When I locked the door of my home in Manhattan in March of 2020, I thought I would be gone for about two weeks. I packed a smallish bag loaded up the car with my then nine-year-old daughter, 86-year-old mother, my cousin, two cats and a dog. We picked up a puppy along the way and made our way north to the Hudson Valley. I had never spent more than a few days at a time at my house there, so I looked at it as a little vacation. Little did I know that the next 18 months would become a real change of pace for myself and my family.
After it became clear that Covid-19 was not going away, we began to settle in. Hunker down, so to speak. I had to figure out how to run a newspaper completely remotely. That was probably the one of the greatest challenges of all. Managing people from afar. Not seeing your colleagues every day and at the same time entertaining a very energetic nine-year-old. We figured it out pretty quickly, but it took its toll, especially on my daughter. She was just nine, and while she understood, in theory, why I had to say no to so many things, she didn’t understand why I had to say no to so many things.
Being Isolated is hard, learning from a screen is even harder. But she tried and quite frankly she did really well. Her teachers and her principal really worked hard and made a really horrible time in these kids’ lives almost bearable. As the summer of 2020, approached, I was able to enroll her in camp. A day camp that was outside all day. They did not even have an indoor area. So the risks were not that high. But then the summer ended and the question of school came around and what were we going to do. We elected to keep her remote. So, for the 2020-2021 school year she stayed remote. However, she participated in a wonderful music program and did two live shows; played lacrosse on a local team; joined a swim team; and went back to the same camp she went to the previous summer. She got to be with other kids, she was able to play sports. I wasn’t panicked about covid every minute of every day. She was outside, in the fresh air. She was getting to be a kid.
So now, as August is beginning to come to a close, the thought of the coming school year is at the forefront of my mind. We have been told remote school is not an option this year in New York City. My daughter is starting Middle School. At 10, she is not yet eligible for the vaccine. What am I doing by sending her to school in a building with hundreds of students packed into rooms with in adequate ventilation? Yes, the teachers are mandated to be vaccinated, but still breakthrough cases are possible. Sending my daughter to a place where she will be mandated to be feet away from her closest friends and teachers, yet forced to breathe the same air, but through a mask. Does the Delta variant care about masks? Does Lambda care about social distance? Can a 10-year-old understand why her classroom is closed again and will be for the next several however long? Or why for her 11th birthday she can’t have a sleepover party? And why there are no more snow days in New York City , just remote days?
How do I explain all of this and more to her? How do I make up for the fact that her fourth and fifth grades were basically taken from her? And how do I let her out of the house every morning, not knowing if today will be the day that her classroom is closed because someone, she was in contact with is now sick.
When Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump in 2016, I came home from the Clinton headquarters in the middle of the night, and she woke up. With tears in her eyes after hearing who had won, she simply said, “Mommy I’m scared.” She was right to be scared. Five years later my response to her is, “I know baby. I’m terrified.” This time, not because of who is currently in the White House, but because of the legacy that was left behind.
Elinor Tatum is the publisher of The Amsterdam News
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” — Shirley Chisholm