VILLAGES, OTTER PARADES, and that DAMN COVID-19…

In the age of COVID-19, like much of the world, my family and I have had to adjust all that we deem normal. We have begun exploring our neighborhood in ways we had not previously felt connected enough to do. Our relationship with technology has evolved from the rituals of Facebook and Instagram to masterfully juggling work meetings, 4th grade classes and extracurricular lessons through the eyes of Zoom and Facetime. Playdates are Roblox meet-ups. Ladies’ night is no longer overshadowed by dimly lit bars, robust chatter or loud music, but rather synchronized logins, children making cameos in the background and “I miss you” filling spaces where melancholy resides. Even the nature of family crisis differs from what we ever thought we would experience in our lifetime. Irony is not lost on the realization that this is our lifetime.

We move through it like soldiers.

Precise and determined.

We try to avoid counting the days. It all seems so endless when we do, even when it is clear we have officially surpassed Noah’s voyage on the Ark. At least he could see the water. COVID is a ghastly fool lurking in the shadows. Arrogant and incredulous. Always five steps ahead yet everywhere we turn. Taunting us. Rejoicing in our misery.

I once took pride in being introverted.

I told myself and anyone who asked that this forced isolation is without strife. It is not impossible to manage; even in solitude I am still far freer than some. After all, I have a place to call home. A place to take refuge, a place to breathe—literally. When I consider the alternative, it seems irreverent to complain. So, I do not, mostly; even when I realize as an introvert, solitude does not bring much solace when it has been stripped of choice.

It is not to say I do not feel burdened by the need to be strong, at times. Being a single mother with an only child comes with its own set of consequences. Our children begin to see through us. They crawl into the cavities of our most vulnerable moments, linger there like an itch we cannot reach or a film we cannot clear.  They need hugs and kisses and reassurance. They throw their full weight on us, expect us to carry them across this rugged terrain we now call life, despite the mirages. And we do, because we are parents and if we do not, who will?  It all feels a bit deceptive. Like we’re living some secret life but instead of having superpowers and a hidden lair, the façade is actually our strength.

We push through, however. We work on projects we never had time to complete. Read the books that collected on shelves or desks. Pull out board games and puzzles, just to switch up the monotony a bit. We tell ourselves that this will all be over soon. Pray we do not look like fools in the process. We feel impetuous for suggesting yet another video call with friends, as if it was indeed impetuous. It is not. It is just all we have for now. And although they fully understand the necessity of social distancing—they can even joke about it a little, perhaps a silver lining—it is not the same.  Nonetheless, we manage to tuck it all away. The anxiety. The unanswered questions. The fear…

We rise purposefully each day, grateful to see the sun over houses in the distance. Challenge ourselves to take in air fresh and blessed by spring. We find peace in circumstances that feel riddled with danger. Afterall, things can always be worse, right?  A mantra to our indifference. So, we seek ways to truly endure it all. Like DJ parties in our living rooms, open mics that have gone from monthly events to weekly hotspots at the click of a link, soccer in the yard per the direction of a favorite PE teacher, African dance with Joe. Otter Parades—

My son’s small, independent school, a utopia of Privilege and Revolution, where an Otter stands as their mascot, sought to give the children what they have been missing over the past six weeks, each other. At least some semblance of such. At a school were everything is literally hands-on; this digital life has been no less than a culture shock.

It is Tuesday, the clouds are buoyant, and the sun is vibrant. Stepping out into it feels like crawling out of a bunker. May appears to have gotten the memo, April was fierce and demanding, so I would hope so. We coast through the thirty-minute route from home to school. The highway is empty like a Sunday morning. The emotions in the car are elevated. Much like the first day of school all over again.  Not the first day of the school year, but the first day at this school. My son sits hyper focused on a gamer video, exhaling vividly as we glide along. His head darts up, half expecting, half impatient, mostly just ready…

 “Oh Gosh,” and “this is so weird” erupts from his lips with every passing sign. His feet tap the floorboards anxiously. It is euphoric—the anticipation.

We pass the dentist we switched to for convenience, the golf course opened solely to its members. Carol Park. We round the curves absent of sidewalks, maneuvered around cyclist, wait our turn at gridded intersections and gasp in unison as the Library, historical cemetery and the combined safety station aligned in our sight.

Then it happens.

That dip in serotonin.

That reminder of how this pandemic raided our existence as we know it.

My son’s energy is like a book folded to a page that has been read more times than the ink can handle. He stretches his hand up the center console, desperately grappling for any part of me he can reach. It is all too real now. The canceled school year. The missed friendships, the finality of it all. We turn onto that familiar street, narrow and unrelenting in the way it stretches deep into an abyss, just to spit us back out, front and center again. Teachers and faculty line the perimeters, friends hang from car windows, arms waving, kisses blowing, air hugging and smiles wider than mask can cloak.

And then it’s over…

A simple trailer of how things should be.

The Otter Parade was the school’s way of offering the children something tangible. Their way of emphasizing that this temporary pause is just that—temporary. However, this five-minute stroll through campus was far more profound. It was oxygen. Synaptic jolts that left us solemn and revitalized. Hopeful in a way we had not determined as vital. My son commented on how much the grass had grown. That it has time to do so since it is not filled with children. His eyes stared longingly at the play structure. He would hurdle the short wooden fence, if he could.

As we exited the campus, pausing at the “right turn only” sign impeccably placed, we sat speechless, suffocated by our thoughts, teary-eyed and fully aware that we had just been filled with a sustenance we did not know we needed.

 And suddenly we were insatiable.

Ravenous.

Heartbroken.

Numb—

He asked for McDonalds. I was certain food and I would not agree in this moment. For him, it was comfort. Something I’ll monitor and hope doesn’t become a pattern in times of sorrow, an issue for another day. In the moments it took us to travel to the nearest drive-thru, my son concluded what I believe to be the consensus of most ten-year-old boys enduring an egregiously unfair situation where they are forced to find solace. Our fleeting stroll down memory lane had “sucked” as equally as it was “amazing.”

 And it did.

It was.

The fragility of our worlds is no longer encapsulated in history books. It is today in 2020. In the age of COVID-19. On campuses in affluent communities, in neighborhoods where cops still pin black men down for looking suspicious in masks but hand them out like flyers in public parks. In over inundated health care systems, through faltering economies, in the families of lost loved ones and significantly in the hearts of children who just want to go to school.

My son is not yet old enough to understand the impact of true heartbreak. I imagine when he does, he will think back on this moment or something similar and connect it as familiar. There are so many ways in which the magnitude of our isolation transcends our imagination. Those are the moments where our villages matter most. They are the glue that binds us. They stabilize our foundation, even when it seems we are balancing on a house of cards. Whether a surprise birthday party over zoom or 150 families parading through the intimate campus of a small independent school, our villages have never fallen. If anything, they are far mightier.

By nightfall, my son had regressed to his three-year-old self. He forced me to cradle him, his head snuggled in the crook of my neck. His long legs grazing my ankles. The new version of Thomas the Train played on his television. A child who is proficiently articulate never found words beyond his earlier exclamation. Just babbles, and groans. Then again, words were not needed. The moment spoke for itself. So, I gave him what matter most—a space to just be.

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