After 18 months at home, doing a combination of remote school and homeschooling, my two sons finally went back to school earlier this month.
I’ve definitely had a lot of stress over the idea of sending them back into school buildings during a still-raging pandemic. But one of my sons is vaccinated, and both of their schools are taking excellent precautions, so I’m generally feeling like it’s a good decision. Plus, their mental health was taking a hit, and it was time for them to be around other kids again and back to a more structured routine.
They seem to be doing great so far. I was concerned that they’d be overwhelmed by going back, and exhausted from having to wake up early and haul themselves out the door to meet their buses. But aside from a few bumps along the way, they seem to be doing well, and—knock on wood—I haven’t heard too many complaints about the early morning wake-ups or homework.
I, on the other hand, am completely overwhelmed and exhausted. Don’t get me wrong: I love finally having a quiet house during the school day. My husband, a teacher, was home last year as well. We were both working from home while trying to educate our children, and it was chaotic and loud AF. Yet at the same time, I wasn’t nearly as stressed and drained as I am now.
Having everyone home meant that we could sleep a little bit later. It meant that we didn’t have to scramble to get lunches packed, and children dressed and fed and out the door. It meant that we could take care of housework at any time of day, rather than in a mad rush in the morning or right before bed so that neither of us would wake up with dishes piled high in the sink. Those things didn’t matter as much when we had a more flexible schedule.
I think part of it, at least for me, was that last year we were all home, so that meant that I got more help from my husband. He—thankfully—had no problem stepping up when we were both working from home. He was working part-time and on a freelance basis, so he did breakfast and lunch for the kids, and was able to deal with the morning dishes. Now, my husband leaves at the crack of dawn, before my younger son is even awake, so I’m left dealing with the morning routines.
Once I put my youngest on the bus, I sit down to work. Besides a lunch that I quickly scarf down, I work every second that my kids are in school, trying to pack in as much as I can. Whenever possible, I like to be done with work by 3pm so I can greet my kids after school and see my younger son off the bus.
Then—even once my husband gets home from work—we are busy, busy, busy literally until we finally get our youngest to sleep. We spend the hours between 3 to 8pm feeding children, cleaning out lunch boxes, packing lunches, making dinner, cleaning up after dinner, helping with homework, reading and answering emails from teachers, counseling our kids on this and that concern that they have, and getting them ready for bed.
If I haven’t finished my work, I will sometimes find an hour or two in that evening crunch to sit at my computer and finish a few things up. Finally we get our younger son to sleep, and try to unwind.
But I have a high schooler now, and he stays up as late as we do, so even when it’s finally time for my husband and me to watch a bit of TV, our son is coming in the room, talking to us about this and that. I absolutely love this—and late nights are when teens seem to open up and want to bond with their parents—but it’s still a lot.
Basically, I am busy from the minute I wake up at the butt-crack of dawn, until my head hits the pillow at night. It wasn’t like this last year. Even with all of us working and at-home schooling, it wasn’t this completely non-stop. Yes, I was super stressed all last year about the pandemic and about my kids being isolated. But I had forgotten how much extra stuff is added to your plate when your kids are in school.
I swear, just the emails and permission slips and lunch menus and scholastic books orders alone are enough to make my head explode. Not to mention the early mornings and late-night counseling sessions that my kids need as they navigate their academic schedules and social lives.
Stepping down from my job to devote myself full time to reading the emails from my kids schools
— Joseph Birbiglia (@joebirbigs) September 12, 2021
And don’t even get me started about homework. My kids don’t get a lot of it, but it sometimes takes hours of nagging to finally get them to sit down and do it. Yes, we have screen time rules and set homework times, but anyone who has dealt with tired, stubborn kids knows it’s not as straightforward as that.
Anyway. I don’t have regrets about sending them back. They are doing really great, and I think they appreciate school in a special kind of way, having been out for the past 18 months. I will adjust, too. I mean, I had been sending kids to school for eight years before the world shutdown in March 2020. I can do it again.
But I think that, if the shutdown phase of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that there is real value in having a pared down, slower lifestyle. And also: modern parenting—where both parents are supposed to work, while also managing their kids’ school and endless activities—is a true clusterfuck.
I don’t really have a solution here. Neither my husband nor I can stop working. There’s not much we can really outsource. We can’t afford babysitters or housekeepers. It’s all on us, and it’s a heavy weight to bear.
At least I know we are not alone. Every parent I know is feeling overwhelmed right now—whether it’s about adjusting to hectic schedules, dealing with pandemic anxiety, financial anxiety, work anxiety, and more.
All I can say is that we are going to get through this. We can, we must, and we will, because that’s just what parents do.