#December17: The Day I Decided not to Accept Abnormal as Normal
December 17 has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It was my kids’ last day of school before the Holiday break. It fell on a Friday, which felt perfectly festive and appropriate. Earlier that week, my kindergartener and preschooler had both performed in the Nutcracker, and we were all ready to kick off the Christmas celebrations.
They had survived their first semester fully back at school, in person. They mastered twice weekly Covid testing and wearing a KN95 mask all day. So, if after pick-up, they wanted to see the overly crowded Rockefeller tree, stand in line for an hour to go ice skating or have a double dose of hot chocolate, my answer would be yes. It would be a small reward, a welcome reprieve, a reminder of what life was like before the pandemic, way back in December 2019.
And there it was — the grinch entering my inbox at 4:53pm the night before, a school email with the subject line: “TikTok Nationwide School Shootings Warning for December 17.”
Instead of planning a fun “Yes Day,” I was up until three in the morning perusing every news outlet on the internet, having horribly morbid conversations with my husband, and connecting with every Mommy friend I’ve ever met to ask the question:
Are you sending your kids to school tomorrow?
I fell asleep with the phone in my hand, still unsure of what I would do the next morning, the same dreaded uncertainty I fell asleep and woke up to every day of 2020 like the world’s worst nightmare-and-hangover revolving door.
At the same time as the sun peeled my eyes open, my kids rushed into my room wondering why I wasn’t awake yet and reminding me it’s “Friday! Friday! Friday!”
I sat up in bed, my thoughts racing: “I can’t do this. But they’re so excited. I can’t let fear destroy their joy. I won’t let the grinch win.”
I swallowed my anxiety and got them ready for school. They were 15 minutes late, which in Montessori time is way beyond the grace period.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” I sheepishly said to their teacher.
After taking my children’s temperature, he looked up at me and said very kindly: “You are exactly on time.”
I walked away from the school, jittery all over my body, but knowing they were where they needed to be — with the teachers who put on smiles each morning, who let us know every day that everything will be okay and who create a safe space in such an unsafe world.
I opened my front door and crumbled on the couch, the weight of it all on my shoulders. Personally, I spent much of 2020 trying to figure out how to manage my anxiety so I wouldn’t pass it down to my kids, like unwanted family inheritance. Throughout 2021, following a year of lock downs, social distancing, and stretch-y pants, there was an unsaid societal expectation to move on — not to dwell on the trauma of the past. And I was keeping up.
I was getting used to this hybrid thing. So much had changed, yet so much felt the same. Like every other parent, I learned to check off a new list of responsibilities and requirements — the daily health screenings and twice-weekly telemedicine appointments required for in-school testing — so skillfully that it started to feel routine.
That is until that end-of-day email on December 16. It stopped me in my tracks.
The abnormal had become normal.
Just because we can adapt doesn’t mean we should.
No human being should have to adapt to knowing what to do when a mutation of a deadly virus has emerged. No parent should have to adapt to knowing what to do when receiving a national threat to our schools. No kid should have to adapt to knowing what to do during an active shooter drill.
Adaptation may lead to survival, but it rarely leads to change.
I’m tired of adapting. I’m ready to resist. Which is why this Christmas, I’m celebrating the wisdom to acknowledge things are not ok and the courage to do something about it. To fight and to join causes. To have meaningful conversations and to take action. Until the sweet cancels out the bitter. Until Holiday cheer safely and freely returns.
After all that agony, it ended up being a quiet day. I welcomed the kids home with two cups of hot chocolate and snuggled them up under a cozy blanket. Together, we looked through each piece of work in their “Friday folder” and each happy picture the school posted. I cherished every word of their long, overly detailed stories. Through their eyes, the day was full of beauty and simplicity.
It’s easy to forget that each day is a gift but one like December 17, 2021 is packaged with a bow. In the box, you can find many gems. Among them is the ability to appreciate the mundane and the uneventful, and the determination to replace worry with wonder.