The Shallows

When the initial two-week lockdown became indefinite, I relished the slowdown of our days. I was very guilty of the homeschool version of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality. Juggling classes and playdates along with our curriculum, the upkeep of the house and laundry, and brag-worthy hobbies. Every week at least one ball dropped.

It felt like I could finally lose the filter and rest easy. We would be home all day every day and I could keep things under control. No outings meant no forced small talk, no need to prove yourself worthy of association. See, I have it all together? Look what my kids can do.

What I didn’t count on was the dauntless influence of social media. I had already sworn off Instagram for all the buzz-worthy books and manipulatives it convinced me I needed. But Facebook and news apps were still atwitter with quarantine “it” hobbies. Baking and organizing, cross-stitching, and gardening. I was still behind. Caught in the same old fundamental attribution error trap. I wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t good enough to make this time count.

One thing I did ensure was that we spent time outside each day. Playing in the backyard or driveway, walking the neighborhood. My youngest son is enthralled with construction vehicles, and when we saw an excavator parked along the canal bank, we knew we needed to expand our horizons, leave the confines of the neighborhood, stretch our wings.

After a full examination of the monstrous machine and its parts, arcing arm at rest, engine still, we decided to cross the street and continue our walk along the canal. This strip of irrigation network faces the back of a neighborhood alley, not the front and side of houses like in our section. It is quieter, lined with more brush cover. The birds are more abundant. About halfway down the bank, we come upon a paddling of whistling ducks. There is a wide range of size and maturation, perhaps some juveniles from a previous clutch. Much to the delight of my children, there is also a duckling.

As I pull out my phone to document the sighting, their ecstatic vocalizations cause the birds to take flight. All but the mother and her duckling. It continues to swim about in the shallow water, its mother keeping vigil. She is able to lead him closer to the opposite bank, where the black and yellow striping in his feathers is more likely to camouflage, but there they remain.

I see myself in the circles she swims. I have no time to feed and care for a sourdough starter, our garden is not as sustainable as I had hoped, we abandoned cross-stitching after the first simple project. For me to take flight would be to leave them behind. I am fine with the shallows for now.

Melissa Nunez is an avid reader, writer, and homeschooling mother of three living in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas—a predominantly Latin@ community.

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