Volume 3, Issue 25: Just a Kid
"Everybody, everyone, somebody, anyone has to grow up. Let's have some fun."
|Will Leitch||Aug 22|| 4|
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COVID-19 has added all sorts of new routines and experiences to our daily lives—proper mask-washing technique, the total elimination of formal and business wear, that I couldn’t help but notice I’ve perhaps been drinking a little bit more—but in the Leitch household, the most prominent change has been the addition of some small, very loud permanent visitors to every family gathering. They are Black Dog, and Sealy, and Asa, and Boo Boo, and Dig-Dig, and Turtley.
I have written before about how close my two sons, aged eight and six, have become throughout the pandemic, how they’re essentially inseparable now in a way they were not before all of this. This situation has not abated. We’ve all spent the last two weeks in a rental unit while our house undergoes repairs—an ideal pandemic predicament—and the house we’re staying in has many rooms, enough that each of the boys could have their own room and, if they wanted, their own TV, the dream for any small child. But they chose the smaller, TV-less room with two twin beds, just so they could stay in there together. It’s sweet, but it’s a reminder of how longing they are for connection during all of this. They’ve never needed each other more.
Black Dog, and Sealy, and Asa, and Boo Boo, and Dig-Dig, and Turtley have become their crew. They are stuffed animals who have always been in our lives but have become constant companions during the pandemic. The ringleaders are Asa, a turtle, and Dig-Dig, a dog, likely because they are not just stuffed animals but also puppets, and thus can move their mouths. They never stop talking. They have their own voices and their own personalities—Asa is the wise older sage of the group, Dig-Dig is always looking for trouble, Sealy is constantly leaping from high distances onto the heads of unsuspecting adults idly walking by—and they are with us always. The boys have constructed a complicated social structure where the animals compete, and banter, and fight, and dance, and there isn’t a moment when they’re not with us. Every time I drive anywhere with the boys, every stuffed animal has to go with us, and the entire time in the car, I hear them all playing games and singing songs and making fart noises in the backseat, my two sons and their furry companions, frolicking in the world they’ve built.
I’m perpetually surprised and impressed by the ingenuity and imagination the boys have shown with these stuffed animals; the other day, Wynn told me that Black Dog was running for mayor and had to prepare for a debate later that night. I would very much prefer this goofy land of imagination and creation than having them staring at video games and their phones for five months. But it is difficult to forget why they’ve felt so compelled to make this world in the first place, why they desire it. They’re doing it because there are no other kids around to play with. They’re doing it because they miss their friends.
There is no right time to live through a pandemic, particularly one that you’re experiencing in a country that is somehow both incapable and unwilling to do what is required to get it under control. Every person in the country, in the world, has been affected by this in one way or another, and, as I mentioned last week, this is a reason to try to be patient with and empathetic of other people during this, particularly when they act in an erratic or irrational fashion. It’s a terrible time, and it’s terrible if you’re 24 or 44 or 64 or 84.
But I have found myself wishing it had landed at perhaps other times in my life than this current one. At the age of 44, I’m right in the middle. I have small children whose emotional well-being is of paramount importance. I also have older parents—older, not elderly, just to be clear and just to make sure I don’t get whacked with a polo mallet by one of them later—whose physical well-being is also of paramount importance. I am also young enough that I still have plenty of years in which I need to keep my career and finances afloat, but I am also old enough that if everything falls apart I can’t exactly just start over and try something else. (Also: Typing these words is the only thing I know how to do, unless it’s possible to make a living from competitive Uno.) The pandemic has hit at the age of the least flexibility and most external stress. It has unsettled everything at the precise moment when it felt like matters were starting to finally get settled. Though I guess they never truly are.
The kids, though, that’s the hardest one. While some schools in Georgia have opened, with widely varying levels of success and wisdom, the public schools in Clarke County and here in Athens have not. The virtual schooling hasn’t enough started yet, which means my kids haven’t had a second of structured learning since early May. And save for a stray distanced play date here or there, they haven’t seen any other children at all. The Clarke County School District has released clear metrics and benchmarks to be reached for in-person school to begin, but we’re not particularly close to them yet, and with the college students all back in town and partying all night (and they are, as was always obvious they were going to), I’m not sure when we will be.
