I think my family is very much like yours. We went into 2020 ready to live our best lives. We had plans to travel to new places and spend time with extended family. We had fitness goals and work goals. We had music lessons and dance lessons, wine dates, and dinner dates, and endless errands planned and unplanned for every moment in between. And of course, we had school.
So when our schools shuttered in March of last year, I’m not sure many of us were seriously considering that this temporary pause would stretch through an entire academic school year. And yet here we are. School has finally returned to a somewhat normal schedule but things are far from normal. I hear friends lamenting over and over about what we have lost. About what we had to leave behind. About what a horrible year we have had. I’m not even going to try and disagree with you - I’m there, too. It was a horrid year and one that I don’t wish to repeat. But maybe there is a way to look at it differently. I can find a few easy things to detail as the silver lining to a very cloudy year.
With schools closed, whether we wanted to or not, we got a rare glimpse into the way our kids learn. We discovered their strengths with phonics and their weaknesses with fractions. We saw them battle and then quickly master technology, jumping onto zoom calls in a flash. We witnessed their off-topic interactions with teachers, and their incredible ability to work through a task when they knew Minecraft was waiting for them. We got to see and hear their teachers be absolute masters of resilience. We were teachers to our kids and students of the process. Am I happy school is open? That would be a yes. Was the entire academic year lost? Not even close.
With no school, we thoroughly exhausted our lunch fare. We started out strong with warm leftovers or delicately presented platters of healthy nibbles and food. But we really found our stride with bags of chips, Lunchables and the apple tossed over to the desk. Eating together daily, discussing news and books and funny stories around the kitchen table, makes me jealous of the friends who have taken my place at school. My kids - all of our kids - are really awesome little people, aren’t they? We will need a refresher course on table manners….
No school and not a lot of homework. That left a whole lot of time in the evenings together, too. I consider myself a Lego Master now after countless evenings spent contributing my designs to a whole village. They invented all kinds of variations of Monopoly, none of which allowed me to win. I never was victorious with a video game. But I killed them with my jigsaw-puzzling prowess and my Uno skills. We laughed at new television programs and cried over crafts that just didn’t turn out the way we had planned. This uninterrupted and consistent time together in the house allowed us to really “see” each other. I got to know them better, but surprisingly, they got to know me, too. We had time to let each other in.
Don’t we owe it to ourselves to see the silver lining in these things and so many? The virus and school closures and everything else that fell apart at the seams this past year were not on us or in our control. But how we feel about it, how we talk about it, how we remember it, how we recover - is completely ours to decide. We can choose to find the silver lining. It is an opportunity to model for our children that life throws curveballs, and that ups and downs are to be expected. It is a chance to show them in real-time that everything will be just fine.
Shawn Achor wrote in his book Before Happiness that real optimism comes not from seeing the glass as either half empty or half full, but reminding ourselves of the pitcher of water that is sitting nearby, ready for countless refills. The last year away from school was hard. But we can choose to see what good came of it, and we can choose to share our enthusiasm for what is yet to come. I’ll drink to that.