When I learned I was pregnant with my son, I fantasized about the many beautiful milestones we would celebrate in his life. Chief among them were the many “firsts”: words, steps and starting kindergarten. All those other landmark occasions were dazzling, special and everything I dreamt they would be. Now, here we are approaching his first day of kindergarten, and it looks absolutely nothing like I pictured it.
After much thoughtful consideration and research, we have elected to do all school work remotely, which means my son will be exclusively learning from home for the first six weeks of school. With COVID-19 cases still on the rise in our area, deep down, I know that we made the right choice. But that does not mean that I am immune from the sorrow of all that we are losing by making that painful choice. Constant worry and visible signs of aging are my receipt.
For years, my son has visited the school that his older brother attends. We have talked about how he will go there one day as well, and he was excited about all that would entail. Yesterday, he started cheerfully talking about his first day and I had to break the news to him. My son and I have both been looking forward to his first day and now it is not happening. At least not in the way we expected it.
There will be no Back-to-School Night where we meet the teacher, get to see his classroom, meet his new friends, and decorate his cubby. There will be no sweet picture of him and his new teacher posing together.
There will be no cute back-to-school letterboard sign photo. No school supply shopping. There will be no new friends to have playdates with. No getting to pick out a backpack and matching lunch box. No carefully selecting a first day of school outfit.
There will be no special drop off on that first day. No long hug accompanied by a tearful goodbye. No wistful wave from the door as I leave my son at school for the first time. He is being deprived of all those little things that are considered a rite of passage. I am too. A child’s first day of Kinder is just as special for their parents as it is for them.
Instead, his first day will be basically like every other day of the past six months. I fear the day will be anticlimactic and nothing special. We will eat breakfast like usual, but instead of playing all day, we will do schoolwork on a device.
I am not a teacher, neither real nor imagined. I do not profess to have any of the skills required to be effective in this role. But I will have to step up and he will have to learn to respect me as a teacher because I will be doing all his instruction. In addition to learning the new material, he will also have to become familiar with Zoom and completing work on an iPad.
After talking about this monumental day for so long, he is confused as to why it is no longer happening. He is only five, and these are confusing and scary topics for a small child, and he does not quite understand the scope of this. We have explained to him that it is not safe for him to be around other kids at school. And that because his dad is a doctor, he is at high risk to potentially pass germs along to other kids or teachers. We talked about prioritizing the well-being and safety of others in addition to ourselves. By staying at home, he could potentially save someone’s life, like a superhero. He seemed satisfied, albeit downcast, with that response.
My son wants answers about what this year will look like, but I have none to offer him. The truth is, we have no idea when — or if — we are going back in person. There is a reasonable chance we will not go back at all this year. Depending on COVID numbers, we could potentially ping-pong back and forth from online to in person all year. We all have to live with the constant uncertainty of what will unfold as the year progresses, and for a young child, that is hard to grasp.
I am not without a sense of perspective. My husband works on COVID-positive patients, so I am well aware of the catastrophic damage the coronavirus has inflicted. I have friends who cannot pay their mortgage because of job loss. People have lost their lives, and others’ income and health have been compromised. My son missing out on the traditional kindergarten experience pales in comparison to the suffering many have been through.
After the devastation we have witnessed, I count us as extremely fortunate that this is the worst of what we have experienced from COVID. But pain and sadness do not always need to be quantified or justified. I still feel mournful about this loss and I am entitled to grieve for it.
So no, my son will not be granted a typical kindergarten experience. In fact, something vastly different will take its place. I am not usually one to wax poetic about a crummy situation, but in this instance, we have no other choice. The upside of starting Kinder during a global pandemic is that this new generation of kids will learn some practical and paramount life skills in addition to their academic curriculum.
Unfortunately, this is not the last time they will have to deal with disappointment as life is full of things that don’t go as originally expected. They will figure out that many times life throws a curveball our way, and we must become flexible and go with the flow. They will learn that not everything is about them, and sometimes we must look out for others as well as ourselves.
Living through a global pandemic has caused us to have to throw out all our preconceived notions about what “normal” looks like and embrace a whole different mindset. Hopefully, this will not be forever, but it’s our normal for the foreseeable future so we have to adapt.
This generation of kids will undoubtedly be stronger and more resilient for enduring and conquering all the upheaval and chaos COVID has thrown at them. And one day I hope it makes for a cool story. They can tell their grandkids about how they started kindergarten in their pajamas.
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