After three months of rehearsal, my daughter got to participate in her first play this past weekend. She couldn’t eat for two days leading up to the performance, and the morning of opening night, she wasn’t sure she could make it through to the evening with the nerves she was feeling. She went through a series of “what if” questions with me, and I did the best I could to reassure her that it would all work out in the end. This was an experience that she and I had both hoped she could have experienced earlier on in her middle school, but if she gets to finish out eighth grade in person then this year will be her first, last, and only year of middle school.
For years to come, I think I will mark the passing of time by before and after the pandemic. Photos, trips, and memories will be defined by mask wearing. Despite the incredible advancement of science stepping in so quickly, I think it will take quite some time until the impact of last year’s lockdown lessons. My two children have lasting memories of the challenges they were dealt with during school last year. My daughter seemed to lose all muscle memory of socializing with her peers. This happening when socializing with peers at this age was arguably the hardest even without the pandemic was like salt on the wound. She stayed in her bedroom hour after hour trying to stay as engaged as possible while she stared at her screen. She was comfortable reaching out to friends on her own but also didn’t want me to reach out for her. Other than the memories we made together as a family, it was a lost year for her.
My son had a hard time navigating school on a laptop, but it was fewer hours. In hindsight, I should have gotten him help to supplement how little he was getting, but my priority was to keep him moving, social, and outside as much as possible. He was younger and so it was a lot easier to make that happen for him than it was for me with my daughter. He seemed to be getting by okay, but his very rocky adjustment back into school as a fourth-grader makes it apparent how much he lost by missing a year. He is still struggling to catch up and as a parent, it is painful to watch his self-esteem drop the way it has recently. We are giving him the extra help he could have used last year – better late than never.
My daughter’s adjustment back into school this year could not have been more opposite than that of her brother’s. She was a wilting flower that got a drop of water and came fully back to life. She found her ability to socialize again, which I am sure was challenging for all of them, but so very needed. She was so excited to be back in school and took advantage of all it had to offer. She made the tennis team, joined improv again, got super involved with the student council, and auditioned for the play.
In seventh grade, part of the required reading was the book “The Outsiders.” This year the school decided it would be the play they would do. One of the many reasons for this choice was that like the characters in the play, the students had all endured a difficult life experience living through the pandemic. Everyone could identify with accepting their situations, trying to re-identify with themselves, and trying to overcome hardship. The play was also about gangs, violence, and the ongoing battle between rich and poor, which in reality was also relatable to a lot of the kids who participated in this production. It is a large school so the roles were double cast to allow more students to participate.
My daughter got the news that she was cast as Pony Boy, who is the lead character who not only acts with the other characters on stage but also talks directly to the audience narrating as the play moves along. She had wanted a part in a play, but she wasn’t prepared to get the lead, nor was she so sure she wanted it. She worked hard though and in the end nailed every single line. I don’t think I let out my breath until intermission. She blew me away with her focus, acting ability, and dedication. I was proud, I am proud!
There is a poem by Robert Frost that Pony Boy recites to his best friend Johnny.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Later in the play, Johnny from his death bed explains why he disagrees with it and tells Pony to “Stay Gold.” It is a sweet moment that became the famous quote from “The Outsiders.” Admittedly, I am guilty of poking fun at how cliche that line can be. I even bought my daughter a sweatshirt with the quote on it, because I thought it would be “cute” to have as a memory from her experience. As I watched her on the stage, the words took on a new meaning for me. I watched her with a group of friends, some old, some new, all working together. I watched how she was part of this production along with all the other kids, after being locked inside alone last year. I watched as all of these kids, despite what the world has gone through, were gold again.
The play wasn’t without flaws, it is middle school after all. The wigs were all a bit odd, there was some backstage rumbling into hot mics, and the kids had to do the entire production from behind their masks. It took some effort to figure out whose line was being said by who, since we couldn’t see their faces, but despite it all, they all came alive and were shining.
The other night my husband was telling me how he had caught up with an old friend. He told me that when they asked him how he was, he had answered that things were really good. I was surprised at his positive spin. He is and has always been a glass-half-full person, but after every blow he has been hit within the last few years, he is still able to focus on our health, home, and family. I admire him for that. I have had a harder time finding all the positives when I can’t quite see the finish line clearly. I appreciate that we are on our way, but I miss working together with people. I miss a sense of community and teamwork. I catch glimpses of it in bits and pieces, but I don’t feel connected quite yet. I feel hopeful and watching these kids reminded me that we can and will all shine again. Even behind the mask, there is a light in our eyes that has been able to “stay gold!”