Wednesday, April 14, 2021

To Continue Becoming

Casey Curran

A few days ago, a medical doctor was being interviewed on CNN about the psychological impact of the pandemic on children. She provided several caveats along the way, but her bottom line response was "I expect that kids will bounce back."

It's a hopeful answer and one that is, in some fashion, true. More to the point, however, it's what we all want to hear. Perhaps in some ways, we need to hear it because, I suppose, we too hope to "bounce back" from our negative experiences. But no matter how hard we hope, over a half million people in the US died and it's estimated that 40,000 children lost a parent to this plague. I'd very much like for us all to "bounce back," but it hardly seems an appropriate wish, especially for these poor children. A young child doesn't simply bounce back from a parent's death. Indeed, the concept of bouncing back seems far more appropriate to, say, dealing with the loss of a baseball game, than the cruel lessons of life itself.

The doctor, of course, wasn't talking about these children, nor is she talking about the children who suffered themselves, or those who have spent the pandemic trapped in a household where they are abused or neglected. No, she's talking about a theoretical child, the generic child who "simply" missed a year of school, of playing freely with friends, of seeing strangers smile. She's expressing a hope or perhaps, more accurately, offering a kind of blessing or prayer.

Humans don't generally bounce back from our experiences. We tend, instead, to absorb them. We are designed to bring our experiences into our minds, bodies, and souls, and to, in one form or another, keep them there. After all, that's what learning is: making experiences part of who we are. If they are too traumatic we often try to bury them beneath denial that might look like bouncing back to the outside world, but they remain a part of us nevertheless. Indeed, the entire concept of "bouncing back" is for many not a blessing, but rather a kind of curse, an expectation that we somehow owe it to others to keep certain experiences to ourselves, to show a smile to the world, to live up to the hopeful prophecy of bouncing back, to not reveal the truth about how an experience has changed us.

Will our children play again? They already are. Will our children return to school? They already have. Will they laugh? Hug? Bicker? They never stopped. Will they bounce back? Never. There is no "back" to bounce to. It's in the nature of experience to change us and we go on changing until the day we die. 

As actual humans living in this world, I don't expect that anyone will bounce back, but we will all, in our way, bounce forward as transformed people, carrying our experiences within us, for better or worse. I know what that doctor meant, but we are dealing with flesh and blood children, and this experience is now and forever part of who they are, just as it is a part of who we are. There is no bouncing back. Our project, as it has always been, is to work to know ourselves, to know others, then go out as the people we've become and to continue becoming. 


As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. I'm proud to announce that I've assembled what I've learned into a 6-part e-course called Partnering With Parents in which I share my best thinking on how educators can and should make allies of the parents of the children we teach. (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Register now to receive early bird pricing. Discounts are available for groups.

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