuesday morning, while the kids are at school, I shove aside work for an hour and sit on the phone with a friend, a small shift in our priorities that leaves us both in a state of mild wonder. With a force of sentiment bordering on eccentric, I email another friend’s parents 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 summer, Thanksgiving, and next week, Christmas, together as part of the same pod, they are family and I’m almost weepingly grateful.
The email from the staff at the leisure centre announced their plans for the last day of school next week. They’re not bound by school tradition or department of education protocols. Instead, they have planned what people in their early 20s imagine five-year-olds might enjoy, and of course, they are completely right. There will be hot chocolate, and popcorn, and games, and music, and dancing, and the children are invited to turn up in their pyjamas. In among the gloom of the final season of this terrible year, it’s wonderful.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: In the gloom of this terrible year, I’m trying to be grateful for simple things | Parents and parenting