Tales from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Readers,

We are now a year into the pandemic and all the changes that have risen around us. I sometimes feel guilty because my life seems so unscathed compared to the many people who have experienced hardship, even death in their lives. I have lost friends due to Covid. I’m not old enough to be a victim of Covid in our senior’s homes or young enough to have children underfoot while trying to work from home. Like Goldilocks, the porridge in this new strange house we live in seems just right. The isolation has allowed contemplating life’s aspects, sifting the flour to remove the maggots that contaminate the bread of life, and allows me to be grateful for the good things found in quiet isolation. This is a short story about things that are learned best from life’s experiences.

Ring around the Rosy
Pocket full of posy
Husha, husha,
We all fall down

One of the interpretations of Ring around the Rosy is that the poem goes back to the Black Plague of 1665. Children, who saw death all around them, danced in a circle. The Plague appeared as red rings surrounding the puss (posy). Husha is the sound of sneezing. Falling down (death) was the result of the plague. This interpretation is debated but illustrates learning and coping with life’s realities as a part of a child’s life was learned in play and songs.

Unlike the masks we all wear, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to education. We’ve been teaching math, English, art, and geography at various times during the pandemic to our six, eight, and ten-year-old granddaughters via face time. Online teaching comes with multiple levels of success.

Our oldest granddaughter would rather stay home than go to school. She completes assignments, is focused, and spends her free time drawing. Our middle grandchild has spent days crying in her room because she misses her friends and teacher. She is excellent at sports, but she can’t sit still for online lessons. She needs the menu to be changed up often. The youngest one is bright, needs well-planned lessons to stay engaged, but usually follows through on homework. She often asks questions utterly unrelated to the task at hand. (Yeah, but why don’t you wear a helmet?) There are as many learning styles as there are children.

Some lessons are hard to teach but get experienced through living. All of our grandchildren understand that they can’t come into our house because their grandmother is immune-compromised. They know that social distancing is necessary because Covid spreads through contact. They learn from the news that death is possible, but they can help by following the rules. Their understanding of death is much deeper than mine was at their age. Many children have lost grandparents due to Covid. Some kids have only seen their grandparents through a window at the senior’s home or online. Death is a part of life. Life’s lessons taught them that.

One of my granddaughters talked to me about her parents. “They’re pretty smart, but they can’t fix everything,” I asked her what she meant. “I mean, they don’t know how to stop Covid. They can try to keep it out of our house, but they can’t fix it”. I thought back to my childhood when several of us boys were bragging about our dads. We lived in the illusion that our dads and moms could fix anything. This knowledge added much to our sense of security but wasn’t realistic.

I remember the first time I beat my dad in an arm-wrestle; the look on his face; the profound understanding that I was stronger than my dad, and that maybe I was smarter than him too. (How many kids haven’t had these thoughts about their parents?) A cosmic shift in my perception of my dad changed our relationship forever. He was not without limitations. How many families through this period of isolation have seen each other in a new light, and witnessed their own limitations? Life’s lessons took their time to teach me about wisdom and humbleness. My older dad once said,” The older I get, the less I know”, now I’m saying it too.

Life’s lessons taught our grandchildren that their parents couldn’t fix everything. There are more significant struggles than the math problems out there. A lot of families have been struggling. Life teaches children things that school lessons can’t match in the depth of understanding. Knowing the difference between the ideals of life and the realities of living is learned through life’s experiences. Adults often try to shield their children from the pains of life, which may work until the child experiences their own pain. Guiding children to cope with sorrow is a delicate balance between facing adversity and knowing they are loved and not alone. The fact that life doesn’t always seem fair or that bad things happen to good people are realities that we and our children are learning right now.

I asked our grandchildren what they will do when Covid is over. They talked about coming over for sleepovers, playing hide and seek, cooking with Nanny, and teaching me ballet.

Picturing the future is a life skill related to planning and discipline. Seeing ourselves in the future doing things we enjoy leads to happiness and hope. Life is a great teacher, creating experiences that bring joy and sorrow. Being able to cope with reality are lessons we all need to grow, even our children. Pandemic or no, life will always be sending challenges our way. Most of the important things we learn are from life itself. Life is a great teacher.