On Being a Parent in Law School–Covid-19 Edition

In the first days of social distancing, my daughter kept asking about school. She had a vague understanding of how weekends typically broke up her daycare routine but eventually it became clear that this one had stretched on to an absurd degree. Every morning for the first couple of weeks of lockdown she asked, “Baby go to school?” Then she rattled off the names of her teachers and classmates. Those early days were tough. She’s very social. School is thrilling for her. I was not an adequate replacement for ten friends and two loving teachers.

All work spaces and readings are shared.

It was also a rough stretch for me. I had taken the year off before law school to stay at home with her, so it wasn’t as though this was unprecedented. But that year wasn’t easy and when I got to BC last August, I found that school was thrilling for me too. So here we were, eight months later, having gotten used to our schools, once again trying to figure out how to keep ourselves occupied for twelve hours a day. On top of that, there was the pressure to provide some educational stimulation to her ever-expanding mind as well. And I still had five courses to complete.

Public beach near the author’s home. The site of many walks and course lectures.

Initially, I didn’t know how I was going to make it work. The move to Pass/Fail was a huge relief. Only after that announcement was I was able to envision how I might get through the semester. But being a parent in law school still presented its challenges. I wrote about this before, but back then I had at least some ability to compartmentalize my schooling in Newton and my parenting in Boston. Now the two are co-extensive and the little one is even more a part of my legal education than she was before.

Walking on the boardwalk.

So we take a lot of walks. I throw her in a stroller or on my back, walk down to the bay, and let her run around by the water. We can get through entire classes or recorded lectures that way. But this only became possible as she grew into our new routine. Before lockdown, she got her stimulation from the blur of kids running around her at school. Because of this, in the first week at home she clung to me or wandered around listlessly. Now, however, she has learned to turn inward for excitement. She has long, animated conversations with herself. In a 75-minute class/walk in the park, she will end up speaking about as many words as my professor. In the last month, I’ve seen her go deeper into her imagination than ever before. And while I know she misses her friends, she is growing and learning as best she can.

I have tried to benefit from her example: in the last month I spent more time reading books that fire my imagination. In one of those books, I came across the following passage:

[S]chism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new…there must be—if we are to experience long survival—a continuous “recurrence of birth.”

My wife is an obstetrician, so her day-to-day is in service of the continuous recurrence of birth. A few weeks ago, when the gravity of what was happening began to come into focus, she worked an overnight shift at the hospital. The next morning she came home and told me it was reassuring to see that mothers are still laboring and babies still insist on coming into the world, undeterred by its current condition.

The maternity ward is probably the best place to witness life’s insistence on new beginnings, but you can also see it in a park full of improvising parents and creative toddlers. You can hear it when Italians lean out of their windows to sing, when Americans howl at dusk, when hospitals play Here Comes the Sun for each surviving patient, and when orchestras and Broadway casts perform from their homes. It’s even there in virtual classes where teachers hammer away at the curriculum while trying to engage students spread out across the world.

Baby on back, headphones, homemade mask. Class time looks different than it used to.

Imagination and the embrace of new beginnings. Those are the only ways forward from this much disruption and vulnerability. For kids, those impulses come naturally and gracefully. While I wish I could sit down at a desk and refer to the statutes as we discuss them in Criminal Law, instead I watch the little one run along the boardwalk and chatter to herself. It’s a lesson in creative resilience. These days we have to take our education wherever we can get it.

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