Homebound Letter 5 – March 25, 2020
Dear Parents and Caregivers of Stuck-at-Home Students:
This letter is a little different. Instead of writing to students today, I’m writing to parents. Many of you are exhausted. Just like my wife and I are exhausted. When we put our two children down at the end of a long day, we stumble over to the couch and sit together in complete silence for several minutes before we can even muster the strength to turn to our precious bottle of bourbon.
In addition to managing the clunky transition to working from home (or a million times worse, losing a job), and managing the general anxiety of a global pandemic, and stressing about finances, and cleared-out grocery store shelves, and trying to stay in touch with friends and relatives . . . suddenly we’re also now homeschooling our children. We’re in charge of the quality of their education.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. Not exactly.
I’m writing today in hopes that you’ll share with me what you’re sharing with your children. This is the strangest, most uncertain time of our lives. And our kids, no matter what age, sense this fact. Or they’re old enough to read about it. How are you navigating their questions? Or their lack of questions? How are you communicating about Covid-19 in your home?
Before I go any further . . . a quick intro for those who are new to these letters. My name is Matt de la Peña, and I write books. Usually I’m out on the road, visiting schools. Or I’m working on a new book. But right now I’m staying at home with my family. Like we’re all staying at home. Since everyone is in the same boat, I’ve been writing letters to young people every couple days. They’re about things I’ve been thinking about. And trying to write about. And a lot of your kids have been writing me back, which has been so inspiring. I This time I hope YOU will write me. Or leave me a comment on Instagram. Or Facebook. Or anywhere else you can think of.
My email is email@example.com
As many already know, illustrator Loren Long and I collaborated on a picture book called LOVE. In the book, we tried to explore how the concept of love evolves over the course of a child’s life. But we were also deliberate in exploring adversity, too. You can’t know love in a truly profound way if you don’t also know adversity. And sadness. And loss. The two of us will be on Instagram Live on Wednesday, March 25 (the day you’re probably reading this) at 9am Pacific Time and 12pm Eastern Time (My Instagram is @mattdelapena). I’m going to read the book, and Loren is going to show the pictures, and then we’re going to have a conversation about how we perceive the book differently today, given everything that is happening. To help guide us through this conversation, Loren is going to show the original artwork.
There’s one page, one piece, I especially want to talk about with Loren. On this page, a family of adults is nervously huddled around the TV, listening to a news report about about some awful event, while a child in pajamas takes in this scene from the bottom of a staircase. She can’t see what’s on the TV – the adults make sure of this because they deem her too young – and we can’t see either because we’re experiencing this moment from her point of view.
I wrote an essay for Time Magazine about another difficult spread, but this is the one that has always anchored the book for me. When Loren was thinking about the visual part of the story, he told me he was channeling 9-11, when his kids were young, and he had to figure out how to explain it to them. When I’ve presented the book in Houston, many kids think it’s a hurricane, because they have experienced the devastation of hurricanes. When I read the book in an auditorium full of high school students (FYI, picture books are not only for young people, they’re for ALL people), they immediately think the news report is about a school shooting. For me, to be candid, it was the last presidential election, and how some families (the family depicted in the spread is Mexican) were terrified that new policies would endanger Dreamers.
In the Time article I posed the following question: What is the role of the writer for the very young, to tell the truth or preserve innocence? But today I want to ask the question differently, given everything that’s happening in the world right now.
What is the role of parents right now? To tell the truth or preserve innocence?
I’m anxious to hear how Loren will answer that question? But I also want to know how YOU would answer the question? How should we ALL answer that question?