I remember picking my kids up from school in March of 2020, just before the New York City shutdown. We left my fourth grader’s trumpet in the classroom because we knew we’d be back at some point to pick it up. We said goodbye to a few friends and teachers and headed home to have a snack. I didn’t know what to expect that day, but I looked forward to slowing down and getting some extra sleep. It would be nice not to wake up an hour before the rest of my family to work out, pack lunches, and iron uniforms, even if it was just for a few weeks. And I knew that home was the safest place for us to be while we waited for more information. I didn’t know that a few weeks would turn into a year and a half and that we would lose family, friends, and neighbors in the process.
Just 7 and 9 years old at the time, my kids looked to my husband and me for answers to their questions. They didn’t know why it wasn’t safe to go to school and why they couldn’t see their friends. They didn’t know why we weren’t visiting Grandma and why we’d stopped ordering from our favorite Mexican restaurant on taco Tuesday. I didn’t want them to worry, but I wanted them to be aware. I didn’t want them to be afraid of the bad news we saw on television every night about the rising death toll. I didn’t want the blaring sirens in our neighborhood to keep them up at night worrying about who might be inside. So I tried to make sure our life at home was as happy and normal as possible. We had game nights, puzzle challenges, and mid-day ice cream parties. I told them I loved them every night before bed. And I did my best to keep all of us from worrying about when it would be safe to go outside again.
During the time we spent at home, our apartment got a lot smaller, our squabbles a lot more trivial, and there were many days when I thought about getting in the car and driving as far away from it all as I could. But after 18 months of seclusion, things are getting back to what we used to consider normal, and my kids are looking forward to the start of a new school year. After a year and a half of remote learning, they can’t wait to be reunited with old friends and make new ones. They’ll be happy to have a few hours away from me and each other, even if it is to listen to their teacher quiz them on multiplication facts and the American Revolution. But, if I’m being honest, I’m not quite ready to let them go.
My kids are looking forward to the start of a new school year… But, if I’m being honest, I’m not quite ready to let them go.
I’m looking forward to having a little more time to myself during the day to write, think, or make an uninterrupted phone call. It will be easier to work when I don’t have to stop to settle a battle over the remote. It will be nice to quit my job as a short-order cook, boiling macaroni and making grilled cheese because no one was willing to compromise at lunchtime.
But I will miss us eating all of our meals together. I love that we had more time for making friendship bracelets and binge-watching House Hunters International when we didn’t have extracurricular activities and birthday parties getting in the way.
I’ll be worried about my daughter, who is starting middle school with a group of new classmates and teachers. Rather than nagging her about finishing her summer reading assignment, I’ll wonder if she’s making new friends or feeling nervous about her classes.
I’ll be thinking of my son, who has selective mutism and will be starting fourth grade without his sister in the building for the first time. He doesn’t say a word to her when they pass each other in the hallway during the day, but I know it gives him comfort to have her wave at him in front of her ultra-cool older friends.
I’ll worry that without my special made-to-order lunches that they’ll ditch their yogurt in favor of a bag of chips. And I’ll worry that without the vaccine, they are still susceptible to a deadly virus that has wreaked havoc on our community.
Although I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my family in our protective bubble forever, I’m going to try to hold on to a few of the traditions we started. I hate that it took a global health crisis to force us to slow down, but I’m glad we got this chance to spend more time together. Now that the kids are 9 and 11, we’ll squeeze in as many family movie nights and game nights as possible. And I’ll tell them I love them every night before they go to sleep.
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