The Last Time

It’s official.

The state of Illinois has ordered schools to remain closed through the end of the school year.

It’s a decision I knew was coming, and one I agree with, but it’s still hard. My heart hurts for Moose, who won’t get to finish his eighth grade year at his junior high, who won’t get to have his final band concert, or walk at his 8th grade graduation. My heart hurts for the teachers, who don’t get to see their students every day, too. And for all of the school district employees who have unexpectedly found themselves without work.

But my heart breaks, most of all, selfishly, for what I’m losing. Our afternoon walks to and from Moose’s school.

Almost since he started early childhood education at the neighboring elementary school at the age of three, we’ve made a habit of walking to pick him up when the weather was nice. Not during the very early days in preschool, I guess, because our subdivision was so new then that it didn’t yet have a stop light. But once they installed a crossing, we would walk in the fall and the spring. Initially, those treks would involve a stroller, as first Ladybug, and then Chickadee, was too small to make the two-mile round-trip on foot. Eventually, though, we ditched the stroller, and all enjoyed walking together.

There were occasional days when interest was low. The rare cold winter morning when, because Ryan needed the car for something, we would have to walk, regardless of the temperature or precipitation. Or a hot spring afternoon, where walking again was a necessity, but not necessarily enjoyable. For the most part, though, we chose our walks when the weather was pleasant, and it was something I looked forward to as the temperature cooled off every fall, and as it warmed up in the spring. We would notice changing leaves, blossoms and flowers, and animals along the way. And we would talk…about everything. Sometimes, the children would recite memory work for catechesis or poems they memorized for school. Or we would talk about current events, or plans for upcoming holidays, or just whatever we were interested in at the time. The topics have changed over the years, but the enthusiasm for discussion remained the same.

I knew this would be the last year, after so many years throughout early childhood, elementary school, and junior high, that these walks would be an option…the high school is not even close to within walking distance. And I intended to make the most of our time. Which I think I did…to a point. To the best of my somewhat limited ability, anyway. We walked many afternoons in the fall, making up for the days in 2018 when I couldn’t do so because of my broken ankle. And I had plans to continue to do so this spring. We did walk a few times in 2020, on the rare nice winter day. But if I had known that March 11 would be the very last time we would make that trip on foot together…I don’t even know. I don’t think I could have enjoyed it more. Maybe I would have attempted to slow the moment down. Maybe I would have tried to make the walk last a little longer. But if I had known then that would be the last time, I hope I would have done something to savor that last opportunity just a little bit more, especially knowing what I know now about what was coming…

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