Usually, around this time of year, I am longing for the first day of school. Admittedly, I hate that a new school year means warm summer days will quickly roll into fall and then a very long New England winter.
Pools and Popsicles turn into jackets and lost hats, and before I know it I am longing for sunscreen instead of snow gear. But by the end of August, I forget how miserable I will be in February and excitedly count down the days to a routine, quiet house — and the elimination of camp and child care costs. All of this makes back-to-school typically a time for parents and guardians to celebrate. Sure, some parents cry when their babies go to kindergarten or high school for the first time, but many of us grab the day with optimism and relief.
This year, in the time of an unprecedented global health crisis, things are different. Going back to school during a global health crisis means going back to uncertainty, and relief is not something I have felt in a long time.
For several weeks, I have been getting almost daily emails from our school district. The administration wants feedback, descriptions of family needs, and questions and concerns regarding what school will look like this fall. I am grateful for the slow and thoughtful process that our state adhered to when reopening began after several months of staying at home. Local summer camps and day care centers have been successful examples of how to get kids safely back to care in group settings. And the protocols put in place by the school district are strict and comprehensive.
Because of this, my kids have the option to do either full-time online schooling or a hybrid of in-class, face-to-face learning two days a week with three days of online learning at home. While this is not optimal for working parents, having my kids back in school two days a week does take a little pressure off. But who the heck knows if that schedule will hold?
The start day has been moved twice already, and if one case of the virus is found in a classroom, will the whole school shut down, or will just that class be forced to stay home? Will it be my kid’s class? Will I feel OK sending my kids back to school? As much as I want to see the first eight weeks of this scheduled hybrid go well, I am still questioning how quickly we will all be home full-time again. And will we get back to the typical classroom routine at all this year?
Those are just the starter questions. The deeper ones are found in our concern for the health of our children and the wonderful teachers doing their best to keep themselves, their families, and our kids safe. Watching schools in the South navigate this mess is heartbreaking; I know our guidelines are stricter, but the virus is still very much capable of spreading even where there is an abundance of caution. Am I doing the right thing sending my kids back to the classroom?
How will I keep my kids’ emotionally, socially, and intellectually engaged while also trying to walk them through online learning while I try to keep up with my full-time job? And what about my mental health? The struggle to balance it all is heavy and exhausting. This spring almost broke me, and I am worried about my ability to do it again for an extended amount of time this fall.
The summer has been a break from these questions and from the juggling act. Working from home with kids around isn’t great, but at least my calendar isn’t filled with Zoom calls and homework assignments for my kids. Finding a way to weave school back into what has become a pretty lawless schedule feels impossible. I can’t be a parent, teacher, and employee all of the time every day, yet that is the expectation.
I know a lot of kids groan their way through those first few days of establishing a schedule that requires pants, but my kids love going back to school. They thrive in the structure of their day while being surrounded by friends and teachers. This year, I hope they get a little of that, if only for two days a week.
And either the kids will be so stoked to get back to this routine and be better about it than in years past or they will revolt from too many days in PJs and birthday suits. This is just another mystery a new school year brings. Masks, fewer activities, and fewer interactions with friends — everything is new and on some days frustrating and sad. Our kids are resilient, but their emotions can be overwhelming and hard to predict.
Trying to predict or plan for anything is futile at this point, and for the first time in years, I am not looking forward to sending my kids back to school. I am tired of cleaning up snack wrappers and wet bathing suits, but at least there is consistency in our unstructured and school-free days. I am not ready for the uncertainty of a health-crisis-themed school year.