A little boy and girl standing in front of grass with their backs facing the camera

I was catching up on past due filing today, I came across my children’s report cards from June. Every grade was a “P.” They passed fourth, eighth and 11th grades. Our district decided not to give out letter grades due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While I am grateful they “passed,” the word gave me pause. 

Pass is defined as “to go or move onward.” I am not sure that is what happened. COVID-19 left us feeling as if we were in a strange time warp where March bled into June without clear markers of accomplishment. 

I would define our “pass” as acquiescing. My eighth grader did not get a true graduation. My fourth grader had no clear ending to his elementary school years. My junior did not end her year anticipating a senior year of prom and skip days. Our educators did the best they could without viable options.

This week, we had Zoom orientations, picked up Chrome books and supplies and mapped out the school schedule. There were no school shopping trips, last minute Target runs or soccer practices. 

We have eased into this gentler on-ramp to school with both reluctance and gratitude. Our days are slower and less frenzied. We spend less time in the car and more at home. We spend cautious time with people we genuinely care about and yet, no weekend BBQs or time cheering in the high school bleachers. 

We have eased into this gentler on-ramp to school with both reluctance and gratitude.

In the last two days, I have used the word “scattered” in multiple conversations to describe how life feels. We are scattered like shiny pebbles in an alpine stream, with swift water running over our backs, while we stand almost completely still. 

Why do I keep saying “we”? I am not going back to school. I say “we” because as a parent, I am the emotion wrangler, anxiety soother and ringmaster of overwhelm. I will suggest body care practices, listen to frustrations and try to somehow work myself. This is very much a collective experience. 

My house has never felt smaller. My grocery bill has never been bigger. I feel extreme ambivalence. I am terribly grateful for this houseful of people and, in the same breath, I crave an adult-only month in the mountains like no other time in my life—save for when they were all toddlers. 

I was talking with my sister-in-law about our district expectations for Fridays. We are going to school virtually Monday through Thursday with expectations for home-based learning on Fridays. After she left, I thought to myself, “I respect teachers for wanting to extend learning to Fridays, but I am having nothing to do with it.”

I am going to take in the requirements and turn them into something sustainable for our family. Every single family is facing different challenges. One way will not work. I am more concerned about raising healthy humans than about checking boxes that will show we are doing things “right.”

If we are shiny pebbles in a stream, then we must allow the water to wash over us without tumbling around becoming dizzy and drained. We do not need Friday learning. We need time to be outside, take a trip or sleep off the Zoom hangover.

We need time to be outside, take a trip or sleep off the Zoom hangover.

Dermot Kennedy has a line in his song “Giants” that says, “There’s gold in the dirt I never took time to see.” 

I am wondering if the gold in the dirt is not a chintzy silver lining but the capacity to stay open-hearted and still. Maybe the gold is as simple as the laughter of your child in the middle of a Zoom presentation or the extra teenagers in your house that fill the atmosphere with energy and silliness. Maybe the gold is when you go outside to lie on the grass for 10 minutes because there is no other quiet. 

All is not as we wish. Yet, the hopeful woman in me wonders if the gold in the dirt might be richer than we imagine. May we breathe deep—over and over—and walk it out with resiliency and self-love.

Are you a parent whose kids have started a new school year in the “new normal”? How are you coping with the changes brought on by COVID-19?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

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