Fifty Million Children
From the start, elected officials seemed more concerned about reopening bars and restaurants than safely reopening schools that hold the future of 50 million children in their hands.
New York Times Editorial, "School kids Are Not Alright," August 22, 2021
So here we are, in the mitigation stage of this pandemic, most of the world still unvaccinated, the children on this continent under 12 still unvaccinated, and school starting. Most parents are relieved, counting the days until their kids can get back into the classroom; kids, too, probably, unless they have forgotten what school is. One parent of a five-year-old told me, "He likes to get really close to his friends and hug and talk. How will his teacher navigate that?"
It is still really hard to see little ones masked, though we know they have to be in certain situations and will have to be all day at school. The other day, I drove down to the Gardiner Library to observe Carolyn Best-Hall and her trained miniature poodle, Fletcher, host a "read to Fletcher" session. Three kids had signed up, or their parents had, I should say. Carolyn had hoped the session could be outside, but it was too hot, so we went into the capacious community room. She laid out her magic blanket on the floor, everyone masked including the hovering parents nearby. Was this safe enough? Let's hope so.
There was much needed joy in these brief moments at the library. Carolyn was immediately connected to the children, asked interesting questions, and remained patient if there was a faltering word. The children stopped occasionally to talk to Fletcher, or pet him. Mostly, he was snoozing, comfortably. As I was smiling under my mask, I assumed that the parents were also. The scene was sweetness amplified.
Carolyn is a volunteer with Hudson Valley Paws for a Cause. She and her husband own Cherry Top Dairy in Newburgh, NY, if you are ever up or down that way—they specialize in soft ice cream—and when she's not bookkeeping, cleaning machines and running for supplies, she spends her time making therapy dog visits, mostly to nursing homes before Covid hit, and now to local libraries for "literacy visits," a welcome respite from at-home learning. One fraught parent I chatted to said she was looking for something to do with her active child, anything at all, to get her away from the computer and out of the house on a sunny day.
I don't have young children so can't imagine what it's been like this past school year, but I can attest to the exhaustion of teaching Zoom classes, much as I appreciate the technology. I am beat to a frazzle when I'm done and have trouble unwinding. I want to eat, even though I always eat before a workshop. Last night, my internet crashed in the middle of critquing students' work, and I was even more frazzled. Thank goodness one of my calm students texted me as I was rebooting. "We are continuing, the conversation," he wrote. After we signed off, I could barely watch the baseball game though I knew I wanted the Yankees to win.
Strange, that this is the second post in recent weeks I've written about a special dog, and the first I've written for a long while about children. It got me thinking about the less privileged children left behind, or the children in war zones, or the children at the airport in Kabul. I hope they get to flip the pages of a book in a safe school setting or a library soon. And I hope all the dire predictions about missed days in a classroom are wrong, and that all children everywhere will catch up and speed ahead into a less stressful, mask free and/or war free future.