One of many take-aways I’ve come to appreciate during these past several months of social distancing has got to be the value of interdependence. As much as we’ve been conditioned throughout our lives to become self-reliant and independent, I truly believe that now more than ever, it’s the interpersonal connections we’ve created with others that will ultimately get each of us through these most difficult times.
A perfect example of this was something I experienced right out of the box in mid-March amongst my fellow colleagues at two of our Head Start preschool facilities, one based at the Children’s Museum East End (CMEE), and the other on the grounds of the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center.
Because we serve a predominantly Spanish-speaking, low-income community that is dispersed throughout the Hamptons and would not be working for a significant length of time, it was imperative that each of our families receive a reliable measure of food security, along with the necessary resources to contact, should they have other emergency needs such as heating oil and the like.
Within days, an extensive list of local food pantries with distribution times was compiled and circulated electronically to all parents. We also encouraged them to share the list with others who may also be struggling to put food on the table. Once we felt confident about those essential needs being met, each member of our teaching staff, and those working in an administrative capacity, established clear lines of communication to be used moving forward, as school-based education had come to a complete halt.
As one might imagine during such circumstances, trying to provide an engaging level of interaction with nearly 20 children in each of the three preschool classes would require an added measure of flexibility and innovation. Though none of us had ever been in these shoes before, we instinctively knew what needed to be done, and had each other’s backs throughout the entire process. For this, I am eternally grateful.
Early on, it was especially inspiring to witness just how everyone’s creative talents would be elevated and rise to the occasion, seeing we didn’t have the full complement of materials at our immediate disposal.
As well as multiple interactive “Zoom sessions” taking place each week (a bit frenetic at first, yet highly entertaining as one might expect with this young age group), the staff was also intent upon maintaining a level of connection through activities that we’d normally be conducting while at school.
Our instructional staff created dozens of curriculum-based videos, along with family-oriented ones such as nature walks, Play-doh making, and choreographed movement routines, to name just a few, for all to view at their convenience.
As weeks soon turned into months, both parents and students became quite acclimated to the new paradigm, embracing it wholeheartedly. It was especially endearing to receive texts from parents expressing their sincere gratitude for everything we were doing to make their lives bearable during such stressful times. I would often respond quite simply with: “Tu lucha es mi lucha.” Your struggle is my struggle. If nothing else, it lets someone know that they are never alone.
What most of “my families” don’t realize is just how crucial it was for me to sustain that connection and interaction, in order to maintain a level of mental balance for myself during an unprecedented length of physical isolation. Like so many other professions, we went from all day, every day of close proximity to absolutely none for the foreseeable future.
It was an extreme transition that no one could have ever anticipated. But just because we couldn’t conduct business as usual, it didn’t deter anyone from fortifying those bonds of interdependence that were so vitally important to us all.
I was drawn to a passage written by clinical psychologist Michele Brennan, who summed it up perfectly: “Think of a world where everyone reached a state of interdependence. Individuals would work with one another, supporting the group and lifting everyone up to reach higher levels of success. There would be harmony among people because they wouldn’t be left out or feel abandoned. They would be accepted in a group who would care for them and support them, encouraging their development.”
Clearly, on the grander scale of life, if we are truly serious about using this pandemic as a wake-up call that many are seeking (along with other crises that are simultaneously occurring), then isn’t it our moral obligation as citizens to forge ahead in a more inclusive manner?