Sending our kids back to school in a pandemic — virtually or in person — requires flexible thinking.
by Michelle Icard
During the height of quarantine this summer, I drove past an empty church with a readerboard that reminded its parishioners: Church is not a building.
That’s some “flexible thinking.”
Increasingly, people seem to consider flexible thinking a weakness, a compromise, a lack of drive or commitment. I see it as strength and am reminded of a favorite quote from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Flexible thinking isn’t wishy-washy. It’s strong enough to carve out original paths, adaptable enough to bend in new directions, persistent enough to wear down obstacles in its way.
This back-to-school season is unlike any we’ve known, and we’ll need flexible thinking more than ever as school for most of our city will not be a building, but a collection of dining rooms, bedrooms, forts, cars, community centers and playrooms.
Teachers are masters of flexible thinking. I very clearly remember my college professor, Dr. Fellows, explaining to our class of future teachers that the key to being a good teacher is writing thoughtful, detailed lesson plans — and then being prepared to throw those lessons out the window as needed, which she assured us would be often.
All over Charlotte, teachers have been pivoting, innovating and designing creative ways to make school (online or in person) comfortable, engaging and productive this fall. They will do this over and over as the school year marches on. A teacher I know ordered a full-size cardboard cutout of herself so kindergarteners could see her without a mask. Of course, when CMS changed to a fully online option, she had to pivot again. Another teacher mailed handwritten cards to all her students welcoming them back personally. Another made an “all about me” iMovie so new students could get to know her better. School may not be a building for your kids this fall, but it is still where teachers work hard to make the caring, comforting connections your children need to learn.
Teachers are trained to be flexible thinkers, but for kids it comes naturally. Their malleable brains are constantly adapting to think about things in new ways. No matter how your child feels today about pandemic schooling, whether it’s nervous, disappointed, relieved or disinterested … tomorrow that can and will change. Don’t think of it as mood swings. Think of it as adaptability or emotional evolution.
Parents, however, can have the hardest time with flexible thinking. The feeling that so much can and already has gone wrong makes it difficult to stay open to possibility. For many of us, stress is at an all-time high. It feels like we have no good options to choose from, and that is precisely because we have no good options to choose from. But not having the option you want isn’t the same as having no options at all.
When you’re stressed, your options may seem to disappear because you feel you have to do things. You have to take the kids to the park by yourself between meetings because if you don’t, they’ll be maniacs at bedtime. No choice. You have to organize your elderly parent’s doctor visits because if you don’t, they’ll never go and you’ll end up having to pick up the pieces. No choice. You have to stop working 30 times a day to redirect your child on their tasks, because if you don’t, they’ll fall behind. No choice. And then you have to stay up late catching up on the work you missed because if you don’t, you’ll lose your job. No choice.
If it feels like your life is out of your control, and mine often does, take a moment to remind yourself each time you mumble under your breath that you “have to” do something, you are actually making a choice. You don’t have to wear the kids out before bedtime. You choose to do it so your night isn’t ruined. You don’t have to take your parents to the doctor. You choose to do it so they stay healthy and you aren’t burdened with extra care later. Reminding yourself that you make your own choices, even when the choices aren’t great, will restore your feelings of control and power at a time when so many feel like their very lives are being mismanaged by exterior forces, whether germs, circumstances, politicians or people at the grocery store.
Back-to-school presents new obstacles, but with flexibility, we can handle them. We can be rocks that make more obstacles, or we can be water that quickly skirts around the rocks to find a new way. How we choose to proceed is entirely up to each of us. SP
Michelle Icard is an author in Charlotte. Her latest book, Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen: The Essential Conversations You Need to Have with Your Kids Before They Start High School, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Learn more about her at MichelleintheMiddle.com.