This time last year we took our kids' first day of school photos of them out in front of our house like we always do. They didn't have backpacks and they didn’t have shoes on. They also didn’t go anywhere but straight back in the house to log on for school. They did not return to school until mid-April and when they did finally go in it wasn’t all day and it wasn’t every day. Last year we locked down at home in the face of a raging pandemic. My husband, my two kids, and I spent every day working separately, but together all from inside the house, all of us in front of our computers. It was fraught with problems, but we did what we had to do and got through it.
This year when my children stood side by side for their picture on the first day of school, they were finally actually going to school. It was the smoothest first day of school both kids ever had. There were a few nerves, but no tears, and overall a lot of excitement. They both came home looking more enthusiastic than I have seen them in a very long time. It was then that my emotions kicked in. I was all over the place. I was thrilled for them, but suddenly furious about what we lost last year while staying home. To see the light on both of their faces, to see the twinkle in their eyes, making it impossible not to realize how long their sparks had been out.
At drop-off at the elementary school the next day a pediatrician friend of mine joked that she gives school one week before it shuts down again. I feigned a smile and a laugh, walked away, and tried not to show my concern. The Delta surge is posing a big risk, especially to unvaccinated people, which is the entire elementary school student body, but one week? I know we will likely have some positive tests and some, maybe many families will need to quarantine, but I just want my children to have normalcy back in their day to day. I was hoping for a few months, or at least weeks, but we might all have to settle for days.
I am not prepared to have my children at home for another school year. Without a doubt, it was not healthy for any of us. Children need other children, and I need quiet time. When a friend mentioned to her husband that she needs a plan if the kids end up having to be home due to Covid, he told her she was being negative. I don’t agree with him on this one, we aren’t wondering what will happen if schools shut down. I think it is likely that they will at some point shut down again. Maybe just for a group of kids, or a grade level, class, but it will likely happen. I don’t have a plan in place for how it will work for my family, but I do know I will scream.
We have all been thrown into the fire, we have experienced collective trauma, and all of us have had to mourn life as we knew it two years ago. The rate at which our lives changed was so rapid that eighteen months later, we are still trying to process it all, and we are adults. For our children the idea that one day they can go to school, and the next they can’t is baffling. I remember that first month of the lockdown being faced with so many of my children’s questions, none of which I had answers for. We still have a long way to go with this virus, and there will be a lot more unknowns about what the future will look like.
With the vaccine there came a sense of calm, hope, and freedom. I thought it was the beginning of the end, and maybe it still is, but the initial restart button on our lives didn’t stay pressed long. With the Delta variant, the lambda, and other variants we don’t know about yet, we went one step forward and two steps back. I am relearning the Greek alphabet while I try to keep track of variants. I make sure my kids leave for school each morning with water, lunch, snacks, books, and the right mask. Simultaneously things feel normal and bizarre as we go from hardly leaving the house to full days of school, meetings, sports, after school activities all within the last week. Just walking up to the gate of school on the first day, my muscle memory kicked right in. I walked up instinctively as I had for years, but then I saw the cones lined up to mark off the lines the kids were to stand in before entering the school. I saw the sea of masked faces. I saw the parents being asked to move into a line beside them to avoid crowding. It is impossible to not feel the impact this virus has had on all of us, but when I see these kids excited in line waiting to enter their school, I am grateful. For each and every day that they get to go to school this year I will celebrate.
Wishing all the kiddos out there a fantastic normalish year ahead while I am also being as realistic as possible. As soon as the school starts testing all the students there will be calls home to come pick up your kids from school. It is only week two into the school year and already three friends of mine at other schools have their kids quarantined this week due to a positive covid test for a child in their child's class. So while I hope for negative tests all around, I don’t think I am shooting negative vibes into the universe when I think about when not if someone around us gets a positive test. I will make sure to stay distanced when I find out, not just because it's the safe thing to do, but also because my scream is likely to break the sound barrier. Desperate times call for desperate measures!