My youngest just graduated from elementary school. A school whose gate I first walked through in 2004 with a tiny, chubby hand. (No, he’s not fat – I just have a lot of kids.) So recently and for the last time we had all the rites of passage.
The last sports day. The yearbook. A graduation ceremony with various musical performances in the church. The after party. Lots of hugs and a little emotion.
I think when I left sixth grade, all we did was doodle on each other’s uniforms and jump in the sea. (It happened this time too – we both grew up in the same coastal town.) But there wasn’t really any formal marking for it, other than perhaps confirmation, if that counts.
We’re a little better at capturing milestones in our kids’ lives today than we were then. In fact, I think we’re generally better with children.
I’m so glad we had this normalcy; I know the last few sixth graders missed it during the pandemic. You could argue that this was inevitable, but even so, I maintain that we have completely ignored the impact of the pandemic on children.
“People are dying” was used to trump any concerns about the impact of restrictions. Discussions about proportionality or real benefit-risk considerations were largely lost in the fog of fearful, reactive exaggerations.
Although we had a normal sixth grade, the fourth and fifth grade years were a mess. The kids were all at home and didn’t see anyone. Vague, scary stuff was in the ether. Below-average education. Concerned Parents.
Lockdown 1.0 was dystopian. I remember sitting at dinner one night – another takeaway as we couldn’t get grocery delivery for love or money and we had two cases of Covid-19 so weren’t allowed out – and heard the news on the radio, which reported closed borders and random police checks to monitor people’s movements. It was like a movie about the end of time.
Our children have lived through this, and for a proportionally longer time of their lives than all others. I don’t know exactly how we’ll measure long-term impact, but I suspect it will be like an old scar on a tree trunk. Something that has been incorporated into the fabric of them and that they will carry through life. Although they will function and grow normally, they will still be marked by it.
The good thing is, as I could see the negative effects of social withdrawal on her – the unnatural calm; their burgeoning confidence is faltering – I can see them emerging from that now too.
It’s back to normal for them to loaf around aimlessly in the green spaces of housing estates with their buddies. Coming home late for dinner. And sending messages asking if they can stay out “just a little longer”?
Flashes of cheeky defiance when they show their newfound independence are welcome compared to those who are too docile or serious from spending inordinate amounts of time in adult company.
Normal is returning and luckily it’s not a “new normal” – it’s the old normal. Let’s hope the scar on the bark is just that – a sign, nothing more – and that it doesn’t change the tree’s direction of growth permanently.
My time in elementary school is over. No more smells of moldy old sandwiches wafting from forgotten lunch boxes. Instead, roll up the smell of moldy gym socks. plus ca change.
A second opinion
I’m not really someone who reads poetry. I am generally far too undemanding and have no desire for self-improvement. Self-acceptance is much more pleasant. However, poetry moved me twice this week. If it can move a square like me, it’s probably worth passing it on.
One was a simply beautiful poem called Small kindnesses by Danusha Laméris, from her book Campfire Opera (University of Pittsburgh Press).
It’s about the small acts of altruism we show towards strangers and what that might mean: We have so little of each other now. So far from tribe and fire. Just these brief moments of sharing. What if they are the true abode of the sacred, these ephemeral temples we build when we say, “Here, take my place,” “Go on—you first,” “I like your hat.”
The other is a book of poetry called Poetic freedom in times of Corona (21st Century Renaissance) by consultant obstetrician Chris Fitzpatrick.
Chris taught me as a medical student and made me and many others of my generation want to be better doctors and indeed better people. He’s that rarity – someone you’ve met in real life and who really inspires. It’s beautiful and captivating.
Read it when you get a chance.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/i-can-see-my-kids-coming-out-of-the-pandemic-cheeky-defiance-is-a-welcome-change-from-the-quiet-41814979.html Seeing my kids emerge from the pandemic – cheeky defiance is a welcome change from calm