Pick any day in 2019. The alarms go off at 5:15, 5:30 and 5:45 a.m. Coffee maker pops on. You look through the fridge and miraculously create two lunches out of two pieces of deli turkey and one carrot that has seen better days. You eat breakfast and sign permission slips. You go get dressed and drive into work. You work but leave an hour early to immediately get ready for practice and rehearsal. Dinner can either be at 4:15 or at 9:15 p.m., it’s one of those nights. At 11 p.m. you send out a sign-up genius you were supposed to send out yesterday for teacher appreciation. It’s busy – but it’s a rhythm.

Pick any day in 2020. What day is it? Coffee maker pops on. You didn’t think you would like graham cracker flavored creamer when it was substituted in your order, but its growing on you. You hear the thud of the children’s feet on the floor upstairs. Must be time for them to log in for their school assignments. You log into a zoom PTA meeting where you discuss options, possibilities and so many what ifs and maybes. You log out. You play a board game, water your plant babies and bake some bread for tomorrow. It’s a chaotic rhythm. What day is it?

Pick any day in 2021. Coffee maker pops on. We are back! I never thought an alarm clock could be a sweet sound. Kids are off to school in a building that is not your house. From the waist up you are very Donna Karen, but from the waist down you are very Old Navy 2008. You log into a zoom meeting where you see the laundry pile over your left shoulder in the camera frame, you adjust your camera only to show the science fair project pile over your right shoulder. After work, you go to a PTA meeting at a park where you sit in chairs six feet apart. You go home and log into a virtual play on zoom that evening that your child’s friend is in. It’s surprisingly cute. This rhythm is tricky, complicated and hard, but you got it, you are on beat.

Pick any day so far in 2022. Coffee maker pops on. School is closed for the rest of the week because many teachers are out sick. You drive into the office. COVID-19 numbers are starting to drop, and vacation is in a few weeks. It has been a while since vacation. You order better quality masks, and hop on a plane for the first time in two years. You dine outside, you have every scent of hand sanitizer Bath and Body works produces and you have a great time. You attempt to get back on a rhythm – any rhythm.  Your days are becoming full. You drive kids, go to PTA meetings, rehearsal, practice and work dinners. It’s a slightly chaotic, not quite normal, but almost steady rhythm.

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and it is true. As much as I know this, I can’t stop comparing where we are to where we were. We can’t compare 2019 to 2022 any more than we can compare apples to oranges. I feel like now, it is time to create a new rhythm. As much as I try, I can’t seem to land on beat. School feels almost normal. Almost, but not quite. We have some new additions and changes like hand sanitizer stands, masks, outside lunchrooms and the water fountains are still closed. Childhood is different now; teaching is different now and parenting is different now. However, different doesn’t mean bad. We can still find our rhythm, even if it means looking a little harder for it on some days.

Current global, national and state events have led to another layer of disrupted rhythm. How can we help our students keep the beat? How can we support our teachers and schools and get that rhythm back?

First and foremost, we need to vote for public education. We need to make sure that we speak loud enough for the people inside the capital with the pens can hear us when we say public education is important. Our public schools need our support, perhaps now more than ever. We all thought 2020 was the hardest year in education, however it is proving to be knocked out of place by 2022. The challenges that our teachers are facing this school year are unparalleled. They are covering classes during their breaks, making lessons accessible to children sick or quarantining at home, rewriting lesson plans to fill in gaps and also managing to find space in a career that has completely changed shape in the past two years.

Our students are trying to find stability and routine in a world where those two things can be hard to nail down. They may be in one class one week and another class the next. Their campus may close for a day or two. They may have to be at home. The event they had been helping to plan for months may have been cancelled.

As parents, we are also struggling to find our rhythm at home. I wish we could browse the self-help section at Half Priced Books to find, “How to parent during a pandemic,” because I would have bought ten copies and a whole box of highlighters. I just keep telling my children the same thing I have been telling them since they were little – the rules are subject to change at any time.  It’s so hard to teach our children to have the courage to make the right decisions even when they are hard, the character to stick to their principles even when challenged, and the integrity to not compromise their truth in a world where everything is constantly in flux. How do we know where the fence is if it keeps moving? How do we explain to our kids that different families have different rules? It is our job as parents to define these parameters as they change. Parenting has always been a full-time job, but these past two years we have been working emotional overtime. Our children are learning important lessons here, even if we wish they didn’t have to learn them in this way.

Volunteering is hard when you can’t get in the door. I have spoken to PTAs all over the state who have yet to be back inside a building. They are having to create new ways to connect families, students and teachers without being physically present. They are planning classroom parties in a box to leave outside the school for the teacher to take in. They are hosting virtual workshops. I have spoken to PTAs whose numbers are less than half of what they typically are.

It’s not that no one cares anymore. I feel that it is more that everyone’s plate is very, very full. Volunteering in this time takes a lot of thought, time and mental space. We have to think about others and practice empathy. We need to understand that some might not be able to show up like they did in the past. Don’t discount them. Hold space for your families and your communities. If you have the ability to volunteer right now, do so loudly. Show up and be heard. Remind teachers that the breakfast was brought to them by their loving PTA. Remind students that the outdoor dining area is provided by their PTA.

Earlier this year I was presenting, “Hey Dude, Nice Shoes,” at an elementary school in Leander, and it was their first assembly in two years. The kindergarteners and first graders had never sat at their assigned spaces in the gym before. That assembly was brought to them by their PTA, and I made sure the kids knew it! Make sure your community knows that your PTA is still there – although it may look and operate a little differently. PTAs are still able to make an enormous difference in the lives of our families, students and educators. As we get our rhythm back, our families and communities will find their way back to the music.

In this time of changing rhythm, it is important to listen to ourselves and our own heart while also trying to listen to other’s. It is invaluable for us to show, learn and teach empathy. The teacher that is late to respond to your email may have had a kid sick at home last week. The parent who didn’t sign the form the third time you sent it home may be busy moving back into their office after two years. The student who threw their backpack against the wall and ran out may be upset after missing two years of birthday parties, his party Saturday is now canceled. The friend in your book club may have unsubscribed from it because due to medical fragility, their family is still in quarantine and even hearing of events is hard for them. We are not all in the same boat.

We need to soften our judgements and ease into this new rhythm. For some, it may still be fast and steady. For some, it can hard to pick out a repeated pattern to find the tempo.  And for some, like me, you may feel like you are constantly clapping on the upbeat and so out of sync with the rest of the world. This is where we are at. This is where I am at. Wherever you find yourself, I see you. I hear you. I am empathetic to your situation and circumstance. This is hard work, but together we can find a new song for a new day.

The alarms go off. Coffee maker pops on. Onward. We are finding our rhythm and making music. We are making some really beautiful music! The darkness of the last two years makes the smallest bright spots so brilliant. I sobbed when I saw my daughter’s choir concert this December. Just a few years before I would have complained about the uncomfortable seats or the length of some sonata. But now, after everything we have been through and all the virtual choir experiences we have attempted, I cherished every second and every note.  I am so grateful for the new perspective.

We are all making some really beautiful music. We are hosting movie nights and inclusive family dances. We are showing up in new ways with virtual meetings and workshops. We are creating “pep squad email committees” to lift up our teachers and offer new opportunities to people who are unable to be physically present.  We are finding our rhythm and learning a way to dance to it. Some of us look like Ginger Rogers, and some of us look like Carlton from Fresh Prince. However, look at us! We are dancing! We are dancing when we used to be sitting still. That is progress. That is hope.

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.