For a yes-or-no question, it took a surprisingly long time to answer.
The question was one faced by parents around British Columbia as their children’s schools sent out surveys asking one deceptively simple question: Do you intend to have your child return to in-class instruction starting June 1?
It’s amazing how complicated one simple question can be.
For the record, I said No. My daughter isn’t returning for in-class instruction in New West on Monday. But I can’t remember the last time a simple question caused me so much what-iffing, but-waiting and on-the-other-handing.
My initial response to the news that schools were reopening their doors in June was one huge and enthusiastic “yahoo!” Our seven-year-old is an only child. She’s been learning at home since March break, while my husband and I have both been working remotely at jobs that have demanded more-than-full-time attention.
Finding a way to spend time with her has been, without a doubt, the single biggest challenge we’ve faced since we all came home for March break and never went back to our outside lives. Trying to engage and interact with her, to help her figure out the necessary technology, to make sure she’s on top of her assignments and gets her half-hour of reading done and writes her daily journal and checks out her virtual music lesson and doesn’t try to sneak extra YouTube videos in while she’s supposed to be doing Mathletics and then trying to think of ways we can all get fresh air and exercise and do something fun because you’re supposed to do something fun every day and why can’t I just bake cookies and if I was a good mom I would be baking cookies right now and helping her learn how to do more household chores and after all this pandemic isn’t supposed to be all bad I mean other people are having fun right now so why am I not having fun and why am I not sleeping and somebody hand me the Advil because I have a migraine and dammit I’m not supposed to take Advil now because wasn’t there something about Advil and COVID-19 so fine make it Tylenol and where is my coffee and
My right eye is twitching again just typing it all out.
Suffice it to say, sending our daughter back to school seemed like a good idea.
The thought that somebody else – somebody trained and qualified and good at teaching; somebody she’ll listen to and learn properly from instead of digging in her heels and resisting help – would take over her education? Yes, please.
And friends? In the solitary life of only children everywhere, Facetime and Messenger Kids have been her lifeline to other humans under the age of 10. And even though she’s an introvert at heart who enjoys her own space and keeps herself company pretty well, it’s not the same as spending time with other kids.
Returning to class, even part-time, could only be a win all around – for my husband, for me and for my daughter.
We’re still in the midst of a viral pandemic. And, although all indications at this point are that the virus doesn’t transmit readily among groups of children, there are still a lot of question marks. What do we really know about how the virus will react until we try it out and see? And do I want my child to be part of one of those test groups? What if it all gets worse, fast, once groups of kids start assembling again? Do I want our family to come in contact with so many other people who may or may not have been taking social distancing as seriously as we have?
I know the school district is taking its direction from people who know far more than I do. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control and public health officials and the Ministry of Education wouldn’t be clearing the return to school if they hadn’t decided, based on science and evidence, that it was possible to minimize and contain the risks.
Even if our daughter does go back to school, will her friends be there? And will she really enjoy it, given how different the school day is going to look? If the kids aren’t allowed to work together and interact normally and play on the playground like they usually would, is she going to get the kind of social interaction that is at least half the reason we want to send her back? On the other hand, isn’t some social interaction, even limited and restricted interaction, better than none at all?
If she doesn’t go back to school, can I keep doing this? Can I really make it through another month of muddling through home learning while I’m trying to navigate a full-time job? Can I handle being the “bad guy” every day (or, more accurately, taking turns with my husband being the bad guy) and forcing her to do the schoolwork she’d rather skip and dealing with the subsequent moods and attitude? Do I even want to try?
Anxiety. She’s an anxiety-prone kind of kid, and we’ve finally managed to work through a lot of the anxiety she had – and, let’s face it, that we had - about the world turning upside down around us. We’ve found a bit of a “normal” in the way we live now, and we’re making it work (ish), so do I want to turn that all on its head, again, for the sake of a few weeks of school? If she takes a couple of weeks to get used to a new routine – and she always does – then is it even worth it for the little time that’s left in the school year?
Is it fair to our daughter’s teacher to keep her home, when the teacher is going to be in class and ready to teach? Is it fair to my daughter to keep her home if her friends are going to be at school? Is it fair to me and my husband to keep her home when our jobs are still as demanding as ever? Is it fair that I even feel like all of this isn’t fair, given that we’re both employed and we have a home and we lack for nothing and we rate pretty damn high on the scale of pandemic privilege?
That “do you intend to send your child back to school” question was a simple one. It just didn’t come with a built-in guaranteed right answer.
In the end, our daughter’s own verdict that she’d rather continue learning at home tipped the balance for us. But even as I filled out “No” on the survey and sent it back to the school principal, I wondered if we were doing the right thing.
I still wonder.
It helps to know that our daughter is, after all, in Grade 2. Realizing that whatever decision we make, her entire academic future is not at stake here – well, that helps. And so does the fact that she has a dedicated and supportive teacher who has been 100% available to her students and their families since this crazy journey began. She’s assured us that our child will be fine, either way, and that she’s here to support the decision that works best for us.
So I feel good about our “No.” Mostly.
But let me be clear: I’m not casting judgment on anyone who said Yes and whose children will be back in school on Monday. I can think of a thousand reasons why parents want – and, in some cases, need – to have their children back in class. My decision isn’t intended to in any way cast aspersions on those reasons. I only hope that, by having families like ours step out of the in-class instruction part of learning, perhaps we can free up some of the teachers’ time and attention for those students who need that face-to-face contact more than we do.
We may still change our minds.
If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it has at least taught us that we can’t predict what life’s going to throw at us next. Everything may stay very much the same for the next month. Or everything could be upside down tomorrow.
All we can do is make the best decision for us right now, with the information we have available. And if something changes? Well, we’ll move on and do the next right thing – whatever that may be.
For all my fellow parents who’ve agonized over all of this too, solidarity. And for the teachers and administrators who have been working so phenomenally hard to make remote learning work and then to gear up for the return to class, all without missing a beat for our kids, my deepest gratitude.
As for my daughter? Well, she just got off a long Messenger Kids chat with her aunt in Toronto and is now, I suspect, sneaking YouTube videos instead of doing Mathletics.
But you know what? She’s done all her work for the week, and she’s not in any danger of losing her Grade 2 year if I give us both a break and let it go.
So I think I’ll pretend not to notice and have an iced coffee while I sit on the patio and proofread this post.
Here’s to the weekend – and here’s to Monday, whatever it may bring.