Updated: Apr 29, 2021
U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, opened yesterday’s National Safe School Reopening Summit with my picture book, There Is a Rainbow, literally lifting up some of my family’s greatest challenges—and inspirations—this year.
Several months ago I sent Dr. Cardona a letter to congratulate him on his nomination and thank him for giving parents and children hope for brighter days. I explained how my boys suffered during lockdown. Charlie, who Dr. Cardona mentions, is my ten-year old. Developmentally disabled and immunocompromised (a pandemic double whammy), he relies so much on his routine and his support system—a network that we had assembled piece by piece over a decade’s time but had seemed to crumble almost instantly under the weight of Covid-19. Charlie wasn’t into Zoom or Facetime. My unique and marvelous child, despite all his struggles with social norms, just wanted a hug. A high five. Some eye contact. We did our best, of course, but he was feeling the same ache we all were—to be loved and valued beyond our own four walls.
I explained how, when all the doors closed, things got dark. But then, one by one, real and figurative, little rainbows appeared. Kids painted signs to cheer on our local healthcare and essential workers. Charlie returned to school in the summer, at first just for an hour at a time. He overcame years of medical anxiety to wear a mask and to work with teachers wearing full PPE. His brother, August, despite all the social distancing, learned how to be a friend. They inspired me, and I began to hear stories of kids all over the world doing the same. Each was grieving something—and some profoundly so—yet there they were, lifting everybody else up.
So I’m grateful to Dr. Cardona for speaking up for Charlie. Because before he spoke, he listened. There seems to be a lot more of that these days, and I encourage you to catch some of the Summit if you can. No matter what your stance is on schools reopening, it's uplifting to see teachers, administrators, psychologists, and custodians gather together for one purpose: building safe places for our children to learn and grow. There were recommendations regarding vaccines, testing, masking, seating, ventilation, equity, accommodations . . . but I keep thinking of what student panelist John Conduah spoke up to suggest: “Reach out to each other. . . . Check in on each other. And make sure we’re good.”
In other words: listen.
In his intro, Dr. Cardona gives away the ending of my book. And I'm OK with that. It’s fitting, actually, because I wrote the end first. In those darkest days, I sometimes felt that anticipation was the only thing moving me forward. I couldn’t see the tunnel, so the speak, without the light.
Besides, there's no great twist. If you're anything like me, you want this story to end with the regular stuff, even with its old imperfections. If there's a surprise ending, let this be it: the beautifully ordinary, but in a shining new light.
Whatever it is you’ve been anticipating, whatever it is you've been waiting to open—a friend's hand, a child's arms, a family's gathering place, a wedding venue, a workplace . . . or a school . . . or any place you belong—I hope the doors are flung open for you soon. And if you must wait just a little while longer so that they can be opened safely, then I hope someone reaches out to check on you. And I hope you're good.