The text I was waiting for came at 7:59 last night. And even though I've been bracing myself for it these past weeks, it still felt like a punch to the gut.
"Breaking: SCHOOL IS DISMISSED FOR THE 2019-2020 SCHOOL YEAR. Please see your email for a message from the superintendent."
In all caps, no less. As though the words themselves weren't overwhelming enough.
I suppose I had been clinging to some degree of hope telling me that normalcy was on the horizon. That if we could just buckle down for the month of April, gritting our teeth through the inevitable algebra related breakdowns (mine) and the "Can we watch whatever we want NOW?" demands (theirs) we'd all emerge victorious as the balm of warm weather arrived.
Consider my hopes dashed.
Dropping my 8th grader off to his final middle school dance, the one I would have threatened to chaperone if he didn't clean his room–canceled.
Soccer, baseball, field day, end of year class trips–all canceled.
Recitals, concerts, proms, graduations–canceled as well.
I underestimated the grief I'd feel settling into this reality.
I'm grieving for the loss of these rites of passage that guide our kids so steadily into the next phase of their lives.
I'm grieving for the kids who won't have the opportunity to take the stage and revel in their accomplishments of years of hard work and dedication.
I'm deeply grieving for the kids who are trapped in homes with parents who wouldn't have attended anyway.
Last week, elbow-deep in a box of photos (a quarantine-induced jaunt down memory lane had been more appealing than cleaning) I stumbled upon a grainy photo dated 1996. There I stood in my best friend's basement, a dELIA*s catalog-clad 8th grader dancing awkwardly with the boy I'd been crushing on for all of middle school. Others in the background were casually crammed onto the couch wolfing down snacks and soda. While exact memories of the evening have long since faded, I can still palpably recall the hormone-laced thrills of those first moments you feel grown-up. Older. Ready to take on the world.
What I never gave thought to until now were the parents upstairs.
I didn't think about how they must have felt knowing their basement was a portal from one phase of childhood into the next, running down the clock on innocence. How they must have been completely gobsmacked by the fact that suddenly these kids they'd known since preschool would be high schoolers in just a few months.
I didn't know how incredible it is to get a glimpse of who your teenager is becoming as you observe them with their friends.
I was unaware they were likely as nervous as we were.
Now I'm the parent. And right now, it feels like we've been tasked with so much more than our parents were. If we've collectively learned anything these past weeks, it's that regular parents aren't cut out to be teachers. And as it turns out, we're not cut out to be our childrens' peers either.
For the foreseeable future, I won't have a basement full of kids navigating that transition together. I won't snap that goofy graduation photo of my son and his friends—one they'd look back on and laugh at for decades. I won't transport a car full of loud, exuberant teenagers to roam the mall (yes, they still do that) crossing my fingers they won't irritate the food court patrons too much.
I guess I'm grieving for myself a little in that regard, too.
Of course, I know there's light at the end of the tunnel. As we navigate our way through it, we'll make do with virtual hangouts and celebrations. We'll pretend not to notice when they're up a little late playing video games with their friends. We'll brave this new "normal" together and allow them to find new ways to socialize and test the boundaries of growing up.
Maybe one day, a quarter-century from now, they'll look back and remember not the things they missed out on, but the ways they cultivated resilience while coming of age in a brand new era.