We've Started Pandemic Schooling, And It's Freaking Exhausting

Week One Of Pandemic Schooling Down—My Honest Thoughts

August 31, 2020 Updated September 1, 2020

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I have one child remote learning, one being homeschooled, and two who are attending school in-person. What in the world was I thinking? I wanted to do what was best for each of my kids as individuals. We made the decision of how to return to school this fall based on their needs, personalities, and preferences. Our how-to-school choice boiled down to safety first, and second, the possibility of having some academic success. We certainly weren’t aiming for perfection, but instead, best case scenario among the options we had.

I do think we made the right choice for each child, but I’ll be honest. I’m completely exhausted. This exhaustion isn’t just physical, but also emotional and mental. Every single day is the same, a mix of successes and chaos. However, the moments of joy and utter failure are unpredictable. We are flying high one minute, and I’m nearly in tears and microwaving cold coffee the next. As organized as I am, there’s simply no magical preparation for pandemic schooling, no matter how the child is learning. We are schooling in all of the ways, and yes, it’s as difficult as it sounds.

I’m not here to tell you which form of schooling is best. We were all thrown into a between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place position when we were forced to figure out how our child would learn this year. Some of us had no options, really, because of our jobs, child care limitations, and our child’s special needs. All of my parent friends muddled through the excruciating choices. We all figured, we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t — no matter if we opted into remote learning, in-person learning, hybrid, or homeschooling.

Ultimately, my family chose all the options, between four very different kids. I made pros and cons lists. I called trusted friends, some of whom are teachers. I let my anxious brain flood with doubts, fears, statistics, and questions every single night after I’d tucked my four kids into bed. I was within an inch of pulling my kids out of school completely the night before their start date. I frantically Google searched “unschooling.” Then I reminded myself, we did this in spring, but much more abruptly. We can do it again. It’ll all be okay, I promised myself.

We've Started Pandemic Schooling, And It's Freaking Exhausting
Antonio_Diaz/Getty

The first week of school was a hurricane of emails, confusing schedules, and tantrums. I tried to have a good attitude, to make my kids nutritious snacks and stick to our no-electronics-during-the-week rule. But on night one, I was like, screw it, and turned on another episode of Family Matters, the series we’d started to binge over the summer. Getting back into a routine is hard. Getting back into a routine that involves masks, distancing, and temperature checks, plus the expectations of learning? A parental—and educator–nightmare.

My kids weren’t the only ones riding the Hot Mess Express. I was right there with them, ticket in hand. Perhaps we should have practiced getting up early again, but I wanted to milk every last summer day of sleeping in. Perhaps I should have instituted family yoga every night, so we could collectively chill out. Perhaps I should have done a number of things. But I didn’t, out of spite toward a virus that had uprooted our lives.

I’m decision-fatigued. Every day, I wake up to a dozen emails, some involving minor requests and others informing me of new virus protocols and precautions that are effective immediately. I panic no fewer than six times a day, because technology fails or glitches, we forget a scheduled meeting, or my kids are just not in the mood to learn math when the world has turned into an epic dumpster fire. I want to crawl under my comforter and take a good eight-hour nap, but that’s not in the cards for any of us. So we press on—imperfectly.

We have pick-ups, drop-offs, and constant hand-washing reminders. And snacks. My kids’ snacks rival full meals. The two children who are at home get a recess break before and after every single subject, because that’s the only way they can sustain focus and get anything out of their lessons. I get absolutely no work or chores done. Distance-learning and homeschooling, despite as zen as it sounds to those who think it involves nature hikes and meditation, is a ton of constant work.

We go, go, go until 2:30 p.m. This isn’t the time that we suddenly get to cuddle on the couch and read books while sipping afternoon tea. This is the time I prepare afternoon snack and my older kids walk in the door. From there, it’s arguments, mood swings, low blood sugars, and everyone talking to me all at once. If you’re thinking, wow, sounds like total sensory overload, you are correct.

After school is chaotic during a typical school year, but in the midst of in-person, remote, homeschooling learning, after school involves washing masks and hands, communicating new COVID-19 precautions, and going between devices to find out who got emailed which information. At least three times a day, I look at my husband and mouth, “What is going on?”

I know that some feel that this is what we chose, so quit complaining. The reality is, there’s no great option right now. Every choice has some serious pros and cons and inevitable ups and downs. I’m learning that just because we have made good choices for our children, it doesn’t mean this schooling journey will be smooth sailing.

We are all stressed out and wondering when all of this will end. Worse, I wonder if this really is our new normal, a constant state of uncertainty and change. I’m uncertain how all of us will sustain good mental health when we are physically beat (especially sleep deprived) and emotionally drained. There’s a lot of unknowns and things we cannot control, though I am certain of one thing. Parents and children are doing their absolute best, and we have to let that be enough.