One afternoon after a more-challenging-than-usual e-learning day of Covid-19 quarantine, I drove across town for the first time in weeks.
My son from the backseat marveled at less-than-usual traffic and places he missed seeing since his time of seclusion, notably our Downtown Pensacola school and Krispy Kreme. It was his first outing anywhere in weeks.
We had survived that day of juggling my children’s three grade levels and my online distance teaching with the promise of a simple reward: my youngest had begged to see his teacher.
Our school made e-learning as positive as possible– excellent communication, adequate workload, supplemental materials if needed, reasonable expectations– but the daily routine of independently completing tasks without the engagement of the group setting was wearing on all of us.
That morning, while watching his teacher’s daily instructional video, Bill looked up at me and asked where she was. I explained that, like me, she was teaching from home, recording videos, and providing online materials.
This had been a particularly great school year for my child. He was loving school; he adored Mrs. C. Bill offered his usual resistance to conformity in the classroom and was met with her clear and direct expectations as well as her sweet voice and her kind smile.
“But Mom, where IS she?” he asked again with more emphasis. “I just need to see her.” I could hear it. He was struggling with all of this. He missed her.
With a quick confirmation phone call that Mrs. C was up for a driveway visit, I told him where we were headed if he could finish his work solo, which allowed me to finish my own. His face lit up, and he blasted through the tasks with new energy.
Our across-town drive was the sort of errand that before Covid-19 would have required several reasons for heading that far or that direction– a Target run, a mall purchase return, a doctor’s appointment–all of those things indefinitely on hold. But something told me, driving 20 minutes for the sole purpose of letting my child see his teacher was worth it. A teacher myself, I yearned to stop by a few of my students’ houses, too! The separation was hard on all of us!
When we arrived, Mrs. C was sitting on her front porch, watching her own boys ride bikes. We remained in the car, and as she approached us, I heard Bill sit up straighter and roll down the window.
“Hey, Bill!” Her sweet teacher voice carried the same cadence as her smiling morning videos’ “Hi, second grade!”
“Hey,” he responded. I could hear a modest smile in his tone even though I didn’t have a good view from the driver’s seat.
Mrs. C asked him about his work, his free time, his reading. His answers were short, one-word responses. Calling the one-sided encounter a conversation would be an overstatement.
Why wasn’t he talking to her?
He had asked for this!
I was baffled as he answered her “I miss you” with an “I miss you, too” and rolled up the window.
The whole encounter was over in a few short minutes. 40 minutes in a car for a few hellos and how are yous.
She and I chatted through the window from a distance and caught up on a few things, but Bill was through, quickly indicating that he was ready to head home.
Making our way back across town, I asked him why he had been so curt with her. “Mom, I told you. I just needed to see her.”
I thought about how simple his need to see her was, as though he just needed to know she still existed, that she was more than the image on the iPad, more than her voice.
I sensed his need to be reminded of their connection or reconnect concretely to something (someone) who had become an abstraction for him.
It occurred to me that I was witnessing a sort of next level of object permanence, that developmental stage wherein typical infants develop an understanding that just because something has disappeared doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. I remembered back to the early days of motherhood when my very young children worked through separation anxiety. They learned that Mama returned when they were left with a sitter, or that the beloved stuffed dog wasn’t gone, it was just hidden behind my back for a game.
A simple playtime game of Peek-a-Boo is a critically important form of play for young children developing basic comprehension of the world around them.
But here Bill was, nearly eight years old, his whole concrete world of school had become “virtual,” and he needed reassurance that Mrs. C was still “there.” He got that from his brief visit. And he was satisfied. It was enough.
Seeing Mrs. C was good for my soul, too. She was my touchstone to something bigger– a reminder that my child had learned something no video or app could possibly teach him. He had learned that she loved him and that she was still there even though he couldn’t see her every day.
And Bill needed to know that I saw him.
Peek-a-Boo. I see you, sweet boy.
My youngest child of three has a developmentally appropriate tendency to be a bit self-centered and inwardly-focused. However, in the crazy and distracted time of COVID-19 and quarantine life, he showed me that he also relied on outside stimuli and connection. He also needed personal contact with people who were important to him.
And he reminded me that I did, too.