By Labor Day weekend, pretty much all the Catholic school students in the Archdiocese of Chicago have returned to classes. They are masked and distanced, but happy to see their friends, and this year, participate again in sports and performing arts. It all seems so normal. For my daughter, the week before school started the questions she asked were the same as always: Who will my teacher be? Who will be in my class? Who will I sit with at lunch? It comes after a year that was anything but normal, for students who attended in person and remotely and did some of both. Maybe that’s what makes this year seem like less of an anomaly: Maybe the kids have to wear masks, but at Teresa’s school, they are no longer eating lunch in their classrooms and the whole sixth grade gets outdoor recess together, so students can socialize with their friends in the other homeroom. These things are important. That’s one of the things we have learned from this pandemic. We need each other. Our kids need each other. Virtual contact is great, so much better than nothing, but nowhere near the same as actually being there. Last year, doing remote learning, Teresa started the year in a comfortable chair at her desk in her air-conditioned bedroom. She got a freshly made lunch courtesy of Mom and Dad every day, and she could go to the bathroom whenever she wanted to. She could roll out of bed with a scant 30 minutes to brush her teeth and hair, get dressed and eat breakfast before going online, and she rarely bothered to put on shoes before we went out for recess. This year, heading back to school, she gets up early to make it on time and spends most of the day on the sweltering third floor of an unairconditioned school building. The windows are open but there are no screens — did I mention she hates bugs? — and lunch is packed in her lunchbox every day. Extra masks every day are a necessity. Pro tip: Pack them in a plastic bag next to a cold pack, so they go on cool. For her, this year, this is better. I don’t know how this year will go. Will things get better, enough so that when she gets vaccinated she no longer needs a mask? Will they get worse so that schools close again, or she has to be quarantined, or, God forbid, she gets COVID-19? What I do know — what I’ve learned from the past 18 months — is that we’ll figure it out. People plan and God laughs, and that has never seemed more true. All we can do is hope, and pray, and trust that we will find our way through, because despair never did anything good for anyone.