September has arrived. A month that is always ushered in with much anticipation, albeit sometimes bittersweet, as we wrap up the summertime and look towards the start of a new school year. Generally, there is a sense of certainty, and families can start to plan out what their falls will look like, assuring their children of the things to come.
Ms. Smith is your teacher, and you will have 18 other students in your class. You will ride the bus to school, and get lunch in the cafeteria. You have PE on Thursdays, so remember to wear sneakers to school then. We signed you up for soccer, so you’ll have practice on Tuesday nights and games on Saturday mornings.
Conversations this year are entirely different.
I know school starts in a week, but I don’t know who your teacher is. A lot of kids are staying home to do distance learning, and the rest of the class is split up, so you’ll only have a few other kids in your class. I’m not sure how you will get to school yet, but you’ll only be in school twice a week anyway. I think you’re going to be eating in your classrooms, but they haven’t told us the plan yet. I don’t know if you’re going to have PE. After school clubs are cancelled. If you don’t keep your mask on your face, they might send you home. Stay six feet away from everybody, and wash your hands all the time. I am not sure how long you will stay in school.
The start of schools falls six months after our normal as a society was abruptly unraveled by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. As a foster family, we have come to accept that our normal is ever changing. For us, and many others, this September is anything but certain.
Looking back at March, it turns out our children were probably the most adept at adapting to the change in our house. They rolled into distance learning and a life spent entirely in our home without much trepidation. We were, yet again, blown away by their resilience. What was yet another abrupt and dramatic change to their life after having been removed from their home, families, and lives as they once knew them? For them, it seemed to be yet another obstacle in their young lives. They had already been accustomed to having life as they knew it ripped out from under them.
Considering that we have only been fostering our children for not yet a year, six months is a long time. In a matter of months, we went from being strangers to quickly encompassing nearly their entire world. Despite the challenges that this time has presented all of us, we have come to embrace some of the changes that the pandemic brought. Rather than waking the kids from a deep sleep only to rush them through the process as we hurried them out the door, our mornings became focused on each other, our daily devotionals, and having breakfast. Our days, which were once filled with work, school, commuting, rushing from one event to the next, and hurrying through meals to get to the next thing, became filled with ample time together. Meals were no longer rushed, hikes were the highlight of the day, and we had a surplus amount of quality time.
Our faith grew, as have our faith based routines. We brought Church into our home through Sunday virtual services, and our own version of Awana every Wednesday evening — time for the kids to dance to Vacation Bible School (VBS) songs, and then memorize verses with us. We started a voluntary “No Bible, No Breakfast” routine (known affectionately as “nub-nub”) to ensure that each day was grounded in the Word.
We also learned to be creative with date night routines that consisted of movies in the basement, board games, or just designated one-on-one time with other household members. Neighborhood play dates with the children down the street started out as a novelty and have now become a more routine part of our weekend. We began to cherish time with other adults, any adults. I started running again and Rachel took over dog walking where we would utilize the time to be by ourselves, listen to podcasts, or call friends and family to check in and catch up. We have celebrated birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and national holidays. We have engaged in hard — but necessary — conversations about race and privilege, grappled with current events, and processed disappointing case updates together.
Like all families, we’ve had our share of challenges during the last six months. We’ve all experienced feelings of isolation, disappointment in cancelled activities, and wanting nothing more than some time apart from the four other people in the house. Admittedly, there are days where we yelled more than we should, issued some unjust “quiet times” and replied with too sharp retorts. We have all learned to admit when we are wrong, and the art in apologizing. As humans, we know our shortcomings are many. But for now, we are choosing to see the good, because that is the hope we can hold on to.
We also recognize that we have experienced this pandemic through a lens of privilege. We maintained our employment and were allowed a level of flexibility from our employers that enabled us to care for our children. We remained healthy, secure, and supported by our community. We went on a vacation as a family, and our children attended summer camp for several weeks. We know our experience is fortunate and that has led us to the duality of desiring a return to our normal life and our somewhat simplified pandemic experience.
The past six months have re-wired the way we operate with one another and bonded us together in a unique way. It has reminded us to slow down, to get creative with how we spend time together, and that life can be simple, but beautiful at the same time. It has shown us that small interactions matter — whether with the dedicated school staff that distribute lunches each day, or neighborhood chats from the front lawn. We have been reminded of the value in serving others during challenging times, and although there is value in having a busy social calendar, the absence of one presents value as well.
We are well aware that this pandemic is far from over. We have a long road ahead of us, and it is very likely that at the drop of a hat, we can lose some of the comforts we have just started getting used to. There are things we are all longing to return to. Parts of our past normal that we want to reintegrate into our present reality. We want our children to see their families in person. We want them to be with their peers again. We want to spend time in our Church building, in schools, and at work. But, we are trying to avoid a total 180 that snaps us back to our life that was, and leaves us unable to bring forward all the lessons we have learned during this time together. As we step into the Fall, we are going to be deliberate with how we transition back into our life and that may mean making some difficult decisions with how we spend our time.