I am deeply appreciative of the work teachers and educators are putting in to try to create the best virtual learning environment possible; I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for them. But even if they get it the absolute best it could possibly be (and they might!), it won’t be school, not really. School isn’t just about studying math and science and facts. It’s about learning complex social structures, about meeting and interacting with people who are different than you, about understanding conflict resolution, about finding your place in an outside world that is unpredictable and full of forces that you cannot control. It’s about discovering who you are in a way that you only can by bouncing off other people. It’s about finding your place.
Watching my children do this at their wonderful school, a school we can walk them to from our house, the last few years has been an unbridled joy. William is cerebral but also into sports and physical activity, and watching him and his friends pretend to be cool bros tickles me to no end. Wynn is resolutely, defiantly himself in any possible situation; he started wearing his shirts backwards last school year, just because he liked it that way, and by the end of the year half the kids in his kindergarten class were doing the same thing. I’ve learned so much just by watching them change and evolve just through their interactions with other kids. They are doing what they are supposed to do: They are growing.
There is so much being lost through this time, but that feels like the biggest one to me, in this house. This is what I think about it when I’m starting up at the ceiling at night. I wonder if it would be different if they were 10 years older, or three years younger. To have them away from other kids when they’re in the third grade and the first grade seems the worst possible time. This is the time they need to learn to swim with other people. This is the time they start learning who they are.
Hopefully soon (he says to himself again for the thousandth time), we will get a better handle on this virus, and the numbers will go down in Georgia and in this town, and my children will be able to get back to school where they belong. Everything in this house has to flow from that. Virtual schooling will hold the fort while it can. I’m appreciative our family is fortunate enough to even have the wherewithal and resources to take part in virtual learning; not everybody does—those are the kids in the worst possible situation. But virtual learning cannot substitute for what my kids, and I think all kids, need. What we planned for them to have. What every kid deserves.
Everyone has their own battles to fight through this. Everyone is hurting in one way or another. No one person’s fights are any more or less valiant than anyone else’s. Personally, nothing has weighed on me more during this time that the fear that my children are losing something they will never be able to get back. I am glad they have Black Dog, and Sealy, and Asa, and Boo Boo, and Dig-Dig, and Turtley. They are helping get them through this time; we all grasp onto whatever we can to get us through. But as much as I love those silly animals, my kids need other kids. Every day without them feels like something lost. Every day feels like something we’re not going to get back.
Until then, Black Dog, and Sealy, and Asa, and Boo Boo, and Dig-Dig, and Turtley will have to suffice. I am grateful they are here. But I will not miss their voices, when they are silent again.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
The United States Could Learn a Lot From How Sports Has Handled the Pandemic, New York. Why are sports back when nothing else is? Here’s why.
Actually, the Seven-Inning Doubleheaders Are Good! MLB.com. They are. They really are.
Russell Crowe Movies, Ranked, Vulture. Much love for Master and Commander here. That movie is good!
The Playoffs If the Season Ended Today, MLB.com. Cardinals not in this yet, but I bet they’re there soon.
The Thirty: A Player Off to a Slow Start on Every Team, MLB.com. Season’s nearly half over, by the way.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed the new movies “Boys State” and “Project Power,” and then were shocked by truly bad The Scarlet Letter really is.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we did a schedule release recap show, as if it will matter.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“Joe Biden’s Moment Is Not What He’d Been Expecting,” Matt Viser, The Washington Post. This is a terrific recap of Joe Biden’s political and professional life, and it’s written by a guy who once won my fantasy baseball league. It’s also worth watching Biden’s DNC speech again. I had forgotten how moved I could be by basic human decency. It’s been a rough few years.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Counties I Have Lived in, Ranked by the Percentage They Voted For Donald Trump in 2016
Coles County, Illinois: 60.2
St. Louis County, Missouri: 39.5
Champaign County, Illinois: 37.3
Clarke County, Georgia: 28.7
Los Angeles County, California: 23.4
Kings County, New York: 17.9
New York County, New York: 10.0
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
As you might have noticed, it is taking these letters a little longer to make it to you.
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Lonesome Day Blues,” Bob Dylan. Grierson was very angry that I had Time Out of Mind ahead of Love and Death on my Dylan rankings a couple of weeks ago, so out of penance, I’ve been listening to the latter on repeat this week. I’m not complaining.
The Cardinals are back. The Leitches aren’t displeased by that fact.
Be safe out there, everyone.