When it comes to parenting, decision-making is my favorite part of the job. I like being “where the buck stops.” However, this year, decisions are at the bottom of my favorite things list. It seems like we are faced with big, scary, daunting, pandemic-sized decisions every few weeks.

As the school year approached, my husband and I had to figure out if our kids would go back on campus or learn from home. There was clearly no right answer so we decided to keep them home. As September blurred into October, I winced remembering back to the spring when my youngest daughter asked if she would be able to trick or treat. Equipped with masks and hand sanitizer, we ventured to their cousin’s house, ten feet from the front door, for what would likely be their last Halloween trick or treating – or at least a semblance of that.

Then it was November. What about Thanksgiving? We imagined gathering outside of my in-laws. But as the holiday approached and numbers continued to climb, we decided that wasn’t a great idea. So, for the very first time, my little family of four made Thanksgiving dinner. Well, more like three of us. My apple pie is going down in the history books as the worst one ever – best described by my daughter as “a stale, tart, apple flavored cinnamon cereal with no sugar.” Awesome, exactly what I was going for. Thanksgiving this year was a two-hour Zoom call with extended family, minus one apple pie.

Yep, 2020 has been a heck of a year. I have made some heavy decisions and set boundaries that sting. And then came choir.

Choir is a big deal in our house. When the girls were tiny, they loved singing in school productions and watching the older kids perform. They would get wide-eyed when the high school choir, named Musicale, visited each December decked out in Victorian costumes. My oldest first saw them perform Christmas carols in the second grade. She stood up in the cafeteria after their second song, weaved her way through the criss cross applesauce maze, and found me in the back of the crowd. She pulled my sleeve down and loudly whispered, as seven-year olds do, “I want to be the one in the frilly dress when I get big.” When she did get older, she suddenly couldn’t think of anything more horrible than singing in front of her class. Twelve is a gloriously tricky age! But thanks to a persuasive choir director, she was inspired to give it a chance and hasn’t looked back. The sixth grader who never thought she could sing has grown into a varsity member of her high school choir; she even made Musicale this year.

Cue difficult decision.

The show choir starts practicing holiday music at the beginning of the school year, and November and December are usually jam-packed with caroling performances. Of course, this year looked very different. Caroling gigs, now optional, would be held outdoors with social distancing and masks. Great. However, in-person rehearsals were required to participate.

We had been home for 260 days. On one hand, I could count how many times we had another roof over our heads or sat in another car. Without much hesitation, I made decisions about birthdays, family visits, and vacations, but somehow this decision over caroling was the one that caused me to lose sleep.

I didn’t want to let down my wide-eyed second grader or the sixth grader who didn’t think she had the courage to sing. I wanted to give the girl who turned 16 in quarantine, the one so elated when she made Musicale, everything she dreamed of. I wanted to see my daughter finally put on that frilly dress, because this would all be over by December … right?

We went back and forth for a long time weighing the pros and the cons, the hypotheticals and the probabilities. Then it was decision time. To carol, or not to carol, that was the question.

She certainly looked beautiful in her frilly dress – a vision in blue satin elegance. Despite the height she has on me, I couldn’t help but see my second grader again. “Mom,” she said. “ How do I look?”

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at the caroling gig – giant hoop skirt intact. My daughter and a few other choir members stood far apart in the courtyard outside of a retirement community. Peaking through the window, I could see how eager the residents were to hear their young visitors perform. As the first few notes pierced the cold air, I saw the residents collectively lean forward to hear more. I couldn’t see smiles from behind their masks, but I did see tears in their eyes. The breath caught in my chest as a man stood up from behind his table and put his hand on the window as the choir sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In that breath, I paused. I realized that all the decisions with no right answers had somehow guided me to that moment. I have cried so many times in the past nine months. I cried over the loss of the year, or because we were out of coffee, or sometimes for no reason at all. I have cried over many decisions. But when I saw that man’s hand fog up against the window, I cried because I saw joy. I guess I hadn’t seen it in a while, or maybe I was so caught up in all the decisions I forgot to look.

Our brains have been operating in decision hyperdrive for months. And we are physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted because of it. But if you pause to look up, you will see the joy that still exists around you – one frilly dress at a time.

Carolyn Brown

Carolyn Brown

Carolyn Jennings Brown has been serving public schools in the state of Texas for nearly two decades. She has a unique perspective that spans from being the daughter of an educator to a student, teacher, and parent. Today, Carolyn travels the state sharing her anti-bullying/pro-kindness workshop. She is an honorary lifetime member of Texas PTA and a recipient of the National PTA Lifetime Achievement Award. Carolyn lives in Austin with her husband and their two daughters.