This year, I have a child in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. I keep telling people that, but I think I’m saying it because maybe if I say it over and over again, it will start to feel real. I can remember being in high school like it was just last week, so I’m not sure how it is that I have a child there.
Like all human beings, my kids’ personalities are unique. My youngest, Oliver, is a people-person who will be a politician some day because he has no trouble going up to strangers and striking-up a conversation. I can just see him now shaking hands and kissing babies. My daughter, Lilia, is in the middle and is driven to be the best at everything she does. She has a large vein of justice running through her and is not afraid to speak-up when she feels like something is unfair or simply wrong. My oldest, Nolan, is extremely talented in both the visual and performing arts (he may be able to read music better than he reads words). I love that he is comfortable in his own skin and is just as at ease by himself as he is with others.
Despite their differences, I was surprised in the spring when they all wanted to be able to go back to school. Oliver missed his friends and the routine of being in school. My older two wanted to go back to what they were used to and got frustrated by their isolation and the work that they were being assigned remotely…So I do the paper packet but then I have to transfer my answers to Google Classroom? Do I really have to do this log for PE? Why am I logging on to the class if it’s just to say hello to everyone—I have a phone so I can say hello to people myself. Sound familiar?
Since my husband and I are both working parents with jobs outside of the house, over the summer my kids were like the characters in Lord of the Flies. Though they are old enough to be home alone together, not even my oldest is old enough to drive. We wouldn’t let them play outside while we were at work because we felt like it increased their odds of injury. So, they were prisoners in the best prison you could hope for—cable, internet, food, phones, games, and no wardens. The older two who are biologically wired to sleep in were able to do so. Oliver (who is still a morning bird) more or less figuratively had the house to himself, a rare luxury in a family of five and you’re the youngest. So, when waiting to hear about what model their district would adopt for reopening, I figured my kids might be bummed about having to get back to the real world and leave their hedonistic island. I was wrong. The feelings of wanting to be around other people—even if that meant setting an alarm clock and going to bed at a decent hour—won out. All of them wanted to be able to go to school five days a week on campus.
The good news is that they’re going to go back to school on campus. The bad news for Lilia and Nolan is that they’re only going to be able to be there every other day in their district’s hybrid model. My kids’ immature grasp of their own mortality finds this absurd. They’re young enough to believe that they’ll live forever and cannot understand the need for regular hand washing even before all of this happened. Nevertheless, as an elementary student Oliver will be able to go to school on campus daily starting the week of September 21st. Their district had space to spread out classrooms and made decisions about staffing that made this possible (though for every solution, you create a new problem). In the meantime, Oliver is going to campus every other day.
On his first day of school, Oliver called me when he got home (I was still in my office at work) and said, “Mom, I had the best day! I love my new teacher and I think this year is going to be GREAT!” I was not surprised, but I was still happy that he was happy. Oliver loves school and loves being around people, like I said. His teacher told his class that they needed to read a 2500 pages this year (or 25 books of 100 pages each). He came home on his first day and started reading The One and Only Bob (the sequel to The One and Only Ivan) and finished fifty pages that night. The next day, he read another fifty pages and over 100 pages in Diary of a Wimpy Kid because he was told he needed a home book and a book that he keeps in school so that he doesn’t bring a book back and forth. For Oliver, it’s like Christmas in the Lyon house right now.
I’m sharing all of the above because this is where the story takes an unexpected twist. What I didn’t reveal yet is that Oliver hated school in kindergarten. I mean, he H-A-T-E-D school. Though he loved being around people, school was not easy for him. Reading, in particular, was a challenge. There were too many days to count that he outright told me that he hated school even though I’d say, “we don’t use that word.” Finally, in the spring of his kindergarten year, he came to me crying (not for the first time) and asked, “How do I get out of going to school, mom? I hate it.” Though he used the word “hate,” what he really felt was discouraged. He struggled and it’s so hard to be motivated to have to do something you don’t like and don’t feel good at. I used to tell him, “When things get hard, we try harder,” but it was just so hard every day for him.
So when he asked me on that spring day how to get out of going to school I turned to him and said with sincerity, “You graduate. The way to get out of going to school is to keep going to school until you graduate. That’s how.”
His sister, who is two years his senior, meaning she was in the second grade, overheard our conversation. She obviously heard my answer, but had another option that she apparently thought was worth consideration. “Oliver,” Lilia said, “if you don’t want to go to school, you could get suspended.” As my husband would say, “Fools and children speak the truth.”
I turned to Lilia and said, “If he gets suspended, you’re going to be in trouble!”
I guess I’m sharing all of this because I want to highlight the capacity for change. Oliver was a boy who hated school and is now one who loves it. He was a kid who struggled to read and is now a kid who read 200 pages of two different books in 24 hours. I also am sharing all of this because even within the possibility for change, some things stay the same. Oliver is still the kid who loves to be around people. Lilia is still the kid who fights for the truth. Nolan is still the kid who is creating art in any way he can.
This means the challenges we are all facing now—which are too many and too varied to name—may not be challenges for us in the future either because external circumstances change or because we change. It also means that the things that are good about life—like our relationships, our values, and what gives us joy—don’t have to change even in challenging times. With that, I hope you find ways to adapt to the circumstances while remaining firm in what really matters to you!