Choosing “Great” Instead of the Illusion of Normal

“Just because it’s not normal doesn’t mean it can’t be great” is a quote which greets my 5th grade students at the front of our classroom each morning.

As their teacher I’m straight-up acknowledging none of it is normal.  From all of us wearing masks, to one-way hallways, to literally pumping hand sanitizer on my hands sixty-two times per day, none of it is normal.  From having to quarantine books once they’ve been in students’ hands, to sitting in rows, to zones on the playground, none of it is normal.  From no parent volunteers to no field trips, to students having to take their math and social studies books home nightly in case our class would have to quarantine, none of it is normal.

Except . . . except the other day when we were all playing “Place Value Battleship” and I bested my opponent.  I sat up on my knees and sang out in my loud operatic voice, “Vic-tor-y!  I have just won!”  All the kids laughed, some clapped and cheered, and we returned to round two of our game. Kids learning, laughing, and having fun at school. That’s normal.

And every day when I conduct a whole group reading lesson using what is probably my favorite read aloud book of all time, Where the Red Fern Grows, and I a-l-w-a-y-s stop at the absolute best part and the students cry, “Noooooooo!  Mrs. Jagger!  Don’t stop reading!  You always do that!”  Hmmm . . . kids being emotionally drawn into a great story and hanging on every word as their teacher reads.  That’s normal.

Naturally, our weekly Friday afternoon, “The Masked 5th Grader” competition isn’t normal but students wanting to participate in a fun activity and “being a ham” for a moment, well, that’s normal. (Incidentally, 5th graders in room D-1 have held three competitions so far, and I have yet to win as those who volunteer “walk the runway” and “strut their stuff” to an instrumental version of “Vogue.”  I’m a bit low-key put out because I haven’t won via our weekly democratic vote for the best mask yet, but I keep saving my “best masks” for each Friday on the off chance one day the people will finally vote for me!).

Just because it’s not normal doesn’t mean it can’t be great. And what if we, as parents, felt the same way? I would be hard-pressed to count the number of parent communications my colleagues and I have received or heard the last six months:

  • Since the 5th graders missed their field trip in the spring, couldn’t you take them as 6th graders in the fall?
  • Since the 5th graders missed their talent show in the spring, couldn’t you organize one for them now?
  • Since the 5th graders missed their performance opportunities for the chime team, or choir, or the jump rope team, couldn’t they be allowed to participate in elementary activities again even though they are no longer in elementary school?

I want to cry out, “It’s not normal. Please stop trying to create the illusion that it is normal. Everyone on this planet has missed events, relationships, opportunities . . . stuff. Everyone!”

I realize this is just my experience talking, but the opportunities my children had as 5th graders are far from comparable to the opportunities they have had in high school and college. I mean, how much sense would it make for me to call the Indiana State High School Athletic Association and ask it to reconsider holding the 2020 spring indoor state track meet? That opportunity is gone. We can’t go back. I can’t pretend we can.

My job as a parent is to not create an illusion of normal for my children.  My job as a parent is to teach my children how to adapt when life is not normal. Actually, this very important assignment was given to me a little over five years ago, and to this day, I continually have to model and work at showing my 18 and 20 year old (and myself) how to adapt to reality rather than trying to twist our abnormal-reality to make it appear normal.  It’s not.

Rather than cajoling school officials, or complaining on social media, or rehearsing in my head all my kids have lost, or getting my children all worked up about what they’ve lost, my role is to help them adapt.

It’s a huge, long list which I will spare you, but I too have my share of grievances. Sometimes not being able to enter a building, or always having to sit at the back once you do enter the building, or the only stall in the bathroom being used is the accessible stall and a perfectly able-bodied person cruises out of it while your child had to wait forever on that same stall because it’s the only one she can use, or your daughter having to wait in an isolated hallway by herself before her graduation while all of her classmates get to hang out together (because the place where they “traditionally” wait isn’t accessible), gets tiresome.  Oh please hear me, there have been moments I’ve wanted to complain about abnormal!

So I consciously try to remind my son, “Wow, what an honor it was to know you would have run at the indoor state track meet last year.  I’m so proud of you.  No one can ever take that  away from you.” Or, “I’m so thankful you’ve already gotten in four cross country races this year!  Even if last Saturday was the last race, it’s been so fun for you to get to compete.”  Or to my daughter, “I think the chances are slim to none that you make it your entire senior year of college on campus, but please make the most of every day you have in person.  What a gift.”  

For as always, our children, whether our own or others, are always always taking their cue from us, the adults in their lives.  Nope, it’s not normal.  But man, it can still be great!

Until the next Wednesday the Lord allows.  Thank you so much for reading the blog and sharing, as applicable.