Confession: I have left my daughters’ backpacks on their hooks in our entryway since March 13. That was the day school was abruptly closed throughout our state due to COVID-19. First it was closed for one week, then two, then the remainder of the school year. The presence of the backpacks made life seem somewhat normal, almost as if my five-year-old and three-year-old could return to their school and pre-school classrooms at a moment’s notice.
For many reasons, I just could not bring myself to put away the backpacks. It felt like admitting defeat. I did not want to accept the fact that my daughter would not set foot in her kindergarten classroom again. I would no longer volunteer in that room on Monday afternoons, or pick her up at the end of a day filled with learning and discovery.
Finally, yesterday, I took the backpacks down. My oldest daughter’s kindergarten year ends next week. What would’ve been a pint-size graduation ceremony at the high school theater filled with a lot of hugs, will instead be a Zoom pajama party with stories read by their amazingly dedicated teacher. I am grateful for the supportive adults who have found ways to make something special out of a difficult time.
(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)
In all honesty, taking down their backpacks, unpacking them, and putting them away in the closet made me sad. I looked at the blue glitter adorning my daughter’s backpack, indicative of her innocence and excitement, and I felt disappointment for her. She has continued to be her happy, enthusiastic self through the changes of the past two months. She has completed her school work with fervor, and has looked forward to the weekly Zoom meetings with her teacher and classmates. Yet she has started to ask more frequently when she gets to see her friends again. She misses going to the grocery store with me and attending church on Sundays.
I am not here to wallow in what feels like the loss of something important, but I do want to acknowledge how many of us are feeling as we close out the school year. College athletes are missing their spring seasons. High school seniors are missing prom and graduation. Kindergarteners won’t get to hug their first teachers good-bye, and every age in-between is missing out on the last day excitement that always fills the air.
We can be a little sad, but we should also be proud. We should be proud of our students for being so brave when their worlds have been turned upside down. We should be proud of parents for taking on roles of educators in ways most of us haven’t before. We should be proud of teachers for adapting to the situation and supporting students and families in an extraordinary way.
In the end, we will be better after all of this. I pray it will be safe for our students to return to their classrooms this fall. When they do, it will be a joyful occasion. Hopefully some good has come out of this challenging time in the form of newfound gratitude for our teachers, our communities, and our health.
As for my soon-to-be first-grader and me, we have started looking online at options for a backpack for next school year, partially in an effort to remain optimistic, and maybe to remind ourselves that this time of isolation will not last forever. Backpacks will once again find a place on the hooks in my entryway. When they do, I will appreciate the sight of them with all my heart.