Friday, September 28, 2012

Sobering contrasts

It was the strangest and most unsettling coincidental juxtaposition of events, and yet hundreds of parents in our community experienced it this week: transitioning in the course of twenty-four hours from a wake to a funeral to Parents’ Night at school.
In a matter of hours, we moved ourselves from something none of us could have imagined we’d be doing to something all of us take for granted as we proceeded from the service for a 43-year-old father who died suddenly over the weekend to a conversation about math concepts and reading groups.

And yet as sad as we are all feeling, there was something profound about the inadvertent timing of events. It reminded us of the extremes that can affect our children’s lives. The death of a parent: just about the worst thing imaginable to happen to a ten-year-old. A new year of school: stimulating, exciting, full of possibilities and new things to learn.

For those of us who had gone from the wake on Wednesday to the funeral on Thursday to Parents’ Night on Thursday evening – and it appeared to me that there were hundreds in that category – it was a matter of doing what needed to be done: paying tribute to a friend with crushing sorrow, and then sitting down in our kids’ classrooms to hear about what lies ahead for them this year.

Our school takes good care of its kids, intellectually but also socially and emotionally. At Parents’ Night, the focus was exclusively on middle school curriculum. But earlier in the week, there were emails and articles from the school to help us talk to our children about grief. There were opportunities for the kids to talk to guidance counselors. There were school psychologists visiting the classrooms to help the kids try to understand tragedy.

Both experiences – the school’s emergency response and the calm familiarity of Parents’ Night – reminded me that overseeing children’s well-being is a complicated responsibility, for parents and schools alike. We do our best, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances and sometimes, as in the case of teachers who welcome parents to their annual presentation year after year, under the most familiar circumstances. It’s been a painful week for many of us, but Parents’ Night was a soothing reminder that almost without exception, we send our children off every day to a safe, stimulating and nurturing place.


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