After the SYLLI’s

March 3, 2021 • 326 days after being sent home. ¡Somos Maxwell! again. Finally!

LL: “I don’t know if I want to go to school…”
Dad: “Well, it’s a little late for that! We can discuss it on the way…”
LL: “…to SCHOOL.”

March 3, 2021 • First day back to Maxwell, after 326 days of pandemic home school

Dear Libby Lee:

This seems like a good moment to mark time and take a look back at the weirdest school year I’ve ever known in my life. The year of the COVID pandemic is one that I’m sure you’ll always remember. Your mom and I, too. It has been many things. One of the things was the year that we were so proud of you, so glad to have you as our daughter… so happy to have you in our lives, 24/7.

They say kids are malleable, capable of handling great change and adversity. Heck, I say that. But you have been a rock star through this. I remember the waning days of your 2nd grade year. I remember when, two weeks before Spring Break, we learned that the kids of Fayette County Public Schools were going home—to stay, for the time being. I remember picking you up that day—remember that Ruby had taught you to tie your shoes. It was such a moment. That was March 11, 2020. So much has happened since then; and somehow: so much to be grateful for.

April 11, 2020—When I pick up Libby Lee, I learn that Ruby has taught her to tie her shoes. It was the last time they’d be in Maxwell for almost an entire year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the day the world turned upside down.

We found new ways to live and to learn, and it seemed, alternately, like a dream … or a nightmare. I’d go for walks and often cry, looking around at the somewhat deserted streets. At nighttime, we’d watch an entire show (a 7-DVD Carol Burnett Show collection was our grace in the early days) or even a movie. Once, we watched the Studio Ghibli early obscurity Panda Go Panda, which at 37 minutes, is hardly a movie. I didn’t think you’d notice, but when it ended and I turned off the TV and said “time for bed,” your face cracked apart and tears streamed down your cheeks as you croaked “It’s over? I wanted it to be longer!” At first I thought you were kidding. When I realized you weren’t, my heart broke for you, and for the special doldrums the pandemic was inflicting. And yes, we absolutely watched something else. Together.

Before the end of April, you’d learned to ride a bike, which was just absolute ecstasy for us all. And as we said teary Zoom goodbye’s to your marvelous 2nd grade teachers, Señora Gutierrez and Mrs. Hicks, we moved on to a quelled-yet-delirious summer of bike riding and time spent with a closer-knit group of friends… we started to learn about our “pod family” life. We had a family band and played on Friday’s at lunchtime and even got some press coverage. You got braces! (and was absolutely incredible with the extra hygiene that goes along with braces). And read a lot of graphic novels. You were in the Bike Club, and it felt like my late-70’s childhood in some ways; a group of kids prowling the neighborhood streets on two wheels. Road work serendipitously made a small continent bike oasis that the kids could ride autonomously without the parents worrying too much. We went to Michigan, where we saw how others were dealing with pandemic life. We laughed and played and loved our pod family. We rode bikes in Michigan. You yelled at me for going too fast, too far. I heard the real tremor of fear in your voice on the way down a giant Michigan hill, as you said: “Daddy, I can’t stop. I can’t stop!” And together we stopped.

As Summer wound down, what had seemed impossible began to seem less so—began to seem more and more likely: that kids wouldn’t be going back to school and that you’d begin your 3rd grade year, not at beloved Maxwell, but … at home. It was inconceivable. And yet.

And that’s how SYLLI happened. A plan came together that seemed natural and doable, for a learning pod with Lidia and Sylvia. Just T-W-Th—our households would each take a day. We took Tuesdays, and I got to be the host of three dedicated yet rambunctious 3rd grade girls, each with a Chromebook and a staked-out corner of our living room. Kids, quiet in Zoom class, then kids, squealing and laughing during breaks. It could have been terrible and annoying. It was anything but. The three of you thrived on the personal time together, and also did your school work diligently (with my occasional supervisory looming, as an incentive). The puzzles of NTI-2DL were wrestled with, lunchtime was shared on the side porch, while it was still warm. After school work was finished, you three played exactly like three joyous 3rd graders should. With abandon. Dolls, legos, dress-ups… I stayed out of your way. You didn’t need any adult interference and I was grateful, not just to be not needed, but for you to have that. To just HAVE it. I predict that this past year will make them special friends, probably for life.

School: it’s complicated. But both the other girls are going back. So that would go away. Also, she’s had a great 3rd grade teacher, and we love her school, Maxwell Elementary, which is a celebrated Spanish Immersion school that we got into by blind lottery. We do truly consider it public education at its finest. The attention paid to cultural diversity and respect is awe inspiring. So, with great ambivalence, I’d like her to get at least some of her one and only 3rd grade year at Maxwell. But conversely, we may have gotten a peek inside the Pandora’s box of homeschooling… and it looked pretty damned great. I just do not know what the future holds. Fayette County/Lexington (as intellectual and Blue as KY gets) is doing >>OK<< with virus rates. And not one iota *over* OK, to be clear. But hopefully Science is in the driver’s seat again, and for now, the CDC and Fayette County Public Schools say “kids go back to school.” Lots of folks (teachers, me, etc) are inoculated. My feelings are so complicated. I’d be lying if I didn’t say most of my feelz are simply for keeping my daughter as close as possible during these dwindling years (months?) before adolescence sets in. Libby Lee is such a joy. Our 3-person family has so much to be grateful for, through this mess. All in all, we truly enjoy one another’s company, and have the additional good fortune for us to have our very best friends living a block away. All that having been said, if things go sideways, we’ll pull her out. (and sleep later)