Day number 7,365 of pandemic life. Well, not really, but I believe pandemic time is measured much like dog years. Each day seems to last at least 5 years. Over here we are surviving on a steady supply of Nintendo Switch games (Animal Crossing, for the win!), long, hot walks around the neighborhood at sunset (that one lady’s dog still ferociously barks its disapproval of us), in-home workouts and alcohol (bourbon for Greg, tequila for me, non-alcoholic lemonade for Levi because we haven’t lost all sense of dignity yet). We have adapted to our lives having been shrunk by about 75%. We value our friendships that much more, now that a quick hello from a driveway or a carefully and fully planned close-quarters encounter has become a literal lifeline. We’ve masked up. And we have the Amazon truck delivery time almost down to the minute.
It’s a strange new world we live in, with new rules and social norms and lots and lots of “discourse”. Everyone has an opinion on everything. And it’s not letting up anytime soon. Every industry has had to re-examine its ways of doing business. Keeping employees and customers safe has gone from being about general, no brainer “do’s and don’ts” to hand sanitizer, temperature checks, and face coverings. I even read an article on how the adult entertainment industry was establishing safety protocols for their dancers. Literally, everyone and everything is changing faster than anyone thought possible.
If you know me even a little, you might think I am about to launch on one of my tried and true rants: My inability to cope with change. That’s still true for me but the pandemic has worn down my sharp edges a little and all I can do is weep quietly about once a month and mourn the losses as often as I need.
This foray out of my little bubble of isolation isn’t about change or my inability to cope with it. (See also, tequila). It’s about our kids. Specifically, it’s about our kids needing to believe the adults in their lives, while not having all the answers right now, are still to be trusted as the people who have their backs. This pandemic has hit us all hard…right between the eyes…as in, we are all a little unsteady on our feet and seeing stars…the alcohol might also be a factor, but you get it. And the same is true for our kids. Their lives got twist, turned upside down (90’s sitcoms have also become a staple in this house). There are a lot of ways we convey to kids that they are loved and safe, even in a pandemic. I am sure you have read all the articles from child therapists and funny top ten lists on Buzzfeed and informative emails about STEM activities from Parenting magazine. So I will leave the expert advice to the experts. But here is one way I’ve noticed we parents have accidentally dropped the ball with our kids recently: School.
In 4 short days, our public school system here in Orlando will announce its plans for how school will go in the fall. The fall being about 4 weeks away. They’ve taken surveys. They have thrown around every idea that even remotely seems like a possibility. Our state and national governments have weighed in. Our national public health organizations have given advice. And it’s a hot mess.
Here’s what I know, though: Our kids are watching us. Even more so, they are listening to us. They are listening to us when we think they are sleeping, zoned out with cartoons, or distracted by the 500th snack they have requested for the day. They are always listening.
At the end of the day, it will be up to each parent to make the best decision for their kids regarding the return to school. Most public school districts will be offering a smorgasbord of options. Parents who said they would never homeschool are now logging in to the websites of their town’s largest co-op for more info. Parents who said they would never allow their kid’s shadow to cross the door of a private school, are preparing their budgets to take on that new expense. And some parents are preparing their hearts and minds for the uncertainty of what it will look like to drop your kid off at a public school donned with a mask and lined up for a temperature check at the door. Every option has drawbacks. Risk stands guard at every doorway.
Physical health is questionable with most options. Your child never learning that “i comes before e, except after c” is a very real possibility in other scenarios. Your child entering a new environment and feeling lonely and insecure is a likelihood they might encounter. Your ability to stay sane and still love your child well while conjugating French verbs becomes a real question mark in some situations. Risk is everywhere.
And here is what our kids need to know: Parents make the decisions they feel are right for their kids. Full stop. Your neighbor, sister, best friend, etc might make an entirely different decision than you will make, because it is what they feel is best for their family, and your kid needs to know and understand that. All it takes is a kid overhearing a conversation you didn’t realize they were listening to for them to realize you believe parents are willingly putting their kids in danger. Even worse, for your kids’ friends to hear that you think their parent is willingly putting them in danger.
Don’t badmouth other parents’ decisions about school in front of your kids. I mean, really, try not to do it at all, but definitely be mindful of the smaller ears and lesser developed brains that are struggling every day to compute this new world they have found themselves in.
And if you can muster it, take it a step further, and become a cheerleader for all parents. The ones that stand bravely by their kids for a temperature check at drop off. The ones who stand bravely by their kids at a new school full of strangers. The ones who bravely print out worksheets and long division “games” (These don’t exist. You are lying to yourself.) as they tackle the new challenge of teaching their kids themselves.
Chime in respectfully when your opinion is asked by your local governments. Vote your heart when the time comes. Do the research. Listen to your close friends who are also parents and hear their unique concerns for their unique kids. And then, let’s cheer each other on. This next school year will be unlike any other. There will be days we will be convinced we chose poorly for our kids. There will be days that feel almost normal. Sickness will come. Field trips will disappear for a while. These days will be long and hard but survivable. And all the more survivable if we stick together as Team Parent: flawed humans, trying like hell to make the best decisions for our kids. The kids need to know parents do their darndest to keep them safe, even when uncertainty lurks at every bus stop. Be kind. Full stop.