The pandemic hit us all very hard! Regardless of where one lives, the size of their household, or their employment status, COVID-19 took its toll.
As an elementary schoolteacher, every year I teach my students that we are a family. Out at recess, and in the classroom, we must have one another’s back. That means that as we learn and give things a try, we never ridicule each other. Rather, we are brought together to encourage and inspire.
We began March of 2020, as we had been doing all along. We gave a lot of high-fives and hugs every single day. Then, we had to stop all potential contact—no hand holding, no hugging, no sharing of supplies or recess equipment. If someone dropped something, we could no longer help them pick it up. It went against everything I taught. Eventually, I had to separate 22 desks and close my classroom library, reading room, and without much notice, my entire classroom.
I recall being told to pack up enough supplies to teach students for two weeks in March of 2020, so I packed a month’s worth just in case. With that, I was able to outlast most other grades, but by Easter, I was scanning work around the clock, just like my colleagues, to ensure our students received the curriculum we promised to cover. I was a puddle of tears by most evenings.
Not only were the demands of my job doing me in, but so too, were the bigger fears like worrying about the health of my parents, family, and loved ones. The local, national, and global news were frightening, but felt necessary to watch to maintain awareness of what was going on out there…in the big, scary world.
An introvert, I was okay with staying tucked inside my home with my immediate family, but I worried about my large extended family. Throughout the course of the year, my family became the statistics we watched on the news. Pandemic job loss hit us hard. Educators were appreciated for a moment, then scrutinized again by summer’s end. Some of us got COVID-19 and some of us survived, but forever changed. Then, there were the beloved ones who died alone due to pandemic safety protocols in hospitals. Every day things seemed to change and fast.
Just a few weeks ago, I stood in my school’s parking lot collecting the academic supplies I had given to concerned parents back in August. After over a year of the pandemic, parents are more aware of how to safely bring their children to both meet me in-person and simultaneously say goodbye to me as their teacher. As with every year, I took many end-of-the year pictures with my students, but this time, we were placed many feet apart and our eyes had to show the smiles we had under our masks. I taught and created a virtual family with students that I never got to be in the same classroom with.
Over the weekend, my family and I ventured out in public to celebrate a milestone anniversary for my parents. I saw my children hug their grandparents for the first time in over a year, and the tears the hugs brought to my mother’s eyes. Our extended family finally reunited as we reminisced about our shared pasts. There was real laughter, all together, in the same place at the same time. It was not virtual and there was no delay. Slowly, the return to our loved ones is coming back.
Just as our family prepares to welcome one another with open arms, we prepare for a final farewell for my last paternal aunt, my godmother. She died over a year ago, at the height of the pandemic. As a registered nurse, she lived her life caring for others. In the end, she left Earth without our family being able to gather, say goodbye, and celebrate her life. I was so distraught when she passed, not only because she was my beautiful godmother, but because I couldn’t be with my cousins as they mourned.
There are things the pandemic stole from us: time, health, education, trips, holidays, but most of all it took family and loved ones from us. Although my godmother did not die from COVID-19, the pandemic made it impossible for my family to do what we do best, come together to lean on one another, love, and laugh! The familiarity of belonging to a specific group—a family, means everything. While distanced, we worked vigilantly to survive so that we could be together again.
I have said since the beginning of the pandemic, that this was put upon us to teach us something. I believe we needed to slow down and take in the blessings we have around us. We’ve become an intolerable and impatient society. I see it coming up in the next generation of children. As this is written, there are cars honking and the sounds of revved engines because someone is probably driving too slow for another’s liking. I still hold out hope that our planet will come together as the greatest family of all…the family of mankind where all are accepted and respected.
Here’s to families everywhere. The ones given and the ones chosen. Treasure them. Protect them. Love them. Hug them and laugh with them often because what we know for sure is that time together is uncertain.
Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and writer. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes for Anna’s work because of the influences they have had on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing in the next few weeks.