My 9-year-old son slept poorly seven nights ago. He awoke the next morning with tears in his eyes.

I sent him to bed with bad news ringing in his ears. He will not be returning to school in the 2019-2020 school year. He will not be participating in baseball this summer. We will not be attending the birthday party scheduled for next weekend. He will not see his teacher again. He will not say goodbye to his friends. What else did I expect?

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We have begun our new normal, which doesn’t feel at all normal to my two children, or to me.

I am their teacher now. Funny, I actually was their real classroom teacher, one year each, early on in their academic careers (I was an elementary school teacher in the very small town in which we reside). This experience is not the same. There are no other children to act as buffers, no fat binders full of prescribed curriculum, no breaks from me to visit the music teacher or art instructor.

Just them and me.

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What is occurring in our home doesn’t really look like school, and it shouldn’t. To all of those well-meaning parents setting up classrooms in the basement, streaming endless virtual experiences, and ordering protractors online—don’t worry about it so much. That is not what our children need right now. We cover our bases with a walk to the creek, notebooks for writing and drawing and a board game in the evening.

Like every other part of the day, our lunch hour is spent together. The sunlight streams in from the bay windows surrounding our dining table. One boy eats a turkey sandwich, while the other nibbles on peanut butter and honey. I am grateful for the continued income from my job, enabling me to prepare the sandwiches at home, rather than pick up a sack lunch from a local church or community center, something that has become so essential for many of our friends and neighbors. They quietly munch, as I sit in a wing chair in the corner of the room and read to them. Sometimes classics from my childhood (Ramona Quimby is still my hero) and sometimes books of their choosing.

During the lunch period following the poor night of sleep, I was reading aloud from a fiction book about a parrot who teaches children to act politely.

“I wish I had a bird.” my nine year old said, wistfully.

Though I am usually one to deliberate heavily on such matters, there was not one single reason I could think of in that moment as to why we shouldn’t have a bird. Or two. One for his brother, as well.

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This was before our “lockdown” directive. I was still able to sneak off to the pet store using social distancing practices. From six feet away, I selected two parakeets. A blue one, Wally. A green one, Buddy.

They are our focus now. Two living, breathing, growing, beautiful creatures, blissfully unaware of the chaotic and stressed-out world around them. They have given the same gift to my children.

The boys spring from bed in the morning and open the tiny, birdcage door, allowing the parakeets to gracelessly flop out of the cage and onto some body part. It was easier to acclimate the birds to two rambunctious boys than I thought it would be. The sit contentedly on shoulders, hands, and the tops of heads. They even purr when they are happy, like cats. I think I hear the boys purr sometimes, too.

The birds are the sole component of my current “science curriculum.” We’ve learned many parakeet facts. Their beaks never stop growing, they enjoy water activities, and they have a lengthy life span, 10- 20 years.

This means that Wally and Buddy will be around long after the crisis has passed, likely many years—though I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to associate them with anything else.

Even now, the very sight of the birds stirs conflicting feelings of sadness and joy within me. I think it is how we will all feel when we reflect back on this time one day. The sadness in the situation is easy to recognize. But the joy is there, too. The joy of slow days. The joy of understanding what is truly important. The joy of having time to watch two boys play with two birds for hours on end, with nowhere in particular to go. The joy is there. We will see it when we look back. I can’t wait to look back.

For now, I am thankful for our parakeets. They have helped us to remember that life is still good.

Jackie Hostetler

Jackie Hostetler is a wife and mother, a writer and teacher -in that order. She has worked in the field of education for 18 years, earning a Bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education, as well as a Master’s Degree in education. She is a freelance writer and has contributed to numerous education, early childhood, and family-centered blogs. Her passions include early childhood education and her two young boys, who slip farther away from early childhood each day.