In a week and a half my son’s beloved preschool will reopen -with extreme precautions including temperature readings before they can enter their classrooms. I’m a teacher. I could keep him home with me. He’s been home with me since mid-March -longer even than my maternity leave when he was born. But I want him to go back. I want this for all of us. I think. Sending him back to school feels terrifying; not because of the virus necessarily, but because it’s a choice I’ll make. Despite what we may see on the news about people rioting to get their choices and freedoms back, I really haven’t minded having most of mine taken away.
Run to Target on a school night to buy some new socks for my kid? Dash to the grocery store because we’re out of someone’s favorite cereal? Take five extra minutes to get a coffee somewhere? The answers have all been so clear for the last two and a half months: no, no, and nope.
I started out in mid-March somewhat terrified of what my life would be like trying to balance my job, teaching middle school, with taking care of my 10 and 5 year old children. There have been some moments of extreme frustration for sure. There has been way more screen time than usual. But there’s also been baking and science experiments, art projects and family movies. Every day we went out and found a new trail, a frog pond or a tide pool. There have been countless forts and fairy houses.
During this quarantine time I’ve been reading The Giver by Lois Lowry with my 7th grade students. This incredibly prescient book describes a society where choices, freedoms, and even strong emotions have all been eliminated in favor of safety, security, and sameness. The book’s main character, a twelve year old boy, learns that things in the past were different and rebels against The Community to forge his own path. In my 16 years of teaching, I’ve probably taught this book 10 times. And every time I’ve struggled to understand how members of the community could be satisfied with their limited lives, devoid of excitement, freedom and choice. This time I’ve read the book differently.
As much as I miss my extended family; hugs from my mom and dad, snuggles with my niece and nephews. As much as 6 feet apart walks with friends aren’t the same as long dinners and ice cream cone walks on the beach…..I’m going to whisper this part….I really haven’t missed that many things all that much. I definitely don’t miss the pace of my pre-quarantine life. I used to rejoice if I had 20 minutes of downtime. My to-do list spanned two pages. My weekends were full of things I had to do. Also, I got squirrely with anxiety if I had too few things to do on a weekend. This time in quarantine time has helped me become comfortable with less doing and more being. I am hugely grateful for that.
I am also aware of the enormous privilege I have to enjoy quarantine in the ways that I have. I’m still being paid. I have plenty of food. I have access to technology, and I live in a beautiful place where a hike in the woods or a walk on the beach is only minutes away.
Sending my son back to school feels like the beginning of the end of this time. There are positives for him, for me, and for my daughter whatever we decide; whatever we choose. I’ll be able to devote more time to wrapping up the year with my 7th graders. I might be able to get through an online teaching session without my son insisting on a snack or needing me to find the scissors. My daughter won’t have to share her zoom time with her little brother.
In spite of these things I can’t help feeling loss and a little lost. Having my son around, with his needs for snacks and scissors, uno games and one-on-one basketball, keeps me out of my head, protects me from my anxieties. My daughter is old enough to give me plenty of space, but I’m not sure I want it. With space comes choices; things to do, to accomplish, to check off my burgeoning to-do list. We adapted to this quarantine world, I made schedules, we had a calendar, we made a giant chocolate chip cookie and bird feeders. Some days I counted the minutes until movie-time at 5:00, but 5:00 always came. I don’t know how to end this piece, any more than I know how to close this strange chapter of our lives. There’s no cure, no vaccine as of yet, but we are all starting to emerge, starting to make choices again. I am hopeful and I am scared and I guess I’ll just have to live that way, for now.