As if being a parent wasn’t hard enough, here comes something unexplainable and almost unimaginable. A life-altering experience that can only be summed up by the word stated so many times during it: “unprecedented.” According to Dictonary.Com, unprecedented is defined as “never done or known before.” Most parents would say that parenthood is unprecedented, being that every experience in parenthood is unique and comes with its own unknown or undone challenges. Remember going to the grocery store with your kids, picking out the ingredients for dinner, reminding them to use their inside voices and walking feet in the store? Remember those simple reminders that annoyed you so much then? If you’re like me, I’m sure part of you wishes you could only have to remind your children of such simplicities. Now, you walk through the store reminding your children to keep their hands to themselves, make sure masks are covering noses and mouths, don’t touch their faces. Those trivial reminders became potentially life-altering reminders in a matter of what felt like seconds.
A global pandemic has made basic activities like going to the grocery store, playing at the park, visiting family members an anxiety-riddled fear feast. I would say it was a feeling unknown to many parents prior to COVID-19. I remember my daughter, who was four at the beginning of COVID, looking me dead in the face and asking, “Why not, Mommy?” when I told her we wouldn’t be going back to school for a while. “Well, baby, there is something called coronavirus going around and it’s making people really sick, so we have to stay away from other people,” I responded. “Oh,” she said as she looked at me confused. Her look of confusion felt like she took the feeling I had in my body and replicated it on her face. This conversation was the first of many hard and confusing ones.
Just like everyone else, when the pandemic first hit, my job as an early childhood educator hung in the balance. I remember calling and texting my boss for an update, coming up with plans for how I could continue to serve my children from home, developing ways to make virtual learning interactive for four- and five-year-olds. I remember recording a video with my aforementioned daughter who was a part of my classroom community as well, reminding my students that “Mrs. Charmaine missed them, loved them, and couldn’t wait to see them soon.” I hoped my video would give them hope that though things were different, I was still there for them. I still cared for them. When we finally got the go-ahead to serve our children virtually, I remembered the smiles as they got to see each other for the first time in weeks. The hellos and the excited giggles to see the people they shared every day with for almost a year.
Throughout our virtual learning journey, we experienced many unprecedented challenges such as instructing a four-year-old how to use a computer, teaching social skills via a screen, adapting learning activities to fit into 15-to-20-minute spurts. There were times my TA and I felt like what we were doing did not matter if we weren’t there to hug the kiddos when they cried, talk them down when they were angry, or dance with them to celebrate Fridays. All of this was unprecedented and not what I imagined when I began my teaching career three years prior. There was never a moment in my mind I thought I would be teaching a classroom of four- and five-year-olds remotely. There was never a time I thought I would have to track progress, develop plans for growth or challenge, and understand my students through videos submitted by their parents.
COVID-19 changed the lives of people everywhere in many different ways. For me, it changed me as a mother and changed my fears for my children. It changed me as an educator and it taught me to do things I never imagined I would need to do. In some ways, COVID-19 improved me, made me better. In the same number of ways, it broke me, exhausted me. As we get back into our “new normal,” we are forced to think hard about the “never done or known before” things. Make a promise to yourself to try those never done things. Try to learn the never known before things. Make your life unprecedented because COVID-19 taught us that nothing is impossible, or quite frankly, unprecedented.
Charmaine Winston is a wife, mother of two, Jordyn and Adam, and an educator. She is a proud black woman and a breastfeeding enthusiast.
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