Hardy: Finding ways to do things better — together
Once upon a time, I wrote a column for The News-Register called “Raising the Hardy Boys.”
It always published with the caveat that it was most certainly not a “how to” parent situation. Instead, my columns had more of a “well, here’s how that’s going on my end” kind of vibe.
Essentially, I shared my margin notes on my mothering experience.
When I first started writing about my parenting experiences, Sam was 7 months old and Jake was just a hope in my heart. When I stopped, they were 9 and 7.
Roughly five years have passed since I wrote my last column. Since then, I’ve become a single parent, which, you know, changes things.
Oh, and also, a pandemic happened. Or, is still happening, rather. And let me tell you, nowhere in my dog-eared copies of all those What to Expect books is there even a mention of how to parent during a pandemic.
I thought I was prepared for a wide variety of situations.
Fire ladders in upstairs bedrooms, check. Emergency kit in the truck, check. Box of supplies for when the power goes out, got it. Stocked up for flu season, you bet. Bug out bag with copies of important papers, oh wait.
That one is still on the list of things to do, now that I think of it. But you get my point.
I’ve long ago accepted that things change on a dime, and even when your world is blown to bits, you still have to do the things involved in the care and feeding of small humans. But a pandemic, where the way we conduct nearly every aspect of life is completely altered?
Oh, and for an extra fun plot twist, the pandemic is occurring during a season where the grownups, it seems, have aborted civility.
And the children are watching. They are watching how we treat people who ask us to do something we do not want to do. They are watching how we handle others who believe differently than ourselves. They are watching us turn on each other as we collectively fail this assignment, a group project none of us wanted but all of us are stuck with. Together.
Now, those little Hardy Boys I used to write about are both taller than I am. At nearly 14 and 12, they’ve outgrown basically everything, including any desire to have details of their lives shared with the public.
Since I happen to be one of those people who think consent is clutch, I respect that boundary. But I do occasionally ask for permission to share a picture or story.
Recently, I captioned my boys’ first day of school photo: “The Hardy Boys Go to Middle School.” Which is kind of a big deal.
Of course, that’s true for any milestone. But, this was the first Back to School picture I took where all three of us understood the uncertainty that had never existed before. Or, perhaps it had and we just weren’t aware of it.
Forever, we took for granted that school starts in September; and it happens, like, at school; and it lasts a reasonable chunk of the day; and there are teachers there who teach you things; and sometimes you have a fun recess, or not.
We built entire systems around the structure of a school day.
The 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 just passed, and the only other time I have personally had the same feeling I had watching the second plane hit the tower was on March 13, 2020.
Let me be clear: I am not comparing the two events in any way other than how I felt. It was just a knowing that nothing would ever be the same again.
It was a Friday the 13th, and we were about to head out for Spring Break. Which, for as long as I’ve been doing school, means one week off.
Instead, we were apprehensive because rumors were swirling with the snowflakes — because, of course, it snowed that day — that we might be closing for a little longer due to the coronavirus. Two weeks maybe.
I remember wondering, can they even do that? But I knew something was happening, and it was beyond my immediate understanding.
Then more than a year happened. School staff, students and parents worked together to adjust to a totally new way of doing school, temporarily.
It was great for some, terrible for others, and kind of just “OK, but what is even happening?” for the rest of us, it seems. So yeah, this last round of Back to School pictures is a big deal.
The last one I took like this, I had fourth- and sixth-graders. This month, I have sixth- and eighth-graders who are walking the halls of the same middle school.
Oh, and by the way, a reminder: In addition to the stress of a pandemic, and an emotionally loaded political climate at both the local and national levels, kids are coming back to school with all of the old stressors plus a host of new ones. It’s a lot.
When I posted that picture, I had some people ask whatever happened to my column.
It’s hard to answer that succinctly, but there are three reasons, starting with the online comment section and the culture we’ve created on social media. Yes, I’m serious.
Without a doubt, the comment section killed my ability to write a column authentically, which was the foundation of my entire writing platform.
My style consists of processing ideas and events in real time, out loud. It is intended as a conversation starter, a springboard: Think light pencil instead of thick Sharpie.
But the comment section on social media made that impossible.
Even now, I re-read something I wrote a decade ago and think, “Huh, I’ve really changed my mind about that.” Or, “I know more about that now, indicating I didn’t understand it the way I thought I did.” You know, personal growth or whatever.
Well, once it’s in ink and bits, it’s done. You said it. You meant it. Therefore you are stuck with it For Ever. Canceled like dinner reservations in a pandemic.
I hate that. I think we need space to grow and change.
The second reason is something I touched on earlier. While I maintained I was writing about my own experiences, parenting got more complex as the boys got older, which is not to be confused with “harder.”
Though the things we deal with are still universal, it becomes more private and personal as they grow into themselves. It’s a tricky balance and must tip in favor of respecting their privacy, their right to choose which part of their life is public and which part not.
Finally, the whole being a single parent thing is kind of a lot.
So, I’m still here. I’m still taking notes. And I’m still looking for ways to share the margin notes from navigating this journey of parenting.
As isolated as many of us feel, we aren’t alone. So, here’s to working to keep figuring out how to do better — together.