I do not like roller coasters.

A long time ago, I went on a date to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania. My date spent the entire two-hour drive bragging about his infatuation with roller coasters. The thrill. The speed. Upside down. Backwards. Backwards and upside-down spinning in circles while dropping 15 stories. He could not wait.

I, on the other hand, was excited for Hershey's chocolate. I wanted to lose myself in the factory assembly line droplets of kisses. I wanted to smell the chocolate, taste it and lick it off my fingers. I imagined leaving with a stockpile of chocolate. But my date was obsessed with inflicting terror on himself, and now on me, on death-defying roller coasters. It made me lose my appetite. I was too embarrassed to be honest, so I pretended to be brave.

It is worth repeating: I do not like rollercoasters. I want to feel joyful, not terrified. I want to scream with delight, not panic. Roller coasters make me sick to my stomach. Yet there I stood, in a long line, waiting to be voluntarily strapped to a metal cage. Buckled from my head to my toes, for safety … or so that I could not escape.

The whole thing lasted about 70 seconds. I should have been grateful to be alive, but I was too nauseated. I threw up on my date.

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I was naively brave, but not honest. Lesson learned.

Honesty requires courage. Here is the truth: I am nervous about our world. There is unrest and uncertainty. But we soldier on and look for the good. There is always good.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Schools, businesses, industries and activities have been shut down. Anxiety, depression and domestic abuse rates continue to rise. Our country has never been more divided, angrier, more suspicious, in my lifetime. If I am being honest, I do not always love my neighbor as myself. I judge. I can be unkind. I am a sinner. Like you, I am in the middle of this mess. Strapped in, nauseated, but ready to grow. What can I do?

I read this quote in a novel recently: “As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.”

As parents and leaders in our families, we have an enormous responsibility to be the light of truth and love and grace and hope for our children and those kiddos around us. I can easily become overwhelmed with the what-ifs, catastrophizing our current world. I constantly remind myself that our children are watching and they will mimic us.

It is our job to be their calm, not their chaos.

For lots of people, January is a new beginning. For educators, students and families with children, September is their new year. A fresh start.

As a school counselor in Bismarck, I have watched kids fall through the cracks these last few months of being isolated and unstructured. Human beings need connection and community. Children need structure and schedules and routines to feel safe and successful.

Our school has opened its doors of operation for in-person learning, five days a week. Most North Dakota schools have started with a hybrid or distance-learning schedule. The North Dakota High School Activities Association is allowing extracurricular pursuits and fall sports to return, while following social distancing rules. We crave connection.

Here are my observations from the beginning of the school year:

  • Students are exhilarated to be back in school

  • Children adapt easily to the new COVID rules and restrictions

  • They will follow our lead.

I challenge every angry adult to spend an afternoon in a kindergarten class. These precious babies can see right into people’s souls. They sense goodness and safety. They know love. They spread their untainted love freely.

Let’s be more like a kindergartener.

Educational leaders are squarely in the middle of this horrendous roller coaster ride called “COVID Twister.” Inevitably, they will be criticized for being both brave and honest. Pray for them. Support them and be kind, especially in front of children. They are doing the best they can to keep us securely fastened and safe while whooshing through the uncharted ride, together.

Principals, teachers, school counselors and support staff are white-knuckled and leaning into the twists and turns of the new school year while doing their best to keep kids and staff safe, masked, distanced … and together.

Kathleen Wrigley is a wife, mom and advocate. She is made with equal amounts of grace and grit, with gobs of giggles and gratitude.