Yes, Son, Others Do Have it Much Worse, But You Can Mourn Your Summer (a Little Bit)

Dear Liam,

It is the first full week of summer, which is usually filled with all sorts of excitement and possibility. Boundless possibilities and talk of adventure often fill this week, discussion of new places to visit and promises to improve our running and maybe plant some vegetables. This year is so different.

Distance Learning was challenging, but it may have been one of the best things for you. While I jokingly call you Old Man Liam, distance learning afforded you opportunities to become much more independent and self-reliant. You had to check in to Google Classroom each morning, making a list of assignments before joining three Google Hangouts. You learned how to cook a bunch of meals, informing me at the end of some days that you made your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. You learned that you had to ask for help and find answers when things were confusing, relying on teacher emails and Google Hangout office hours, group class chats, and even YouTube for clarification.

While you were doing this, I was in the midst of my own distance learning experience. While parents applauded me, I realized how easy I had it, spending my days wearing sweats and talking to kids about The Outsiders, relating the problems of Johnny and PonyBoy to current events in attempts to make sense of both COVID and civil unrest affecting our country. I had it much more comfortable than most.

Although you excelled at distance learning, you also counted down to the last day of school. An hour after school ended, your eyes filled with tears. “This isn’t how I wanted my year to end! I love my teacher and I wish I had more time with her. It isn’t fair.” You wanted the hugs and high fives that usually accompany the last day of school.

We did this in our house that is small yet big enough to take breaks from each other. Sometimes, we did our distance learning in our backyard, enjoying the sunshine and warm spring air. Banjo thought this was the greatest thing to ever happen to him- his people were home all day!

Two days later, I suggested driving to Newport and walking the Cliff Walk. You asked if we could instead walk Thames Street and downtown. It was the first time we had to wear our masks for any length of time, which was horrible and leaves me so concerned for the fall when I will wear one all day at school. We bought cookies, watched the water, and browsed the stores a bit. It was time to go home, and as we drove over the Newport Bridge, talking about the time we ran over it and wondering if life will be normal enough to do so this October, you burst into tears, the feelings you had been suppressing coming up and out.

Too many times during this breakdown, I heard you apologize. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I know that other people have it so much worse than we do.” We talked about summer, how it usually means endless possibilities and new adventures. “But this summer will be different. I’m tired of walks and bike rides. And hikes are nothing more than walks in the woods.” (Dammit, you figured that out!)

“Hikes are just walks in the woods.”

During this past month, we’ve had other stuff going on. Banjo got hurt and required two surgeries. While we tried not to talk about it within your earshot, we whispered about how much pet insurance would cover and where that left us. You toured the new school you’ll be attending in the fall because your school eliminated morning care. You helped me honor my mom on the tenth anniversary of her passing, making you realize that you do not know this woman everyone says loved you so much. We’ve somehow managed to fit years of terrible events into a very short amount of time. And while you are the kindest, most compassionate kid I have ever met, you have not had to experience any real trauma, so this is new to you.

So here’s what you need to know:

It is okay to be sad about the summer. You’re right- it won’t be as much fun as it usually is for us.

You are learning about social justice, reading New Kid and They Called Us Enemy and learning about Pride and Black Lives Matter. We are teaching you that the world you have experienced is not the same world everyone experiences. You have been so open to learning about injustice, and discussing what we can do to be a part of the solution, which is a lot of new information. While it is tough to hear, you need to learn things that other mothers do have the luxury of deciding when and what life lessons they teach their children.

So while we keep teaching you that other people are affected by COVID by a much higher extent than you are, you are still allowed to be sad. We can play in our yard with our friends, take Banjo for walks, and feel safe and without fear of paying bills on time. We will not visit the Baseball Hall of Fame as we talked about after watching A League of Their Own. Nor will we take the train to New York City, visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, or sing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway. But we will read books and go for bike rides. We not take random trips to the zoo, but we will eat ice cream and Del’s lemonade. You and Dad will relearn how to play Magic the Gathering. We are going to master making friendship bracelets. We will complete socially distanced November Project workouts stay active at home.

It may not be the summer we usually have, but I promise it to be great as it safely and possibly can be, and we will count our blessings.

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