Gratitude in Our Not-So-New-Normal Situation

Michael and I had dropped the kids off at school and planned to spend 36 hours alone in The Hamptons. We were grateful to be able to leave the kids with their babysitter and enjoy some alone time, especially after such a long year with them.

When Michael’s phone rang, we were about 45 minutes outside of New York City.

It was a number with an NYC area code that was unknown. We exchanged glances. This was not a nice situation. The majority of spam calls originate from our former area codes; spammers haven’t worked out that we moved years ago—this was legitimate.

Michael responded. It was, indeed, the school nurse. My heart sunk and rushed at the same time. A call from the school nurse is never a good thing, as any parent knows. And in the midst of a pandemic!? It’s simply alarming because virtually anything can be a COVID symptom. A single allergy sniffle may throw your life into disarray.

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When the kids returned to in-person school, we had to have a special chat with our daughter about this. She used to go to her instructors with her large brown eyes and cute little freckle-face and tell them she had a headache, a stomach ache, or an itchy throat, and they’d send her to the nurse’s office.

The nurse would typically call her bluff, but we had to make it very obvious to our kid that she couldn’t fake anything until she truly had a headache, a stomach pain, or an itchy throat.

We cautioned her, “This is extremely serious stuff.”

She was aware of the situation.

And then we were there. The nurse was already calling as we drove out of town for the first time in a long time. In the passenger seat, I held my breath, unable to read Michael’s poker face reactions. The call was quick, and Michael ended it by saying, “Well, thanks for letting us know…” and hanging up.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I just blurted it out.

“She stated she poked her eye at home and was convinced her eye was bleeding,” according to our daughter, who had apparently gone to the nurse’s office earlier.

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“…but I didn’t want her to go home and tell you about the bloody eye and then you wonder why I never called,” the nurse explained, “…but I didn’t want her to get home and tell you about the bloody eye and then you wonder why I never called.”

Michael received another call from a local NYC area code the next day at the same time. It was, indeed, the nurse. Our daughter had returned to the office. “…she said she strained her leg jumping rope on the playground this time.” ” The nurse iced the unidentified injuries while conversing with my daughter.

“I heard from your daughter that you went on a trip. She wanted to know whether I was going to phone you and ask you to come back and collect her.”

We exchanged glances as Michael hung up the phone. “I believe we have a case of a girl who is accustomed to being with her friends all of the time.”

In my eagerness for a taste of normalcy, I’d forgotten that “normal” used to imply separation. For our family, normal meant that I had to travel. It meant missing out on things and making do with what was available. Normal meant more FaceTime calls in our house, not fewer.

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As eager as I was to “return to normal,” I had to concede that our new normal was better in many respects. Our daughter’s visits to the nurse were most likely an unspoken protest against things “returning to normal.”

I couldn’t say that I blamed her.

I was grateful for the reminder, even though no parent wants to get a call from the school nurse. Grateful and proud, because the nurse stated how impressed she was that our daughter had come to the office twice with symptoms unrelated to the pandemic illness.

I suppose she truly did get it.

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