The First day of School at Grace Neighborhood Nursery School
Life in a pandemic
They are three, four, almost five. Many of them are small enough to fit inside their own backpacks. They wait outside the alley door with their moms and dads and grandparents and dogs and nannies. It is a gray raw morning, cold for September and rain is forecast. And they all are wearing masks. We squirt their tiny hands with sanitizer and take their temperature. Record it on the attendance log. They say their good-byes at the alley door and enter the school in a pod with their teacher and classmates—8. It is the first day of school for many of them, for about half, their first day at Grace. Do the ones returning remember last year’s first day? How they were brought to their classroom, had help hanging up their jackets and backpacks and entered the room with their parent or caregiver?
Hellos and good-byes have become more public. So have tears. Taking place on sidewalks and in alleys. On streets. I walk the last two students to arrive, up to their classrooms. With each one, I offer them the handrail or my hand to traverse the stairs. They each take my hand. For them, a normal, natural thing; to take hold of the hand of an adult who is there to help them. For this I am glad. That we haven’t lost this way of being, despite the last 6 months. Despite the stay at home orders and school closing two months early last spring. Despite the small worlds we’ve all been living in. Despite the deaths from Covid, and from the murders that have triggered calls for justice and change, despite peaceful protests and then the riots that followed, burned our city in late May. Burned buildings in these children’s neighborhoods. We have all been through so much.
So that school has opened, and the children are here, painting and building with the blocks, reading books and cutting out shapes, learning each other’s names and ours, is not taken for granted. When I asked Caroline and Elijah as I walked them to their bus, how school was today, Caroline said great, and did I know what she liked best? Playing with the playdough. Elijah’s answer to what he liked best? Everything.
And if you asked me what I liked best? These trips up and down the stairs with a child, these normal ordinary moments moving between where we’ve been, and where we are going.
Painting by Lily