It has been sixteen weeks since my daughter was last in school with her friends, her first grade teacher, her regular routine. The last time she sat down with her best friends in the cafeteria or made a piece of art surrounded by her peers. The last time I got to walk her the two blocks to school and pick her up at the end of the day. These sudden changes seemed so drastic, but they didn’t really seem permanent. There was still a chance that she would be getting back to school before the end of the year. She would be performing in the Grandparents’ Day Concert in the school gymnasium, sitting with her best friends at lunch, and we would be walking to school together every morning. That everyday routine was going to return. Until it didn’t.
Instead, we had to pivot. We learned how to navigate a new online learning system and navigate Google Classroom. We practiced songs for the Grandparents’ concert in the office accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. We (well, she) learned about the transmutative and commutative properties of multiplication. Conversations with friends were conducted via FaceTime and Google Hangouts. She read books on a computer and had lunch at home everyday surrounded by her cats. She adjusted admirably, until she didn’t. Fortunately, she didn’t hit that wall of disgust with the “new normal” until the school year was almost over, but I don’t think she’ll ever look back on those final months of first grade and remember how much she enjoyed the preferred online learning platform they opted to use for reading and phonics and spelling and math.
Then came summer. She cannot return to swim lessons at the Y or meet her friends at a park for a playdate. The summer sessions she was registered for were cancelled. The school district has offered online learning opportunities for the summer, and that’s something. She continues to have virtual playdates with friends and with her cousins, but there won’t be any trips up north or to Minneapolis this summer. No trips to Chicago to see friends and catch a Cubs game. Once again, we’ve had to pivot.
So we’ve upgraded our pink plastic kiddie pool to a larger inflatable pool, one that she can float and almost swim in. We found a deal on a used bike so she can practice riding, something she has finally shown an interest in. We now have a makeshift disc golf course in the backyard and she’s getting better and better at her backhand grip. We’re continuing our annual tradition of raising Monarch butterflies and she helped to plant a garden with kohlrabi, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers.
We also have weekly visits from Viktor Krum, and Sirius Black and when we leave the house, we have to make sure that Harry and Ron have their bowties on straight and that Hermione’s hair is brushed. She has held trials for the cats, two of which have been sentenced to “Catskaban.” Buckbeak is living in the garage, and we practice spells on Lucius, Narcissa, and Bellatrix (but never the unforgivable curses). She receives books via Owl Post and takes online classes for Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Charms. We have been reading the books every night since lockdown and the world of HP has become for her, like so many others, an effective means of escape. Through these beloved characters, she is learning about loyalty, friendship, courage, and yes, even evil.
This is what fantasy does for us. It dilutes the real world enough that we can swallow it. Through the lens of fantasy, something that is too big to handle in the real world can be colored in ways that are easier to understand. Yes, she can grasp the importance of wearing a mask in public to protect herself and others from this virus, but it’s a bit more fun if we can also pretend that the mask will protect us from a Dementor’s kiss. It is now also easier to convince her that she should brush her hair just as often as Hermione.
Our kids don’t need to know everything that is going on. They need our presence and our protection. But with the right tools, we can help them start to understand and comprehend these things on their own in ways that are more real to them than lists of things to do or not do. If our little “Season of the Witch” is keeping her happy, entertained, and imaginative through a pandemic, civil unrest, and an upcoming election, I’m just fine with that. And what will we do come fall when classes resume, either virtually or in-person? We will pivot again, wands at the ready.