When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, time seemed to stand still—the weeks dragged on in a haze of pajama pants, messy buns, and so many goldfish crackers (they can count as lunch, right?). Outside it was cold, grey, and wet. The trees were bare. The grass was brown. And the days were looooong. Then summer hit, and we emerged from our homes like moles, blinking in the bright summer sun. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough time in the day for all the sprinkler fun, physically-distant park visits (with lots and lots of hand sanitizer), bike rides, and fudgesicles. In the blink of an eye, two months flew by. And now that summer is winding down, we’re staring down the barrel of back-to-school.
Normally, I love this time of year. I love collecting the acorns that start falling from the big oak tree on the corner. I love watching the monarch caterpillars I raise all summer emerge from their chrysalises. I love seeing the apples grow big and fat in the tree outside our kitchen window. And although I’m sad to see summer come to an end, I always get a little thrill planning (and shopping!) for a new school year (although, it’s really not the same since they discontinued Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers).
But not this year. This year, I’m breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about the fall. I have a little freak-out in the shower each morning when I realize we’re one day closer to the first day of school and I don’t have a plan in place. And I turn into an unintelligible idiot every time someone asks about my daughter’s plans for kindergarten (uh, uh… I don’t know!!!).
To be clear, responding to the upcoming school year with anxiety isn’t that out of the ordinary for me—I tend to be a wee bit of an overthinker. In fact, when picking a preschool a couple of years ago (back in 2018…a simpler time), I actually had my daughter signed-up for three separate schools because I wanted to make sure we chose the best fit (my husband kept reminding me we weren’t picking between Harvard or Stanford, but instead were picking the place where she would, hopefully, learn to not eat paste). Clearly, I have some pretty serious commitment issues, because two years later, I’ve found myself in a similar indecisive situation with kindergarten (except this time she’s only enrolled in two schools #BabySteps).
But this time, it’s not just picking a classroom that has me riddled with anxiety (and believe me, deciding between a public or private education for my kiddo already had me in a tailspin). This year, Rona came a-knocking, and now I’m not the only one obsessing over what to do. Do I send my daughter to school in-person? Do we choose the online-virtual option? Or do we homeschool? And how badly am I going to mess up my kid, no matter what option I choose?
A couple of months ago, I would have called you crazy for even suggesting I homeschool. Of course, my daughter was going to an in-person school (although, I didn’t have a clue which one). Sure, COVID-19 was a thing; but September seemed so far away, and kindergarten too big of a milestone. Surely it would be sorted by the start of the new school year. So all winter and spring, we read books to prepare for her first day in the classroom—Kindergarten, Here I Come!, The 12 Days of Kindergarten, and Hello School!. Then the reality of what in-person school would now mean started to set in. In addition to a new backpack, I’d be buying her coordinating face masks, one for every day of the week. Beside the usual box of crayons, she’d keep travel-sized hand sanitizers in her desk. Along with talking to her about making friends and playing nicely, I’d be prepping her to physically-distance herself from her classmates. A new lunchbox would come with a discussion about eating alone at her desk. All the books we read didn’t prepare any of us for this reality of kindergarten. Where are the books about elementary school in the post-COVID era???
It was then that I made a decision. “That’s it!,” I shouted to my husband. “Clear my schedule for the next year; I’m a homeschooling-mom now!” I mean, I’m like 95% certain… or maybe it’s more like 75%. Either way, my daughter overheard and had some questions, so I explained about homeschooling.“You???,” she cried. “You’re going to be my teacher?! But you don’t know anything!” (Hmm… I thought I had until her teen years before she thought I was a complete idiot). “And how will I meet new friends? You don’t want me to meet new friends???” (More fodder for her therapist someday, I suppose). So, that’s how my kid feels about homeschooling. Although my daughter might not be so keen on the idea right now, I think ultimately she’d prefer to practice her counting wearing Frozen pajamas rather than a face mask, learn to read sitting on my lap rather than sitting six feet away from her teacher, and write the ABCs together at our kitchen table rather than alone behind a plastic shield.
Although we haven’t yet made a final decision for our family, one thing is for certain—the upcoming school year will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. On the bright side, whether we decide to homeschool, do virtual learning, or send our girls in-person doused in sanitizer and covered in masks, it will probably be our healthiest winter since having kids (fingers crossed I can go a season without catching a stomach bug!). Regardless of what we decide to do, I’m sad my daughter isn’t getting the traditional kindergarten experience. But, it will help build her resilience, so that’s a parenting win, right? And in the meantime, I’ll make sure we’re stocked up on wine.
What are your school plans for the fall?
Note: The choice of school is a very personal one, and I realize this post comes from my place of white, suburban, upper-middle class, stay-at-home-mom privilege. What is right for my family may not be right for another. We’re all making decisions about what is best for our own unique situations. You don’t know my life, and I don’t know yours. No judgement, here!