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IN THE FAMILY WAY

Our kids were sent home from school a year ago this week. What have we learned?

Google classroom, meltdowns, inertia. All bad. But for parents, a year of firsts also offered lessons that should last.

Devin Kanabay carries his daughter through the Arnold Arboretum last July. Many parents said this past year helped them develop a deeper appreciation for being in nature.
Devin Kanabay carries his daughter through the Arnold Arboretum last July. Many parents said this past year helped them develop a deeper appreciation for being in nature.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

If you’re reading this, happy (sad? strange? surreal?) anniversary: You made it. A year ago, our kids were sent home from school — two weeks! they’ll deep-clean everything! — and we weren’t sure whether to plan for a snow day or a disaster. I remember going to Market Basket and rushing through the aisles like a hyper-caffeinated contestant on “Supermarket Sweepstakes,” grabbing a motley assortment of canned goods and paper towels (because paper towels are really what you need in a pandemic).

And remember the schedules we created? Those cute, color-coded home-schooling plans that look like a failed entry in a home-economics jamboree? A former Globe colleague just shared hers with me, and it included time reserved for cooking, baking, crafting, quiet time (ha!), educational shows, and fresh air. A week in, every parent I know had time for only a few things: weeping, venting, texting, swearing.

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Sign up for our parenting newsletter, In the Family Way.
Sign up for our parenting newsletter, In the Family Way.Heather Hopp-Bruce

But here we are, a year in, teetering on the brink of hope, somewhere between sweatpants and optimism. There are things we’d like to abandon forever this year, for sure. I would love to relegate my flammable socializing snowsuit to the dustbin of fashion history, and I look forward to burning every single one of my masks at the stake in a formal ceremony. I hope that my vats of tequila-scented, off-brand hand sanitizer can be repurposed as cheap mixers at a dive bar. That flat, monotone login to Google classroom — the one that makes the AOL dial-up tone sound like a symphony — belongs in a punishment mix with the Kars 4 Kids commercial. And I would like to donate my Zoom ring light to a dermatologist’s office.

There are treasures that washed ashore though, too. I asked parents across the area what they’re going to preserve from this year: routines they’ll keep, habits they’ll hang onto, gems they discovered. And so, remember:

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Actually meeting neighbors — talking to them outside instead of waving quickly on the way to an activity.

Discovering new restaurants for takeout or delivery, and feeling a deep investment in supporting them.

Patronizing independent businesses and establishing relationships with the owners.

A renewed appreciation for what older generations endured, whether it was the Depression, World War II, polio, or disco (I kid). For those of us who came of age playing “Oregon Trail” on an Apple IIGS, it was a wake-up call.

Discovering new shows and podcasts (lots of shout-outs to “Ted Lasso” here).

Infusing creativity into the mundane, whether it meant trying new recipes, digging out old puzzles and games, turning living rooms into camping zones, or figuring out how to socialize outdoors without freezing.

Making space for nothingness and realizing that being busy is often its own punishment, and that productivity isn’t a personality trait.

Acknowledging that there is no shame in needing antidepressants or therapy.

Getting in touch with anger. Realizing that uncomfortable emotions are acceptable, and even necessary.

Unearthing deeper character traits in parents whom you might have only known in passing from sports or drop-off — the acquaintance who offers a terrific recipe or shares an interesting new documentary. We’re so much more than our schedules.

Hiking, walking, and simply being in nature: in the Fells, in the Berkshires, at the deCordova Sculpture Park.

Water: at Walden Pond, Good Harbor Beach, Nauset Beach, so many more.

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Virtual classes, from dumpling-making to painting to violin.

High-waisted leggings (or, really, any pants without a button and zipper).

So many librarians, who assembled grab bags of kids’ books for distanced pickup and coordinated virtual programming. They are unsung heroes.

Community, which so often seems like an invisible buzzword but became an umbrella, a cocoon, and a lifeline for the past year.

On a day when we think about lasts — last school pickup, last time a kid hugged a grandparent, last normal trip to the store — maybe now we can turn to firsts. I’ll be thinking of the first time my vaccinated parents can enter my house without masks; the first time my mother-in-law can actually sleep over at our house; the first time I can drop my 4-year-old off at preschool, where he belongs, instead of in front of the TV.

But when it comes to marking lasts, there are things we should actually make last, too. As we put this year behind us, hopefully we’ll keep some lessons within us, for at least a little while.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.