Dave’s Desk@Ditch: What Used To Be

Now that some of the restrictions regarding COVID-19 protocol have begun to be lifted, I’m quite interested in seeing how most folks will handle this long-awaited transition. Will it be one of new-found freedom where a philosophical mandate for “Carpe Diem!” sets the tone, or does one take a more protracted approach, embracing the occasion to implement some of the lessons learned from the past year, and view them as potential growth opportunities?

Personally, I fall into the latter category — I see this point in time as a chance to apply some newly-discovered methods of self-awareness that might not have existed prior to the pandemic. Along those same lines, I’m probably not alone in thinking that the modifications we adapted to concerning social engagement took a heavy toll (both emotionally and physically), on countless individuals. This requires some further examination.

Let’s face it, life before the pandemic was filled with myriad daily routines. Families with children sent them off to school each morning, before they themselves headed to work. Once there, much of one’s time was consumed with specific duties, often requiring person-to-person connectivity of one sort or another. If retired or not working, maybe one’s day included volunteering in some capacity, visiting with grandchildren or simply gathering with like-minded friends to discuss the day’s news events at the local restaurant or watering hole. For many, connecting in-person was as natural as it comes; until it suddenly wasn’t.

Of all the personal adjustments that were required once the pandemic hit here, by far, the elimination of in-person social contact with others seemed to have the greatest negative impact. As a preschool instructor working with at-risk families, my world (and countless others), would completely be turned upside down over the course of a single day. 

The parents of our preschoolers had gone from ramping up for the summer blitz (a common occurrence in a resort area such as ours), to losing their employment indefinitely; wondering whether they’d be able to put a proper meal on the table. That quickly became priority one for our staff, as we mobilized to ensure food security by compiling a list of all food banks throughout the Hamptons, and their distribution times. As I’ve indicated in previous columns, enough can’t be said for these front-line volunteers and their selfless dedication to assisting those most in need.

Additionally, as was the case with every educational entity, developing and adjusting to an alternative method of remote instruction would prove to be quite challenging, until a newer, modified routine was eventually established.

From a social-emotional perspective, what I struggled with most throughout the early months was a “loss of self.” I’d become so consumed with my professional identity as an educator in the traditional sense that, once the paradigm had shifted so dramatically, it threw me for a loop. A prime example of this was losing that important twice-daily connection at drop-off and pick-up with the families of my students. Parent involvement in our program has always played a critical role, and it is something that our teaching team has taken much pride in over the years. To lose that crucial daily interaction that had developed so organically over the course of a year was heartbreaking.

Though my preschool class continues to operate remotely (nearly 15 months later), I’m pleased to report that I’ve been making progress by reclaiming some of that previous foundation by connecting briefly with parents and students while making weekly home deliveries of food, which our program provides.

Whether it’s kicking a soccer ball back and forth a few times with one of my kindergarten-bound five-year-olds and her older brother (a former student of mine), writing our names in chalk on the sidewalk, or simply taking a few minutes to sit on the front stoop together, discussing their child’s progress, I’ll take what I can get. Does it provide the same level of social interaction and shared responsibility that an actual classroom experience would provide? It could never compare. What it does offer, though, is an opportunity to engage, person-to-person, in hopes of recapturing just a little bit of “what used to be.”

Dave Davis

Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. Two of his pieces, “Always Be the Water” and “All Things Considered,” appear in the 2016 anthology “On Montauk: A Literary Celebration.”

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