The kids will (probably) be alright
(Randomly at bedtime)
6 yo: Can God hear us right now?
6 yo: Where is God anyway?
Me: That's a great question, where do you think God is?
6 yo: On the roof?
Me: Maybe! Where else?
6 yo: Somewhere in the universe.
Me: Well, everything is in the universe.
8 yo: Everything that we know.
Me: That's true. I guess we don't know if there's anything beyond the universe. What if there was something beyond the universe? Like maybe the very best ice cream shop.
8 yo: Maybe there's a sign that says “congratulations” when you get outside the universe.
6 yo: Maybe that's where God is.
Let's face it: it's been a rough last couple of years for kids (and their parents!) I continue to be shocked that my 6-year-old has no memory of "before Covid." All he knows of school is masks and distancing, all he knows of travel is caution and calculated risk. But we're the lucky ones. We've not experienced the loss, serious illness, relocation or other tough times that other families have endured. We're okay, but we're not, because no one is really totally okay after living through collective trauma. I'm not really sure that we're done yet.
I volunteer at my kids' school, and I prioritize being in the Kindergarten class when I have a kid in that grade. I had a Kindergartener this past year, and I had one in that grade prior to the pandemic. Same amazing teacher, doing her same amazing thing. But this year was totally different. Many kids struggled. Many hadn't been in a structured environment and, the teacher said, some didn't even know how to hold a scissors. Many had spent a LOT of time on screens (mine did more than I ever imagined during peak pandemic, so I'm not judging). There were a lot big feelings and acting those out. A good friend teaches Kindergarten at another school in town and he had a 5 yo who frequently cussed him out. Social scientists are going to be studying these kids for awhile to see what the long-term mental and social impacts are of these Covid days. Are the kids going to be alright?
So, since I'd spent time in a Kindergarten classroom this past year, I shouldn't have been surprised to see some children struggle to focus when I volunteered at our church's Vacation Bible School this last week. The church where my family and I are members did this curriculum from ELCA World Hunger. The themes centered around growth and healing, including daily themes like "different bodies different gifts" and one day about creation.
I was asked to lead one of the stations for the rotation model -- the Bible story station, which I shared with another volunteer. There were five groups of kids, and the oldest three groups seemed to do fine, but the youngest two groups (the fours and fives) struggled to pay attention to my presentation style. There was more wiggling, wandering and chucking throw pillows around than I expected. I wondered if it was me. Was I too boring? Was this just too much structure for them? Had they had a hard year too? Were the kids going to be alright?
It continued like this during the week, and then we arrived at day four of VBS. The day's theme was "Healthy Grief" and I was a little uneasy. I don't mind talking about death, but how would this work in a classroom where I was losing the classroom management battle? This would surely be a disaster.
Except it wasn't. Maybe it was because I showed this Daniel Tiger video about his fish dying, or maybe because we put together puzzles (see pic) to talk about broken hearts, or maybe got lucky or everyone was tired. Or maybe it was the topic? Every single group that day that rotated through the story time station participated, paid attention (mostly) and shared, sometimes quite profoundly. The littler children raised their hands, eager to tell that their fish or dog or grandpa had died. The older children shared losses too, and reflected on them. A boy in the grades 4-6 class had recently lost his father and he eloquently shared about his journey. I was amazed. A girl in that same class shared that her grandpa has cancer and is unable to do much anymore, and she said that was a kind of grief to lose those abilities, even though he is still alive. I was amazed.
I was worried the children couldn't handle tough topics, but that was silly of me. They seemed the most engaged when we discussed the hard stuff. It was like other deep stuff I talk about with my kids, like where God is or what's past the universe. These kids showed up for it. They showed their focus, they showed their resilience. It makes me think that the kids will probably be alright, especially when we grown ups show up for them, too, with their questions, with their big feelings, with our grace and love.