Each morning, I welcome a parade of mask-wearing children channeling their inner cat, dog, panda bear, tiger, mermaid, unicorn, princess, and action hero. Colors and geometric patterns add to the tapestry of wild imagination previously reserved for Halloween.
In the summer, we worried about whether or not our community would embrace the mask. How can we possibly expect our youngest students to keep their masks on all day, we wondered? And what about the masks? Will they be effective? Will they tear our community apart?
It turns out that mask-wearing has been the least of our worries since school started. The kids have not just embraced wearing masks, they have owned it. Part wardrobe, part accoutrement, the mask—practical and stylish—is here, and, who knows, maybe to stay.
The mask is also creating new social norms. Do we compliment a mask? How often do we wash them? What do our masks say about us? Can we hide behind a mask? Do we cover our mouths while yawning? How do we share a smile? Where and when is it OK not to wear a mask?
Masks have always played an important role in human expression. In many communities, masks were, and still are, used to portray ancestors, animals, and mythical heroes in order to connect the spirit world with the living world. They also play an important role in celebrating important events.
Masks are paradoxical. At St. Anne’s, they create enough distance to allow us to be together. By being together, we make connections. By making connections, we belong. By belonging, we contribute. By contributing, we build. By building, we grow. None of this happens today without proper distance.
I don’t believe our students are overly concerned with paradox. I do believe they care about each other and the greater community and that’s why they wear their masks. And because they are kids, they are finding ways to make the best of things.
It turns out that masks are cool. Who doesn’t long to be a wild animal or action hero, especially during a pandemic? We can resent the mask for myriad reasons or we can embrace it for what it also is: a small piece of cloth that brings people together and fuels the imagination.
Here’s to kids who love bright colors, wild animals, and action heroes! Here’s to parents and teachers who do as well, and here’s to the masks that bring us together!