I’ve only paid people to take our pictures twice in my life: once was for our wedding and the other time was this past April for The Front Porch Project, a donation-only situation with proceeds going to Covid relief (Charlottesville people, check out Robert Radifera if you’re looking for local photographical talent!). My sister-in-law, Caroline, who schedules photo shoots for her beautiful family much more frequently than I, decided that we needed to have a session done before Christmas 2018. She’s a very talented unprofessional photographer (and a very talented NICU nurse by profession), so we got a little dressed up and went over to my mom’s property to have Caroline capture the five of us. After we’d done a bunch of group shots, she said it was time for a few of just my husband and me. We’re both pretty awkward when posing, and the kids had been less than cooperative throughout much of this process, but Caroline guided us through it (“Now look at each other” and “Take off your glasses for this one” and “Lean casually against the fence”). When she delivered the very no-nonsense directive of “Look longingly off into the distance,” my husband replied, “You mean ‘the distant future’? Okay. Look! The kids all just went off to college!” It was so funny and perfect in that moment because one of said children was crying in the grass while the other two were running around in literal circles and screaming at the top of their lungs. The candid Caroline took in that moment is one of my favorites, even though both sets of our eyes are closed, because it shows us laughing at the conundrum of parenting in which both stark reality and sheer ridiculousness can coexist.
Now, not even two years later, the whole idea of sending kids to college makes me shudder. It’s amazing the kind of sea change half a year during a pandemic can cause. Sending my young ones, my little rule-minding, prepubescent, closely supervised and easily circumscribed children, to elementary school with their extra face coverings tucked into their backpacks and morning health screenings completed via iPhone app: it all feels so manageable, so controlled, so quantifiable–even during these times. Considering what the school has done and is doing to ensure that things can run smoothly and work safely makes it so easy for me to trust. By contrast, however, a week or so ago I learned that my little sister, half my age and away at college in North Carolina, has Covid. Sure, she does classes online and wears a mask and washes her hands and all of the things, but still. Being twenty years old and with no preexisting health conditions, she’s recuperating quickly and will be back to full health soon, but still.
This time isn’t easy for any parent with kids of any age(s). It’s stressful and terrifying in unprecedented and unanticipated and overwhelming ways, and just when we feel like we’ve achieved that frequency of stasis where we can find foothold, some new wave of surreality comes to kick us off our feet. But this I know: I’m so glad my oldest child is only ten. I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with the logistics and the fears involved in sending–or not sending–a kid to college. I remember being a teenager with an invincibility complex and that eclipsing streak of selfishness most young people possess. I was probably more responsible than many teenagers, but my priorities were far from being sensibly solidified, and the thought of having children that age right now completely freaks me out. I feel so fortunate that, these days, I can pack all the god-forbidden lunchboxes and sit baking in my seven-seater car in the pickup line and know exactly where my three little people are at all times. I’m so happy I get to sing the same Moana song at least once every damn night and complain about making dinner AGAIN for all of these picky people who are picky about different things. Because these people are HERE. WITH ME. Sure, I hope that some day they’ll go off to college if that’s the right choice for them. And I hope that a lot sooner than then, my husband I can close our eyes and throw back our heads and laugh at the prospect of being empty-nesters without a frisson of pandemic panic even entering our minds. But now, in this the month of September in the year 2020, I give thanks that I have little kids and not big ones just yet. For now, I’ll take the gummy vitamins going through the wash in uniform shorts pockets and the incessant interrogative imploring of “Mommy?” all afternoon and the piles of sticks on both porches in which every single stick is special. For now, I breathe a sigh of relief for the three unmade beds upstairs that will contain those little bodies every night–well, at least until the wee hours of the morning, when Arlo may or may not still find his way into mine.