March 12 was just like any other day. It was a Thursday, and my staff was doing a Theme Thursday dress-up day. “Wear your favorite basketball team gear” seemed appropriate since it was time for March Madness. I dressed in our high school team colors and wore a button with my son, Dawson Eastes, on it.
Our New Palestine Dragons had won Sectional the Saturday before, and we were all still on cloud nine! Little did I know our world was about to come to a screeching halt. We had seen some warning signs that something was about to happen, but we had no idea the extent.
I have been the principal at New Palestine Elementary for the past six years and have spent my entire career of twenty-one years in our amazing district. On that Thursday, we were having a dress rehearsal for our Fine Arts Festival music performance. We had already canceled the district-wide event, so we invited a limited audience of parents to come see their children perform during the day. It’s funny to imagine now what a difficult decision that was to make.
We put hand sanitizer and a sign by the door that asked parents to only enter if they had been healthy. This was the beginning of something that has now become our new normal. As I walked toward the gym to enjoy the first song, I received a text from our superintendent. All administrators were to come to the Corporation Office immediately. Little did I know that our life the way we knew it was about to come to a screeching halt.
An Abundance of Grace
It is important for you to know that we understand where our journey falls on the spectrum of importance in this pandemic. We have people in our lives who have contracted COVID-19 and been quarantined for many days. We have friends who have parents in long-term care facilities who have only been able to wave to them through a window when they desperately wanted to hug them and care for them. We have important people in our lives who have lost loved ones during this time and had to postpone beautiful celebrations of their lives.
Please keep in mind that I understand that being the parent of a senior during this time of social distancing pales in comparison to the health crisis others are facing. We are asking for an abundance of grace from you as you read about our journey during this time.
Holding Out Hope
If you know me, you know I am an eternal optimist most of the time. I have a general positive outlook on things, and that remained intact during the early days of this pandemic. I was watching the news reports but holding out hope that the world was overreacting. For us, school was converted to eLearning for six days, and then our district was scheduled to have a two-week Spring Break. I held out hope that we would still get to take our family vacation that was planned so specially this year with some of my son, Dawson’s senior friends.
I was so hopeful that we would be back to normal after break was over. We would attend a postponed basketball regional game. We would take prom pictures, attend senior award ceremonies, look on with pride as Dawson walked across the stage in his cap and gown. But one by one, each of these events were canceled.
On April 2, I sat by Dawson’s side on our back patio. It was one of those unusually warm days, and we were enjoying the sunshine. He listened to music, and I was listening to Dr. McCormick’s announcement stating that we wouldn’t be returning to our schools for the rest of the year. I took my headphones out and told Dawson to listen as she gave guidance on what this meant for our seniors.
I could tell he had a flood of thoughts come over him. Sadness not to return to the school he loved so much. Sadness in not knowing when he would see his friends again. I could tell he had some relief in knowing that many of his classes would be finished, and he would have a more manageable eLearning workload. Over the next few days, all of the things we would be missing began to sink in, and we were so very sad.
A New Normal
Social distancing: I hope that sometime in the future this is a term that I forget existed. This is such a hard thing for people who love people. Just a weekend before this all began, we had a house full of people celebrating our basketball win. Lots of laughter, stories being told, hugging (so much hugging), sharing food. That was weeks ago now. Now we find other ways to stay connected. Phone calls, digital church messages, hilarious group video meetings to share time with friends, sharing of quick videos back and forth—this is how we keep our sanity and stay close in this time of life that is six-feet-apart.
School has a new normal too. Our district scaled back on the length of time for eLearning, and asked teachers to extend an abundance of grace as our families adjusted to a new normal. The focus is on keeping students connected. A colleague of mine found these words, and they have been our guiding thought:
Relationships before rigor.
Grace before grades.
Patience before programs.
Love before lessons.
I hate to say it, but there are parts of our stay-at-home order that are giving me a ton of joy. Again, I remind you that I am only writing about our small little piece of the world. I am deeply saddened by what is going on around us. People are sick, people are furloughed, people are scared. I am hurting for our people.
What I am enjoying in our house is time with my family. I cannot think of when we’ve had this much uninterrupted time together. We have played cards and games, made Flip Grid music for my students, tried so very hard to get grandparents on group video chats, painted, weeded, cleaned. I know this doesn’t all sound like a party, but the time together, stolen time with my teenagers, has given me so much joy.
We are preparing for a graduation open house that will most likely (hopefully) turn into a send-off party in the Fall. I have adjusted pretty well to our new normal. Most days, I love digitally leading my school and having a little extra time to be the mother and wife I’ve always wanted to have this time to be. Some days, I don’t do so well. Maybe you’ve had these days, too. Some days the quiet just gets to me. I miss people. I miss the million little interactions I had each day. I miss the funny moments I have with my students, my colleagues. I miss the little hand that reaches up to hold mine as I walk down the hall with the kindergarten classes. I almost always tear up when we have a digital staff meeting. I can’t help it. These are my people, and I miss them.
Hope for the Future
News came out recently that the stay-at-home order is in effect until at least May 15. We don’t know when this will end. We don’t know when the curve will flatten. At school and at home, I’ve decided not to make plans on set dates in the future. We need to wait and see until we are sure it’s safe.
What I am sure about is that we will all come out of this pandemic better than we were before. This time has helped us to understand what is essential—what is truly important. We will all have stronger connections to the people in our lives. We’ll have a stronger sense of community from coming through this together. Our seniors will miss several ceremonies, but they will not miss the lessons this time has taught us.
Dawson and I share a favorite movie About Time. In the movie, the main character finds out that he can choose to go back and “redo” moments in his life. He can also just go back and relive moments. Something that struck me about the movie is that the character doesn’t go back to relive what we might consider to be the big moments. Instead, he realizes that the mundane small moments meant the most, like playing a friendly game of ping pong with his father.
Much like this character, I now realize that the best parts of life are the seemingly mundane, small moments. Would I have loved to experience the rites of passage that most senior parents enjoy? Absolutely! Instead, I will find joy in this new normal and “settle” for these small moments together.
Katy Eastes (Guest Blogger)
Katy Eastes lives in New Palestine, IN with her husband David and children Dawson (a senior), Olivia (a sophomore), and their dog, Buster. She has been the principal of New Palestine Elementary for six years and has spent all of her twenty-one years in education in the same school district. Katy is an active member of the Indiana Association of School Principals. She will begin her new education journey this Summer as she works to earn her EdS through Indiana State University. You can follow Katy on Twitter at @NPEPrincipal.