One of the first things they learned was to appreciate friends. In school, they saw their friends every day. After the pandemic hit our city, friends became images or words on a screen. My daughters had begun to build a social world around themselves, and now that world is gone. They learned, as millions of kids across the world, in places less fortunate than ours, know: However bad going to school is, it’s better than having no school at all.
They learned that everything can change in an instant. They learned about viruses. They learned that when people are afraid, they lash out. They learned that, even during a global pandemic, people can be brave and kind. They learned to appreciate our library. They learned that going grocery shopping is a privilege. They learned that the world is fragile. They learned that in spite of that fragility, life goes on.
They learned that more than one crisis can happen at a time. The day after George Floyd was killed by a police officer, we drove to a rally at the site of his death, not far from our home in Minneapolis. The girls learned about racism in our city, in American history, and in American culture (and they already knew more than I did at their age). They learned that the area where we live was once designated “whites only,” and that in many ways it still is. They learned that the world can be a terrible, unfair, dangerous place. But they also learned that many of us want it to be better. The sign my 11-year-old brought to the rally, which she made herself, read: We Are Better Than This.
Read: Tell your kids the truth about this moment
The next day, the wind blew smoke through our house, and they learned what it smells like when a city burns. When our post office was destroyed, they learned to appreciate getting mail. When protesters emptied the Target and the grocery store we shop at, they learned about looting. In those tense days, they learned what it feels like when things are spiraling out of control.
The day after our police station fell, we drove down to Lake Street to help clean up some of the businesses that had been damaged or destroyed. There, they learned what it feels like to see a place they know become unrecognizable overnight. All down the street were hundreds of people cleaning up broken glass and debris. They learned, as a wise man once said, to look for the helpers. They learned to be the helpers.
The next day, the city told us to remove anything flammable from our lawns, hide our trash cans, and pack a “to-go bag.” More than 7,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen were on their way to the city. Sitting in our living room, we watched neighbor after neighbor pack their car and leave town before the freeways closed and curfew began. The four of us—me, my wife, and our daughters—tried to decide if we should leave. Our youngest daughter went upstairs, curled up in her bed, and cried, because if we left, all her stuffed animals might burn. For the second time this year, the girls learned what it’s like to live in a world you could never have imagined the week before.