Like many parents of school-aged kids, I’ve been dealing with a bit of uncertainty about which choice for my kids is the best choice — to send them back to school or not. It hasn’t been an easy decision to make, and I am not even certain it’s a solid decision, but we will be sending our three kids back to school this September.
If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to be flexible with everything, including this particular decision. We have two kindergarteners and one high schooler excited to begin the next leg of their trips on their academic journeys. Backpacks and lunchboxes are purchased, and now we all wait. We wait to see what will happen next in our home state. We wait to learn if the proposed school plan for our district will change from the current plan: five days of in-person learning to shift to the Tier II plan, which is two days of in-person instruction and three days of distance learning. The reasons we decided to send our kids back to school are not that complicated, yet every decision is a tad more complicated these days in light of COVID-19.
My kids need to experience the world in ways that being homeschooled will not give them. Can I homeschool them? Yes. Will it be easy? No. Do I want to homeschool the three of them at all this coming school year? Hell no!
I do want them to be safe. I do want them to experience school again with their friends and their teachers. They need all of the things that school can offer them: social interactions with kids their age, receiving instruction from adults other than their parents, lessons taught in a way they can better understand, and so many other things they will learn in school that I cannot teach them at home — like how to do things on their own without a parent less than ten feet away. Things like wiping their butts (the twins, that is, not the teenager.)
This coming school year, with their Frozen lunchboxes and their new clothes and unused pencil boxes, they will also bring to school their masks. We will have backup ones at home for when they lose them. And we will adjust, as a family, to what it means for us as they return to school (we hope) day after day and remain healthy.
Even if we are a little uneasy about our decision, we’re happy about it, too. We cannot keep them inside forever, and as a community, we must all test the waters — in the safest manageable ways, and with the guidelines schools have to adhere to — to get back into a kind of normal routine.
School is supposed to be a safe place for our kids and yet when we send them, as parents, we still worry. For me, the pandemic does not change that. The worry is still there, piled up on top of all of my other fears about sending them to school even on a regular day. What if they are a victim in a random school shooting? Or what if they get the chickenpox or the flu? What if they are bullied by a peer or a teacher or the school resource officers?
There is so much to worry about, regardless of whether or not we are also battling a pandemic. COVID-19 isn’t the only issue we’re battling that could kill or scar our kids for life. As we teach our son about sex and we teach our daughters about good touch/bad touch, we are also arming them with coronavirus safety measures: use your hand sanitizer (don’t get it in your eye), wear your mask even if it gets too hot, stay six feet away from everyone, including your best friends, wash your hands for at least as long as it takes to sing the ABCs. We all will practice adapting to whatever comes our way. Whether we move to an all-remote learning schedule, or whether we stay at five days a week in school — whatever comes, we can handle it, just as we’ve handled the last four months or so. And our children will be more flexible and resilient for having done so.
When my kids look back on their kindergarten and freshman year of high school experiences, they will remember the masks, the first-day jitters they felt, and they will remember this pandemic. I hope they also remember that their parents did the best we could to protect them from as many evils as we could, including — but definitely not limited to — COVID-19.
Raising kids is about providing for them, protecting them, and giving them every opportunity to be the best people they can be. For me, this is another life lesson for them to learn. There is no playbook. There is no certainty within any decision we make as parents. On the first day of school, I will walk my kids up to the door, give them each a kiss on the forehead, and say a prayer. And as I watch them walk inside, I must stand in my decision to send them back, no matter what happens.
The opportunity they need, to learn, to socialize, to adjust to this new normal lies just past those big heavy doors.