Today was the last day of school.
It feels a little anticlimactic: the kids still had online lessons to complete, classwork to turn in. My older son graduated from 5th grade a week ago with a car parade past the school, 24 teachers and staff members (the maximum allowed) standing a careful six feet apart along the parade route, wearing masks, waving signs, and cheering. My son was more excited to decorate the car than he would have been to walk with his class through the packed halls of the school to the applause of everyone there; I was the one getting weepy.
And then this morning both kids said goodbye to their friends and teachers via webcam and chat messages, but even that was more poignant for me than for the kids—they haven’t seen their friends or teachers face to face in three months. I can’t tell if I’m sad that they didn’t have a normal school year and won’t have a normal summer, or if I’m just sad about, well. <Gestures vaguely.>
I’ve always said I wish I could give my kids the kind of summers I had growing up. We didn’t go to summer camp. My mother stayed at home, so we had long lazy days of running around the neighborhood, climbing trees, losing ourselves in the woods until the dinner bell—yes, my mother had an actual dinner bell—and then heading back out again until well past dark to play soccer or flashlight tag or ghost-in-the-graveyard. Bedtime routines were loosely followed, if at all.
This year, it turns out I can give my kids something almost like that. I’m not working, at least, not for pay. (But I’ve got a book to sell you, if you’re buying.) The problem is that there are no woods here in the city, there’s no free-ranging where we don’t know half our neighbors, and most importantly, there are no other kids to play with. I shouldn’t complain. We’re lucky to have a backyard, even if it’s tiny and unkempt, full of yellowjackets and weeds. We’re lucky to live on a quiet street, and the kids have bikes and scooters and we can at least wave from our front porch at the people who walk by. Even in isolation, we’re not completely isolated.
And besides, kids adapt. They adjust better than adults, sometimes. Two weeks after the schools shut down, my kids invented “social distancing tag.” You chase each other around, but you can’t get too close, so instead of actually touching the other person, you make eye contact, fling out an arm, and shout, “Tag!” It seems ridiculous to me, but hey, it keeps them entertained.
I guess what I’m nostalgic for is this notion that life is predictable and safe. That we can pick and choose the memories and experiences we want to give our children. That we need to curate their joy. Kids adapt. This is their normal.
Still, maybe I should see if I can pick up a dinner bell somewhere.