School is upon us. Students, parents, and teachers are, I believe, universally unsettled about back-to-school. Whatever the normal preparations, uncertainties, anxieties, and excitements would be, they’re different and more intense this year. I’ll be honest: after three days of training last week, discussing with my colleagues ways to deal with all the million tiny details that have not yet been sorted out for pandemic schooling… I don’t really want to talk about that right now.
In looking back, I also don’t want to linger over the stuff we didn’t get to do this summer, the events that were cancelled, and the traditions that fell by the wayside. There have been lots of different kinds of pain for everyone in the past six months. While I’m a firm believer in the emotional necessity of consciously processing pain, I also know that reflecting on, and feeling thankful for, sweet little healing moments is necessary to me too.
Here’s what I think I will look back on with fondness, when I think about this initial shutdown phase that went from March break through summer holidays, in this banner year of 2020.
1) Not rushing.
The kids and I have never been awesome at the whole getting-out-of-the-house-on-time thing. Even as we’ve gotten past the stubborn daughter tantrums, it can’t be denied that the three of us are not morning people. And AB still has a prodigious ability to dawdle and waste time. (I’m frankly kinda worried about how rusty we will be at getting ourselves ready to leave with sequential efficiency. I know, we should have been practicing this week… but ugh. No.)
It has been very lovely and stress-reducing to stop rushing. To have so few places to be, and so much flexibility with time. Makes it feel like I must have been rushing for years on end, until this March. There are life lessons in this that I’m still pondering.
I am proud of how my city managed to keep its hospitals from getting overwhelmed at any point. When they told us to stay home, we stayed home. Our city was one of the earlier ones to make masks mandatory in stores and other workplaces, and we stepped up. Our numbers of infected have been kept down by people being respectful of each other and behaving in a way that prioritizes others’ safety. Right now, as case counts in many places in the province are rising, our active cases are under ten. Amazing cooperation, Guelphites!!
We have done SO much walking in our neighbourhood and surrounding area since March. I walk by myself sometimes, but also with the kids and as a whole family. We have watched all the neighbours’ flowers grow, we have seen the home improvements on various streets, we have walked in mornings, before it’s hot, and evenings, when the sun is dawdling on its way down. I love it and I’m sad that the amount of time dedicated to walking each week will necessarily be smaller.
We also had some nice hikes/nature walks out of the neighbourhood. I’m looking forward to more of those this fall.
4) On-the-ground encouragement.
The first time I saw chalk writing on the sidewalk related to the pandemic, I got teary-eyed. “Hi Neighbour” – “Stay safe and be kind” – “Missing the grandkids” – “We can do this!” – “We’re all in this together” and so on. I enjoyed it whenever I saw it – and we made some of our own a few times too.
Also the painted rocks for the frontline health care workers – an incredible, colourful pile formed in front of the hospital – and the thank-you signs in windows. These are the kinds of things that I think helped us cooperate and hang in there. Community matters, in all its forms.
It may just be because I took so many evening walks, but I have never seen so many bunnies before. Sometimes we’d see six of them in a ten-minute walk. If I were trying to grow vegetables, I’m sure it would be very frustrating, but since I’m not… they’re just cute.
The number of neighbours I know by name has probably doubled during this time. Everyone seemed to feel the value of getting outside as soon as they were asked to stay home, and we all had something in common to chat about, so we met each other. I’m glad we haven’t lost (or have remembered) the importance of what it is to be a neighbourhood together.
7) Sidewalks, yards, and patios.
As soon as the weather was good, so much socializing happened – spontaneously and otherwise – outside, standing around or placing lawn chairs at appropriate distances. I’ve always loved having meals and conversations outside in warm weather, so this was a true bonus for me.
And I have never been so profoundly grateful for this little piece of nature that surrounds our house. Spending time in our yard, beneath the trees, is an immeasurable gift.
I am not known for my ability to take good care of plants. But this summer, having nowhere to be, I kept FIVE WHOLE POTTED PLANTS alive for the entire summer, because I watered them like a good girl.
And the basil plant that I got is still alive and leafing! Also, I have learned a lot about pruning (mostly from YouTube) and find it to be a relaxing, meditative activity when it comes to the copious shrubbery around our house. I’m totally going to be pruning our cherry trees in the next week or so, and I avow that next year they will be riotous. A bonus about learning to prune is that I had a song to hum to myself (with a slight consonant change) while I did it – and it always made me smile.
I also treated us to an app called Picture This, that will magically identify any plant you take a photo of. It even named the flowers on my shirt one time. It was a big hit!
One day, when it was still pretty chilly out, I heard Sean and the kids laughing and whooping outside. It was such a ruckus that I dropped what I was doing and went to see. They’d just invented “planterball” – like basketball, but with a heavy square planter on the ground instead of a basket on a backboard. You stand at a designated line and try to bounce the ball into the planter. They had named the different lines “Noob”, “Beginnerish”, “Medium”, “Pro”, “Super-Pro”, and “God”. It was a great example of making do with what you have. We did get a borrowed basketball setup later in the season, but AB feels too short for it – planterball was actually a more equalizing option.
(We also ended up acquiring ladder ball and washer toss games, which are good uncomplicated fun.)
Before the actual drive-ins opened back up, Skye had the brilliant idea to fill the back of her van with blankets and pillows, and bring some takeout to an unused parking lot, and watch a downloaded movie on a portable device. We did this together probably half a dozen times, pulling our vans up with tailgates facing, and spending the evening together but apart. The kids could run around maniacally (so the adults could chat) before we settled down to the movie. When it was warm enough to leave the back open, we would synchronize our play buttons so that our audio would match up. It was really fun and silly – and free (other than the food) – and now I might even be spoiled for the real drive-in.
Some robins built a nest in our shed, right in a seemingly dangerous but easy-to-observe spot. It was exciting when we knew there were eggs, and even more so when we heard the hatchlings. And then when they were suddenly gone, I felt a bit bereft, and kinda proud even though I could take zero credit.
This is the year that, after four summers managing without it, we finally caved and had air conditioning installed. It took two weeks of almost unbroken heat wave to get us to that decision; we have so much shade that all those other years, we’ve managed to survive the sprinkling of hot days. But this year it wasn’t a sprinkling. There were some records broken. And although I know the AC is energy-intensive, so we still only use it when it’s really hot… I have to admit, I’ve been very grateful for this luxury.
13) Quaker Meeting, online.
I’ve been meaning for a long time to write a post about what Quaker Meeting is and why it matters to me. For now, I’ll just say that since I haven’t lived near my home Meeting in many years, I don’t attend very often. In the past six months, I’ve attended more times virtually than I did in person for probably at least the previous ten years. And… it still works. The silence is still sacred, and the community still, somehow, feels connected. I’m so thankful to be part of it.
14) The music of Bill Wurtz.
I’ve decided he’s getting his own post in the near future, because A) I have to go to bed for SCHOOL TOMORROW (staggered entry, no classes yet, but still) and B) he deserves it. But his is the music that has been the soundtrack to this debacle for me, and thank goodness.
There were lots of other lovely things we managed to do… I participated in our city’s Black Lives Matter rally, which was pretty amazing… I took an unforgettable course on embedding First Nations, Métis, and Inuit content in my teaching… We spent a short, precious bit of time at Camp… Sean and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a mini-trip to Niagara – as well as the assembly of a gazebo for our back deck… we visited with some beloved people, some of whom live (kinda) far away… and every time we got together with friends and family, it was more precious than it has ever been.
It’s good to be reminded of what our souls already know – that however good a facilitator Zoom has turned out to be, there is just nothing to equal real eye contact, laughing together in person, or a genuine hug.