This was supposed to be a celebratory week—the week that parents everywhere could finally relax a little, breathe in and feel that their children are learning again. While it looks very different, it’s still something—and something, as they say, is better than nothing.

And yet, the first-day photos didn’t look right. (The fact that the week ended on Sept. 11 didn’t help matters.) Kids were perched on lawns holding handmade signs describing their favorite color, their teacher and grade, and what they want to be when they grow up. But you know that when the cameras were lowered, those same kids shuffled back inside to bedrooms and basements to start “Zoom” school.

Some, like mine, didn’t even play along, wearing a nice T-shirt with flannel pajama bottoms. It was a natural inclination from months of virtual sessions where everyone only sees your upper half.

Don’t get me wrong. I have cause for celebration; three of my four sons started school in-person. For the first time ever, I have one each in elementary school, middle school, high school and college. Talk about covering your bases.

Only the youngest, who turned 9 this summer, is stuck at home with two parents working frantically all day, basically helping when his kid-sized laptop has trouble charging or when a link won’t work. In many ways, he needs in-person education the most—the socialization, art classes, music, recess, even lunch with his little friends. Instead, we slap some crackers and cheese on a plate, getting it ready for his 20-minute break between screen time.

We’re all feeling it. After six months, the coronavirus situation has become both normal and nutty at the same time. The “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle has worn thin.

But COVID and its side effects are here to stay. For many of us, joining large crowds of people has become terrifying, as does the thought of eating indoors at a restaurant or going to a live sports game or concert. We are changed forever.

Plus, the news warns us that more is to come. That the fall will be marked by an uptick in cases, coupled with the flu. Grandparents will be locked down again, the in-school classes will go online, and suddenly, it will seem like March 2020 all over again.

What to do?

Well, for the Jewish community, there is some good news on the horizon. Another New Year approaches, 5781. And with it comes hope and optimism for a better 12 months.

Not that they were all bad. There were real moments during all this, of connection, community, lending a hand, warmth, favors and friendship. There were emails and Zoom sessions with relatives we haven’t talked to in years (without the obligation to eat the overspiced tzimmes on Passover or the lactose-free cheesecake on Shavuot).

And, of course, there was the inevitable backlash as well—the politics, the viral social media, the scourge of anti-Semitism related to the virus.

I, for one, have made some lasting memories. My five guys and I spent months playing board games, watching documentaries and busying ourselves in animated Friday-night discussions. We learned a lot about each other until we eventually got on everyone’s nerves at the end of a non-descript summer that involved neither travel nor leisure.

I said I’d write a mom blog until my kids went back to school. I thought it would be two weeks. I thought that after April 1, everything would start up again. We were all fooled.

Now that they’re back (sort of), I look forward to the next adventure, whatever that may be.

Correction: I look forward to the old adventures. I want the color back, not the shades of gray. I look forward to going to the movies, going out for a drink or cup of coffee (unmasked) with friends, not slinking away when a fellow shopper approaches at the end of the aisle, and not hearing a sneeze and whipping my head around to glare at the culprit. How the simple seems so … simple.

Wishing all good health, a sense of normalcy, and for many, a peaceful new year!

Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.

This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).

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