[As this godawful year nears its close, we could all use some positivity. So for my annual series of wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves, I wanted to highlight hopeful figures, texts, histories, and stories we should all better remember in the new year. Leading up to this weekend post featuring a more personal hope!]
On what I wish for the boys and their world in 2021.
Throughout 2020, I’ve argued that the traditional Chinese curse should be revised to read “May your children live in interesting times.” Sure, it’s no fun for any of us to live through a year like this (and I don’t mean this paragraph or this post to be one of those arguments that it’s tougher for folks with kids—this moment is tough for every single one of us, full freaking stop); but for me, far worse still has been watching my sons have to deal with all the challenges and frustrations, limitations and losses, terrors and traumas of life in 2020. As a parent, what we most want is for our kids to be safe (at baseline) and happy (most importantly), and this has been a year when not only is the first far from certain for any of our kids (no matter what we do), but in order to try to achieve that baseline goal we’ve had to change and sacrifice so much of the second, in so many arenas from school to sports to social circles to annual traditions (with only a few more Septembers before the boys are off at college, I will mourn a lost year at the Big E forever, to name just one of the boys’ and my traditions that we missed out on this year) and so much more besides.
Obviously my most overt and fervent wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves are that one way or another—most likely through a vaccine, about a couple possibilities for which there’s been some very good recent news as of my mid-November drafting of this post; but I’m really not picky here—things will start to get back to normal for the boys in 2021. That my older son can start to experience high school in full before his 9th grade year is done. That my younger son can have a bit of a real 8th grade experience before his own high school odyssey begins next fall. That they don’t have to pause before contemplating any desired activity to think about whether it’s safe, or whether they have to regretfully pass. That they can start to remember what it is to move through a day not defined as much by how different and strange it is as by its familiar rhythms. That their times can become interesting because of their impressive and inspiring interests and identities, not because of a world gone goddamn mad.
But at the same time—and I know I might somewhat contradict myself here, but I am large (especially after a year of lockdowns) and I contain multitudes (especially after a year of mostly talking to myself)—I don’t entirely wish for the world to “go back to normal.” Of course I hope COVID and all its corollaries can stop dominating our every moment, in all the ways I mentioned and many more. But much of what has made this year so cursedly interesting goes beyond the pandemic, and intersects with the most pressing world issues that will likewise endure long beyond the worst of this year (issues that I plan to write about in next week’s year in review series)—climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality, migration and refugee communities, challenges and threats to public education. As I’ve highlighted in this space, my sons have long been attuned to such issues, in thoughtful and inspiring ways that complement (and in no way minimize) their youthful interests and enjoyments. So when I think about what I wish for the world and future beyond the most immediate ameliorations, I wish that they and their inspiring peers can help move us toward a more genuinely better place, toward times that are interesting in the best rather than the most cursed ways.
Year in review series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Wishes you’d make to the AmericanStudies Elves?