It is time for the kids to head back to school. I am usually in quite a celebratory mood. I might even purchase wine to enjoy on that first day without kids around. I am usually knee-deep in lists of things to catch up on now that I will have the time to catch up on stuff. And I am usually completely and unapologetically jubilant that someone else gets to see my kids for more hours of the day than I do.
But this year is distinctly different. We missed our entire school year last year, but for a few months my daughter was able to attend elementary school for modified days in the late spring. My son never had a chance to adjust to his first year in middle school because he spent it all at home. And returning to school is just fraught with many more concerns as we head out into a world that is still battling the pandemic. But back to school still requires a list. A few reminders of what we could be thinking about as a new year begins because ready or not, here we come.
1. Pandemic Preparation. I happen to come from a school of thought that believes in the existence of the virus and the need to take mitigating measures seriously. We are ALL suffering because SOME of us do not. But it is what it is and that just means that I need to continue to set an example and maintain my efforts to take care of my family and my community. School pandemic prep is purchasing enough masks for clean wearing each day of the week plus an extra in the backpack for emergencies. Real masks - not gaiters that don’t do anything. Kids are also armed with mini hand sanitizers, in the their backpacks and in their lunch bag for quick hand cleaning. We have home testing kits just in case someone comes home with a cough and we want to be sure it is nothing to worry about. (These are now readily available through the CVS website.) And entry into the home protocols that include washing hands and changing clothes. Some might find this dramatic or unnecessary. I find it the new normal. We may have an acrimonious relationship with this virus and the havoc it has caused but that need not extend to taking sound steps to keep each other safe, just for a little while longer.
2. Pack Your Patience. It is distinctly possible that this year will not go as other school years have gone. I can tell already that my kids are just not accustomed to the length of the school day, and the requirements that are new now that they are back in the school building. My son argued with me about writing down his work in pencil because it had been so long since he used one. My daughter went so far as to protest wearing shoes. It is also possible that school might have to close early, or kids might get sick or need to be quarantined. School might not look the way it has in the past - different activity schedules, different ways that lunch and band are conducted. I can only imagine. I am going to need patience to deal with my kids and patience to deal with the rest of the world. I will keep it handy.
3. Extra Doses of Kindness and Love. This goes along with the patience. Hugs and snuggles and open conversation on the walk home from school. An understanding that maybe - just maybe - the kids in our lives need more of everything nice to make the adjustment back to a robust and full schedule. I will pick my battles very carefully, in hopes of fostering a more gentle relationship with my kids. I don’t want them overwhelmed or feeling anything less than completely supported and loved in our home and in our care. The world is just a little bit scary right now. I insist on believing that I can distract them with hugs and kisses just long enough to keep them feeling safe in their corner of the world.
4. Extra Time. We spent an entire year not waking up early for school and not going to bed at a normal hour. We spent days wearing our pajamas because we knew we weren’t going to see anyone or go anywhere. And then we deviated quite a bit from our normal eating habits and routine. There really was an absence of routine in order to just cope with the happenings around us. School starting again is a jolt to our systems. We need more time to get things done. Getting dressed, remembering to do our hair, making lunches, and getting out of the house are just going to take a bit more time as we rebuild the muscle memory involved in such tasks. Leaving more time to do everything will help reduce the impact.
5. Teacher Support. In my other life I worked in a school setting. I know how much work it takes to spend your day dealing diplomatically and compassionately with other people’s children. I can say that it becomes even a more pronounced Herculean feat when said children are simply not that pleasant. Teachers spend more time with our children than we do. They are, arguably, an immense influence on who our children become. It is not just what they teach but the examples they set and the manner in which they deal with the world. I do believe that I need to honor that commitment in any way that I can. Cookies and holiday gifts are nice. But doing my part to send my child to school ready to learn, supplied with what she needs and extras for the classroom to share, and a general attitude of cooperation is super-important this year. Teachers have been through a lot. The demands continue to be high. Their well-being is one of my missions as the year kicks off.