Friday, December 24, 2021

What we've lost, what we still have

The other day, I served lunch at Ben's school. I've been waiting six years to do this. Once Sabrina left for middle school, there was no more doling out pizza and spying on her interacting with her friends. But now Ben's in kindergarten and finally, they let in parents to help with lunch. 

I had a vision of hordes of kids gathered in the lunchroom as I walked in for my shift. But when I arrived, it was sadly and eerily empty. The volunteers' job was to place delivered sandwiches and chips in bags and walk them over to classrooms. 

I stood in the giant room and looked around. In my head, I could hear the loud, happy chatter of kids. I could picture Sabrina sitting and giggling with her friends and how happy she was to see me back in the day when she used to be happy to see me. I remembered the kids who'd come up to the serving station and ask for an extra slice of pizza or fries. Only Ben wasn't having that experience; all the kids eat outdoors now. I had to duck out into the hallway and take a walk because tears welled up. 

The last couple of weeks have been sobering. Yes, Omricon Omricon Omricon, but also because I've been confronting what my children are missing out on. Last week, I had a chat with Max's assistant principal and the lovely person who oversees the work experience program at his school. Max has been working at a church since October, putting together gift bags for new moms and doing other tasks. The word from the job coach is, he does a great job and is super-social.   

This may be the only real work experience Max gets for the school year; there are way fewer companies and businesses offering opps to his school. Some places have closed. Some are wary of letting in outsiders, or lack the resources. I expressed my concerns, but the school has no answers to give. They are doing their best, supplementing Max's experience with a workshop at school in which students do office-related tasks, make deliveries in the building and complete jobs from businesses (say, stuffing envelopes). I was told to see whether there might be volunteer work Max could do in the community.

I mused out loud about working my network to see if I could find a weekend job for him. I ached inside about the job experiences he's missed out on this year and last. I ached about the social events he hasn't had—the dances at school, the get-togethers with students from other schools, school sleepovers (they used to be offered a couple of times a year) and various trips. Ben and Sabrina have also missed out on school events and other activities, but for Max, school has long been his main source of socializing. 

I grabbed a big tote bag of sandwiches for the kindergarten classes and headed to Ben's room. Along the way, I passed a wall of photos of students and my immediate reaction was, "Eeep, no masks!" It's this pandemic habit I've developed; if I'm watching TV and there's a party or social gathering, my first reaction is: They're not masked, it's not safe! I stood in the doorway of Ben's class until he saw me and his whole face lit up and my whole heart filled up. I walked them out, distributed the sandwiches and crouched down next to Ben.

"Can you come next week too?" was the first question out of his mouth.

"I want my Daddy to serve lunch with you next week!" a little girl announced. 

I watched the kids happily munch their sandwiches. I listened to their chitchat. It was just a row of them, socially distanced, and they all seemed perfectly content. "I'm so excited that you're here!" he said.

It was total lunch mom satisfaction and total lunch mom therapy.

I mean, isn't that the best cure for the Covid blues—counting your blessings and oaking up your children's smiles and sweetness and love (er, when you aren't squabbling because you've been holed up together for far too l).

For sure, gratitude hasn't always come easy in the last two years. Once, I wrote a whole article about it for Health Magazine when I worked there. I learned some good tips then fell out of practice, although I've occasionally forced myself to consider how relatively lucky we and our circumstances are.

Max's lack of work experience may not be lucky, but he's learning the"soft skills" needed for employment—listening and focusing, responding to requests, following directions, using your manners, telling everyone you're moving to Los Angeles. Oh, wait. And if I know anything about raising a child with disabilities, sometimes you have to make your own luck happen. Come January, I'm going to try and figure out some other work opp for him. My biggest challenge may be that he'll insist on doing it in Los Angeles, his fantasy home. 

My children's lack of socialization isn't at all lucky, either. Winter's not going to make it easy to hang inside with friends and there's a real risk of schools going virtual again. But when I work it through in my head, we just have to hang in there till March-ish, when we'll all head outside again. 

I've more or less accepted that we could all get Covid. That's a worry technique I've picked up through the years: You imagine a worst-case scenario, then you work it through in your head and come to terms with it. It's mostly scary to think of for Max, whose cerebral palsy poses risks unknown. But I trust in the science. I believe in the efficacy of vaccines to reduce the worst symptoms. And I believe in the power of family and love. 

Happy Holidays to you and yours.




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  2. Your consistently positive, resilient and adaptable attitude is so refreshing and inspiring, Ellen. You’re a wonderful example for all of us. I hope you, Max and the family have a fantastic holidays and Merry Christmas. May we all not have to virtual school come January! Wishing you all the best in 2022!


Thanks for sharing!

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