All parents are fried. And if you are not, tell me your secret.
If we haven’t already thrown in the towel, distance learning is winding down for most of us in the United States. This means we will continue our attempts to work from home with kids underfoot, but at least we aren’t dealing with virtual classrooms and Zoom meetings and multiple educational apps. Summer is about to be a socially distant season of hot and sweaty kids complaining about not being able to go the pool or play with their friends while parents try to make deadlines to keep jobs we are fortunate to have. In pre-pandemic times the sweet relief of summer break is that first day back to school in the fall. Relief will not be what I feel this fall when my kids go back to school.
And yes, despite the daunting considerations released by the CDC for K-12 schools to follow when they reopen in the United States, my kids are going back if the doors are open.
And I want to make this very clear: I am not sending my kids back to school just because I am exhausted, have had it up to here *raises hand way above head*, or am sick of my kids. Oh yes, I am all of these things on any given day multiple times a day. But I am a science-fearing, level-headed parent who makes decisions based on not only what I need but on what my kids need. And, they need to get back into the classroom for reasons separate from my own needs, but the two absolutely intertwine.
I am a sole-proprietor and freelancer; half of my work can’t be done from home. I am currently collecting unemployment to make up a small bit of the loss from my inability to work, but if I don’t have care for my young kids I can’t leave to work out of the house. When the pandemic assistance from the government ends in July, I will need to find a way to work while my kids are cared for. I am hoping a sitter will fill in gaps when both I and my ex-partner are at work. Like many working parents, school doesn’t just provide an education; it offers a safe place for kids to be while we are earning money to provide for our families.
The safety of schools is very much in question. The thought and logistics necessary to keep staff, students, guardians, and administrators as safe as possible are nuanced and will be implemented only after all proverbial stones are turned over. The CDC is very clear that the lowest risk of the spread of COVID-19 is to provide virtual-only classes and online events. More risk is the implementation of small, in-person groups of students and teachers who do not mix throughout the day, who don’t share supplies, who wear cloth masks, and who maintain distance from one another while staying in the same space most of the day. Detailed cleaning and disinfecting guidelines will be in place as well as protocol for checking student’s symptoms, exposure, and what to do if someone is sent home sick. Highest risk is obviously not doing anything differently and simply going to back to what we call “normal.” It’s a lot for guardians, students, and teachers but what we know of normal is gone.
Before schools were closed in March, our school implemented some of the social distancing rules in the classroom. My 1st graders’ teacher brought in hula hoops and spread them out on the floor to create bubbles of space for them when not at their work spaces. She had a new set of pencils and markers ready for each student to use. Hand-washing was increased and supervised. All specials took place in the classroom, including lunch. These practices will become standard along with others to protect the health of our students, teachers, and community.
Community is the key to much of my level of comfort when it comes to sending my kids back to school. The CDC states: “Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.” I live in Vermont, a state that has handled the spread of the virus well. Our governor, health department, and school district have been transparent and vigilant to protect the citizens of Vermont.
If your community does not have the resources to apply safe reopening practices, don’t send your kids to school. If you or your child are high risk for illness, don’t send your kids to school. If you know your kid won’t do well in a drastically different environment based on their special needs, don’t send your kids to school. But don’t base your decisions on an infographic you see on social media or off of a blog post about the sadness of seeing kids in masks.
It guts me to think of sending my kids to school in masks because masks tell us something is wrong. But like wearing mittens when it is cold or sunscreen when it’s sunny, masks are a new piece of our protective wear. It’s far from ideal and everything feels fucking wrong about this, but my kids need the social-emotional piece of being around their peers and teachers. They need the routine and structure and predictability of a school day, even if it is on a rotating schedule and mixed in with distance learning at home. I am not in a position to homeschool my kids—at least not well or in a way that would benefit them.
It was one thing to expand on information they had already learned this school year, but to start a new school year with new teachers and a new curriculum would not be possible with three kids and two parents who need to work full-time to pay the bills. And sometimes I worry that my stress and anxiety they pick up on while I am attempting to be their parent, comfort, and teacher is just as damaging as the stress of not seeing friends or having a sense of normalcy.
My family can’t wait for normal to resume because this is our new normal. As a queer family, our normal has always been everyone else’s different, but we have adjusted and will again. I know I am in a privileged position regarding my children’s health and limited need for learning aids and specialized educators. So many parents who need to work outside the home but also need to have their children in environments that do not go hand in hand with CDC guidelines are in very difficult positions, and I hate this for them.
I am doing what is best for my family. If the schools my children attend put into place all of the recommended guidelines necessary to welcome students into the classroom, they are going back to school. I know I am placing a lot of trust in something I can’t control. My decisions will not be made blindly; they are based on the well-being of my children and not solely on my own knee-jerk reactions to what I think my kids can’t, or shouldn’t have to, handle. Kids are resilient and will surprise us with how quickly they adapt. And if they don’t? Then my ex-partner and I will reevaluate. But we need to try because mentally and financially this hasn’t been working for us.
I don’t know what it will take to feel relief. I haven’t felt that in a long time. A lot can change between now and September, but if I am able to send my kids to school, I know I will feel heartbroken but also cautiously optimistic that they will do well even in the face of adversity.