2020 has been a hell of a year. It feels so different than a “normal” year, doesn’t it? Not just because of COVID-19, although that obviously is the primary reason. Add in unemployment. Social isolation. Summer without summer camps. Travel restrictions. Murder Hornets. A floundering economy. The Election. Racial Justice. This is a year full of roiling, turbid and exhausting.
It’s particularly stressful as a parent – we not only have to navigate our anxiety right now, we have to somehow hold it together for you. Part of our parental mandate is to protect you from the vagaries of life and to provide a quiet harbor from the tough surf out there. That protection can take several different forms, including keeping you in ignorance. While shielding you completely from the realities of pandemic life is an impossible task, we can filter the news and the ever-evolving status quo into developmentally appropriate chunks. It’s hard, but that’s what we’re supposed to do right?
But as I think about it is it really THAT different for you? Is 2020 that different from a normal year – for you?
Yes, the learning environment is different. But each school year brings change. A different grade, a different classroom, different peers. New subjects to master, new (and old) friendships to navigate. A body that’s a year older, a year stronger, full of a year’s worth more of hormones. New fashion, technology, and cultural trends to learn and to adapt to.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like as an adult to have the same pace of change that you do. Changing jobs every year? To learn how a new organization or team operates, only to have it all change again? To buy a whole new wardrobe every year because things are constantly becoming smaller? For my body and body chemistry – and to some extent, personality – to change relentlessly? For my friendships to wax and wane every school year as my peer group expands and contracts?
I’ve always said you couldn’t pay me to go through my teen years again. But with those changes came so many opportunities to learn and engage in ways that are less available to us as adults, at least conventionally. After I entered the workforce, the natural opportunities to meet and befriend people from divergent cultures or different modes of thought weren’t there. Yes, the life changes slowed down and became more manageable, but consequently my universe shrunk considerably. And while these changes aren’t completely inevitable in adulthood, being parents we’re obligated to possess a sense of stability that can have a shadow attribute of passivity and fossilization.
So I think about the start of 2020 and what I need to do to prepare you for this unprecedented time. Normally Fall brings a sense of excitement and anticipation. But this year, it feels different. Honestly, I have nothing in the way of guidance or experience to offer to you on how to deal with virtual learning. Virtual learning as we’re planning wouldn’t even have been an option 10 years ago, and now we’re all part of a grand extemporaneous experiment.
But even in a normal year, how much guidance could I really give about being a 5th, 4th or 2nd grader in 2020? Sure, I went through those grades myself, but that was *CENSORED* years ago. I perceive that it’s the same experience or similar enough but honestly – it isn’t. Human nature doesn’t change but cultural mores have, as well as vastly different expectations and access to technology. What do I really know of being a child in a modern schooling environment? Because I’ve done it before, I’m under the perception that I know and can be prepared for what to expect. But the truth is that even in the most boring year imaginable, your experience will be unique and different from mine.
That’s the difference between what they call a “known unknown” and the “unknown unknown”. We tend to be more comfortable when dealing with those “known unknowns” although the risk and consequences of those aren’t dissimilar to those of the “unknown unknown” variety. The knowing is in the opinion of our head, not a reflection of reality.
How is being a child right now any different from being a child during Polio? Or the Cuban Missile Crisis? Watergate? The aftermath of 9/11? The answer is that it is different AND it is the same. Change IS the constant. The things that we hold dear and hold sacred are ephemeral.
So where does that leave us parents? Our duty is to protect you, yes. But we must also model how to engage a world that is always constantly changing.
So while I can’t provide that much guidance on how to navigate a virtual classroom, what I can offer to you is my experience of going into an unknown situation with some fear and trepidation, and an uncertainty as to whether the experience will be positive or not. I have tons of experience at that. And I can respect the level of anxiety and the grief that exists for not engaging your friends in the same way you had done before. That is where you and I can connect, not in knowing how to navigate a Google doc.
Because all this will change too, and COVID-19 will sooner than later be a memory. We hope that we get back to “normal”, but I know that normal will not be the norm as we had previously defined it. And that’s okay, because the one constant thing is change.