Thursday, April 22, 2021
Today I bring Luke to school for the first time in over a year. In his backpack are Covid-19 test results, a signed daily health tracker, hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, his Eureka workbooks, and a packet of cheddar sandwich crackers.
He’ll be going to school for math and social studies two mornings per week. In our arms are stacks of library books to return and a flower from the garden.
We don’t see any other kids walking to school. No high schoolers pouring off the city buses, buying candy and chips at the CVS. No packs of middle schoolers, looking at their phones, shuffling down Wisconsin.
Just this 10-year-old boy with his red backpack and his middle-aged mother carrying a daffodil, waiting at the crosswalk by the cars lining up at the intersection.
Two large white tents have been set up on the mulch playground, and kids are climbing the monkey bars. We look for the face that we’d only seen on an iPad rectangle.
Clumps of adults in dark coats huddle around children in front of the Pre-K classrooms, but where is the teacher who loves yoga and vegan food, whose parents immigrated from India and who’s passionate about social justice?
In normal times the morning assembly on the turf field would be thronging with over 750 kids and their parents. Today there are about 40.
We spot an orange 5-G sign and find the children, half covered with masks, that Luke learned to read and write with, the kids he’s sat next to in morning meetings, on field trips, at picnics, around lunch tables, in gym classes, and closing circles for the past 7 years.
The eyes of a boy whose mom I haven’t seen in a year catch mine for a split-second and seem to say, I know you.
“You hold this now,” I say, handing Luke the daffodil.
Another 5th grade teacher comes over to a huddle of Luke’s classmates and I overhear her say, “… so excited to see you, but…” Luke hands me back the daffodil.
“A migraine,” one of his classmates explains to me.
I give Luke a back hug before he and his classmates follow the substitute into the school.
Unlocking the front door, our house smells like the breath of children and sunlight. A single boy sits in an office chair facing his desktop computer in the living room.
I lay the daffodil in the refrigerator on its side next to a can of cat food.
The front door opens. Luke is in the foyer taking off his shoes, with wind on his eyelashes and his body swaddled in fresh air.
“I forgot to eat my snack,” he explains, as he takes another cheddar cracker out of the package.
First they had math on the smart board. Their assistant teacher was beamed in. “I raised my hand every time, but she didn’t see me.”
Music class was held outside. They sang 5 songs — Mr. W strummed his guitar — and they played Duck Duck Goose to the tune of Do Re Mi.
Friday, April 23, 2021
I wake up Luke for his second day of in-person class. “Shhh,” I say, as he thumps and clonks and makes trombone noises in the bathroom. “No one else has to get up this early!”
At the turf field, about 15 kids are standing or sitting cross-legged in a drawn out line behind the 5-G sign. They seem kind-of nervous, especially the boys.
A tall woman with long black hair and a poncho walks toward Luke’s class, smiling so brightly it was like she wasn’t wearing a mask.
“Ms. G, you have legs!” exclaims a girl. Luke’s teacher gives elbow bumps, takes hugs, and offers to carry the backpack of a girl with a broken leg, and then Luke grabs the daffodil, extends his arm and says, “Here,” and her eyes meet mine and she waves.
He looks 4 years old. I am young too. The dullness of “I know how this goes” is splashed off. Everything is new.
Luke walks back to me and says, “I didn’t know she was so tall.”
As Ms. G makes her way down the line, re-meeting every child, I notice the way her eyelashes curl at the tips, the way that one of her fingernails is painted with glitter, how the polka dots in her bow collect the sun. Against the turf and the sky as clear as water, she feels like a dream.
“Yesterday Mr. B forgot about snack,” a boy with a red knit cap tells her.
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t forget,” Ms. G says. “Snack is the most important part of the day.”
I thought you could know someone through virtual meetings and photographs, newsletters and friendly emails. I thought you could know someone by ‘All About Me’ slideshows and the way their voice wafts through your living room every day.
Taller, yes. More expansive, more beautiful, yes, but there was something more. More alive. She was exuding aliveness. She was life.