Even though I knew it was coming, the news that learning would happen remotely in my town was a punch in the gut. Remote learning was not a painless experience for our family this past spring, and I’m not sure how we’re going to manage it this fall with three school-agers and a toddler. Many of us are in the same boat — haggard, overwhelmed, and all-around sick of it. I need a break and there isn’t one in sight. But when I think about how grief-stricken I am about all that this pandemic has stolen from our lives, my children not being able to attend school in a brick and mortar building isn’t what rises to the top of the list.
As an introverted person who often resists social events, it surprises me to say this… But… I…
I miss people.
I miss my community, my village. I miss people I don’t even know. I miss the little girl with glasses who smiled and waved at me from her seat on the bus every morning as it picked up my youngest son. I miss seeing the protective older sister, who always shepherded her little brother off the bus when it arrived at my middle son’s school, usually around the time I was walking him into the building. I miss the school principal who enthusiastically greeted my oldest son every morning I dropped him off, and then always happily smiled and waved at me.
I miss the familiar faces of the parents I don’t know, as we exchanged glances of relief after saying goodbye to our kids every morning. I miss the supportive chit chat of parents who hung around the playground after picking their kids up from school in the afternoon. I didn’t realize how much I took the camaraderie of this haphazard grown-up after-school club for granted. The same faces and empathetic smiles day after day were so comforting, even if we didn’t know each other’s names.
But I miss the people whose names I do know even more. And I miss their kids.
I could count on sweet hugs from a handful of my friends’ kids every time I saw them. I love having these connections with kids who aren’t mine. One friend’s daughter would point out every time she wore her sweatshirt with shiny unicorns on it, because a couple of years ago I casually mentioned how much I loved it. Other kids would invite themselves over to my house, and then request that I finalize arrangements with their parents. A couple would reliably give me a high five every time our paths crossed. One particularly shy and guarded son of a close friend had finally worked his way up to a regular fist bump. I miss these kids so much that it brings tears to my eyes if I think about it.
How will they react when we are able to see each other again? How will I react when we are unmasked and able to be within high-fiving distance? How much will they have grown? How restrained will they be after so much time apart? Will the affection be as effortless as it had eventually gotten? Or will this prolonged social distance keep us at an emotional distance?
I think about my own kids five months ago and how much they have changed. My 2-year-old foster child has lived almost a quarter of her life in pandemic times. Her hair is much longer than it was before, she’s significantly taller, and her baby features are just about gone. Would she even recognize the teacher she last said goodbye to five months ago? The friends she left behind? Would those little friends recognize or remember her? A friend sent me a picture of her almost one-year-old foster baby on vacation at the beach today and I was stunned. Gone was the little bundle I held when I last saw him in January. In his place is this gorgeous, smiling, sitting up, budding little toddler. I’ve missed half his life while waiting out Coronavirus. I wouldn’t even recognize him if I saw him out in the world today.
I am missing all those kids fiercely. Whether they are specifically missing me or not, I know they are missing their village of other adults who voiced appreciation for them, who encouraged them throughout their day, and from whom they could regularly count on a hug or high five. Adults who aren’t parents are so important to kids. And many of them don’t have those right now.
As much as I think about the kids I know in passing, or the ones I’m close enough to hug regularly, I wonder about the adults in my children’s lives who have played those roles for them. Sometimes I would get text messages from friends or neighbors who wanted to tell me about a particularly sweet interaction they had with one of my kids while I wasn’t there. There must be other adults who regularly interacted with them. I’m so sad my kids are missing out on these kinds of connections. They might seem peripheral in our every day, pre-pandemic lives. But really they’re the savory drippings of community and togetherness.
And I think about all the kids who have come into foster care, who are right here in my midst and I don’t yet know them because social distance has created insurmountable barriers to new connections. And what about the kids I will never see again because they have moved on? Back to their parents, to relatives, to another foster placement… These kids are part of the fabric of our community, their absence tearing us irreparably. And we didn’t even get to say goodbye.
We’ve all missed so much in the last few months, as we’ve navigated the most formidable challenge of our lifetime. Health, safety, and economic survival are certainly at the top of the list of worries and anxieties. But so too should be the loss of our social communities and daily connections. Particularly for our children. We are social creatures, all needing to connect to others in ways both big and small. That’s the basis of All Our Kids – we are creating the Village we all wish we had while parenting foster and adopted children. And though I know we’ll eventually reconnect, share hugs and high-fives, right now I’m missing it. I’m missing all of you. And it really hurts.