In recent weeks — OK, in recent years — the news has been grim. Granted, this is like saying COVID has been a tiny inconvenience. It’s one bad thing after another. But look: After 980 straight days, January is almost over. It’s getting lighter outside! Cases are trending downward. Wordle is so much fun. Our toilet water looks promising. The world is improving, right? Pretty soon, we can return to worrying about long-term crises like climate change.
So we could all use a little dose of sunshine as we head into hopefully brighter days. Things aren’t all bad. I asked parents to tell me about glimmers of kindness and humanity they’ve witnessed over the past few weeks. You know, ways to confirm that the human race isn’t thoroughly doomed. And I’ll confess: A few of them made me tear up. Parents organizing mask drives. Donating antigen tests. Helping elderly neighbors.
Like this story from Acton’s Joseph Gazarek, whose toddler offered an impromptu shoveling session for his 80-something neighbor known as Miss Linda last week.
“I grew up next door to an elderly man, and I was raised to cut his lawn when we were doing our chores and cutting our lawn. He would always try to give us money, but even at a young age, I knew it was not OK to accept it, and it was just something you had to do as a good neighbor and human. So I guess in a way I was trying to teach my son the same thing on Sunday, but it was honestly his idea,” he says.
On Saturday night, Gazarek noticed a package for his neighbor outside. Her walkway was coated in ice, so he decided he’d return in the morning to help her out. Gazarek’s toddler son, JoJo, overheard him telling his wife about the plan — and insisted on salting her driveway.
“I was operating the lawn mower by age 7, and JoJo has been helping me in the yard since he could walk, so maybe now was the time to teach him about helping neighbors and those who can’t always help themselves,” he says.
JoJo spent two hours in the cold, a feat for a child who has an attention span of five minutes, Gazarek says.
“I picked him up and let him know how very proud I was of him and that he should never shy away from doing what’s right and that he should always help those who are unable to help themselves,” he says. And he sent me the video of JoJo to prove it.
Then there’s Donna Shea, a social-emotional learning specialist in Boxborough who runs the Peter Pan Center, offering social skills programs. She worked with two autistic third-graders, Evan and Leo. They had trouble staying attentive and responding to social cues. Sometimes, each of them had emotional outbursts over seemingly trivial things.
“Neither of them had ever had a friend,” she says. “As parents of neuro-diverse children — I am one myself — we struggle to help our kids make friends and are incredibly sad to watch them being rejected for who they are as people,” she says.
But both Evan and Leo had amazing knowledge of history. They happened to overlap during their summer program and bonded.
“The key is to stop looking for friends in all the wrong places and start looking for the real peeps. The kids with similar interests, the kids who aren’t fazed if a child is struggling or experiencing an emotional overload,” Shea says. “They started to support each other when one of them was having a hard time. They had each other’s backs. They exchanged contact information and scheduled playdates. They declared themselves best friends.”
In Roslindale, Courtney Feeley Karp’s 7-year-old daughter, Lucy, is still schooling remotely for medical reasons, and she’s isolated from her pals.
“We haven’t had many Zoom play dates recently . . . because everyone is so Zoomed out and, at this age, independent conversation is still a challenge,” she says. Just the same, she scheduled an online playdate with a friend from school.
“They ended up ‘playing’ for two hours, doing all the things 7-year-olds do. While we were in the living room, all we could hear was two kids laughing and just enjoying each other’s silliness so much I almost forgot that her friend wasn’t in the room. I had such happy tears for this blissful moment of joy for her in what has been a tremendously difficult school year.”
In Wellesley, Lara Cohen passes a Mason jar back and forth among her neighbors, filling it with food.
“One day it’s cookies; another day, soup. A pandemic silver lining has been getting to know your neighbors around fire pits and long family walks. Neither would probably have happened in the Before Times,” she says.
In Concord, Lindsay Binette turned over four boxes of precious Binax tests to a restaurant worker in need.
“He was alone serving food and drinks to a packed bar of demanding tourists over Christmas. He told us how worried he was about getting COVID from this and how he didn’t want to give it to his daughter. My husband had just scored the last four boxes of tests from CVS, so we ran out to the car and gave it to him,” she says.
In Arlington, Madhavi Dias has been extra cautious because she has an unvaccinated baby, and she had to turn down a birthday party invite for her older child. Instead of being judgmental, the friends adjusted and had them for a separate party instead.
“She planned in advance to have us before the actual day of the party and tested her family. A little extra effort and kindness goes a long way for us families with little ones who cannot yet vaccinate,” she says.
A little extra kindness: It’s free, it doesn’t mysteriously disappear from your Amazon cart at the last second, and it’s sometimes the best medicine.