Back to School, For Real This Time
Taking the plunge
Yesterday, as many of you no doubt already know, New Orleans K-8 public schools reopened.
My older daughter is an eighth grader at Lusher, but she hasn’t been in a school building since March 13 and has no desire to do so. She’s doing beautifully with virtual school, and honestly, I can’t blame her for not wanting to endure the slings and arrows of in-person middle school.
My younger daughter is a third grader at a private school, which means she could have been going to school in-person since August, but she too hasn’t been in a school building since March 13. In her case, however, she is not doing quite so well (she is actually borderline feral at this point) and very much wants to go to school. Due to my dad’s health, however, I haven’t felt comfortable sending her.
Even as his health steadily improved and he got his first dose of the vaccine, I held off. Even as I read the reports about schools not being super-spreaders, I held off. Even as I whipsawed between benign neglect and extreme helicoptering when it came to her virtual curriculum and drove myself and everyone else in the household insane in the process, I held off.
I’m a risk-averse person by nature. To me, it seemed, the risks of in-person school were just not worth it. Even if the risk was small, it was still there in a way it wouldn’t be if I just kept her home … and somehow managed to keep my child with ADHD on task in every subject while also working a full-time job. What could possibly go wrong?
Finally, late on Sunday night, as my various mom friends were texting me excitedly about schools resuming and I was trying to frantically get Georgia to finish up a massive pile of worksheets we should have been working on all week but hadn’t managed to finish, I snapped. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’d hit my breaking point. In fact, if I wanted to see my breaking point, I would have to look behind myself because I was just so so so very done in a way I previously hadn’t been.
I emailed her teacher and asked if she could come back in person this week, and her teacher wrote back right away and said that as far as she’s concerned, she could come back Monday.
So she did. When I picked her up yesterday, she had part of a Cheez-It stuck to the inside of her face mask and marker all over her arms, and she was in better spirits than she’d been in in months, probably.
I don’t feel bad for keeping her home as long as I did. It kept my father safe – or at least safer – before the vaccine could keep him safe – or at least safer. It gave us lots of time together as a family, and whatever skills she lost in terms of multiplication facts or state capitals, she gained in learning to follow recipes and navigate technology. If nothing else, it validates my choice to switch my major from journalism and elementary education to just journalism because it turns out that I am a terrible teacher.
In addition to the stack of worksheets we were drowning under, I think what finally flipped the switch in my head was Ruby, age 14, asking me when she could take driver’s ed.
Driving in general is terrifying. My child driving is so terrifying there isn’t even a word in any language for how terrifying it is. And yet she has to learn how to do it. There is risk, obviously, but it is a risk we, by and large, have to accept in order to be functional adults (in cities without adequate public transportation, which is quite frankly way too many of them).
School right now is terrifying. But keeping her home any longer, with my dad getting his second COVID shot this Thursday, is not in anyone’s best interest. The benefits now officially outweigh the risks.
I’m so thankful that we were able to stay as isolated as we were for as long as we were. I am certain that the combination of schools and employers accommodating us saved my father’s life.
But now, I’m so thankful to have my younger child back in school, where teachers who are trained in educating students can be the ones to make sure she’s doing what she’s supposed to do to stay on track. Where she can be around kids her own age, even if they’re 6 feet apart.
And I’m almost delirious with joy when I realize we only have a few worksheets to finish tonight, and that beyond quizzing her on some spelling words, I don’t have much of a role to play in any of it.
Thank you, science, for the vaccine. Thank you, teachers, for teaching our future scientists.