About a week ago on social media, I shared a reflective post about sending one of my children back to school saying:
“As long as our plans hold, this is the last day all three of my kids will sit at their home desks in our living room. On Monday, one will return to school after almost a year of remote learning while the other two plan to complete the year at home. While I’m glad COVID numbers are on a downward trend and vaccine opportunities are increasing, saying goodbye to one will be hard for me. The space will feel empty and incomplete, and this change is bittersweet…a little sad even…because as grueling as remote school can be, it’s also been a good season for our family.
“I’ve enjoyed being more aware of the kids’ curriculum and getting a front row seat to their education. It’s been a gift to see how they learn in an academic setting, how their brains work, and where their strengths lie. It’s also been a gift to see where they have holes and where they might struggle going forward. When I took education classes in college, I enjoyed learning about educational theory, so this experience has been a real-time lab that I’ve found fascinating, and really, all three have risen to a large challenge in increments…how else does learning go?
“My kids have been able to read more, draw more, create more and then play after school is done. And I hope that in the middle of all the adversity, my kids will look back and recognize the beauty in the ordinary. I hope they know how proud of them I am. I hope they remember that for each rocky moment there were just as many, if not more, successes. I hope they remember that hard things are tackled one step at a time. I hope they remember God’s daily provision of Manna. And I hope I remember, too.”
While the transition was fairly seamless — the child was ready to go back and the teacher gladly worked with us to make the change — I was still left with a sad ache. Even though the change lessened some of my responsibility as a “classroom aide” for lack of a different descriptor, I missed having all three of my children seated at their own workspaces. After a semester of figuring out where the kids learned best, we realized that they were each very similar, desiring a public, yet individual, work zone. Over Christmas break we purchased another desk and arranged all three spaces in our living room, getting settled in preparation for spring semester. At that time, we weren’t sure we’d actually send anyone back, so setting up the spaces felt important. Now the empty desk where my child once sat is glaring to my mama-eyes, not to mention the void tugs on the niggling doubt about whether or not we made the right decision.
I know in some things I can be slow to transition. In fact, I was amused by my chrysanthemums the other day as I weeded one of my flower beds, seeing myself in the soil. One of my mums tends to push out of the depths of the soil earlier than the other. Last year the faster one had a few weeks’ head start, enough that I questioned whether the second mum had survived the winter. In those moments of observation I laughed because, like my slower mum, I prefer to be sure winter is over before I stick my head out of the ground.
On this one-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic combined with sending a child back to school, I seem to be approaching the coming spring in a similar fashion. While it feels like we’ve taken a good turn away from the wintery depths of the pandemic, I’m just not ready to declare, “it’s over.” I don’t want to cling to winter when spring is obviously here, but I’m also not ready to fully push my way through the soil line and risk another round of bitter cold. That’s why the school change is significant. In a way, it feels like it forced me to pop out of the soil prematurely. It seems risky and I feel exposed to the elements. I keep rehashing the impossibility of simply re-burying ourselves if another round of dangerously cold winter winds blow.
But to add complexity to my analogy, this year, even my slower mum has already pushed out of the soil, only a few days behind the other. I plan to leave all the dried out, dead stalks as a protective layer for several weeks yet, because as is typical in Kansas, spring has several false starts before it sticks around. On a personal level, I need to remember there are other protective layers in place — I’m glad for this. I also need to remember that if COVID takes another dire turn, we can make alternative decisions yet again. If nothing else, the last year has been real-time practice in holding things loosely. So, if another winter storm rages, we can hunker down again, not with a protective layer of soil over our heads, but with the remaining winter bulk. And maybe stocking hats, coats and snow boots.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.