Dear Abby and Eric,
We cancelled most of our plans this summer. I know this disappointed you and you had to adjust. However, some one posted on Facebook that her kids’ “childhoods had actually been stolen” and I want you to know that, though part of you may be grieving, no one has stolen your childhood.
You have learned so much. You have learned that you can be a little uncomfortable and wear a mask if it has a chance of saving someone else’s life. You have learned that you can lose things that are very important to you like Eric’s class trip to Camp St. Croix and Somerset Elementary graduation or Abby’s trip to Oregon for Dharma camp. You have learned that you can lose these things and still find joy and integrity, You can still make your bed and laugh so hard you pee your pants in the hosta plants.
You have continued to have a childhood. Eric found an inchworm and named it Inchie. Then, Abby renamed it Florel. Inchie Florel was a ridiculously cute worm. You spent ten minutes watching her inch along and dance on your index fingers and then grieved her when she fell off and couldn’t be found. Abby learned to play dad’s guitar and wrote a song called, “Bye bye Corona” – “It’s time for you to leave and put the virus up your sleeve.” Eric learned how to play Megalovania from the video game Undertale on the piano.
You have explored your world. We took our golden retriever, Olive, for a hike at Crosby Farm and swam in the Mississippi river. The bottom was so mucky it felt like walking in thick tar, but, then, we floated on our backs in the cool water, looked up at the blue sky and thought about how the river kept going and going until it got to the Gulf of Mexico. Afterwards, we sat in the sand and drank juice pouches and ate pretzels before going home.
You played outside with your cousins. Eric, you have had an infinite number of sword fights with Tom on the trampoline and water fights in the inflatable pool. You discussed books while eating packed sandwiches and ice cream treats on the deck. Abby and Paige tied ropes, put on bicycle helmets and spent hours figuring out how to climb the tree next to the mailbox. Then, they sat up there all afternoon watching the workers repave Delaware Ave. and listening to songs on their phones. You all played Capture the Flag.
You had time to breathe. Eric, every morning, you lied down on the cool bamboo floor and cuddled with Olive. You wore your dad’s Authentic Ancient Arts t-shirt as pajamas and didn’t take it off until noon, reading book after book and playing video games. Abby, you joined me in my virtual sesshin, meditating for almost five hours a day, getting up at 6:15 and watching the sun go down outside the picture window in my room, making the leaves sparkle. You chanted ancient chants, the names of the Buddhist ancestors, the names of matriarchs. You chanted the Daihi Shin Dharani for George Floyd.
You bore witness. We wore our masks and went to George Floyd’s memorial site. We read the names and the signs. “Say his name.” “I can’t breathe.” “Strike me down , I shall become more powerful, than you can possibly imagine.” We cut peonies from our garden and placed them near where he died. We felt the hope and the sadness, the grief and the determination.
You had adventures. We camped in the backyard. Olive went on night hikes with us and stole our mattresses when we got up to go to the bathroom. We listened to the sound of the inflatable pool filter gurgling and it sounded like a waterfall or a brook. We played Uno with the flashlight lantern and I read “The Night Diaries” aloud to you. We looked up at the stars in the suburban sky and the bottoms of branches of our huge Ash tree.
Dear ones, some day we will remember this time, all that we lost and gained, and all that we learned about taking care of our precious lives. Childhood is supposed to prepare you to be an adult. Nothing in this world will prepare you more than learning resilience, learning to find joy and integrity when everything is falling apart. The world is always giving to, not stealing from, you. The tomatoes in the backyard are about to turn ripe, the sky is blue, and the delivery man just brought toilet paper and dog food to our door. No one has stolen your childhood.