Like every other parent in the area, this past spring I heaved a huge sigh of relief on the last day of school and patted myself on the back for completing crisis learning with my Kindergartener and 2nd grader. I thought, “THANK GOD, THAT’S OVER,” and looked forward to a summer with my kiddos camped out on the couch, playing in the backyard, and enjoying a few safely distant pool and beach days.
Now seemingly in the blink of an eye, school is starting in a matter of weeks, but the threat of illness that abruptly sent my babies home before spring break with no warning is still here. In fact, numbers wise, it’s much worse now than it was then. What is a mom to do? I already struggle with anxiety, and one thing I usually do when making decisions is to try and figure out if I am making a choice based on a rational fear or an irrational fear. Rational fear is good — it’s a quick risk vs. reward analysis of the likelihood that what I’m afraid of will actually occur. Irrational fear is what my best friend calls “catastrophizing.” But what happens when the risk vs. reward analysis of the worst-possible-case scenario and its likelihood of occurring lands in a gray area?
My spouse and I both work full time, and I worked from home even pre-COVID. With this arrangement comes an enormous amount of privilege to be flexible with our education plans. After a supportive discussion with my job, my wife and I then had a big choice to make.
My kids are going into 1st and 3rd grades this year, and we love their school and the teachers. They struggled with the lack of closure at abruptly dismissing just before spring break and never returning to the warm and inviting classrooms they had called home for the year. Nothing in me wants them to not be there in a few weeks with their friends and returning to a bit of normal — that’s what kids do. You make the signs and pose by the front door with backpacks, you buy the supplies, you meet the teacher, and you hold your breath at handing your baby over to a new stranger for another year. That’s how it’s done!
But what if the absolute worst-case scenario happened, and I had an option and the ability to keep them home and educated, and I didn’t take it? What if one of their beloved teachers got sick from exposure? Could I live with that? What if they bring it home from school and transmit it to me, my wife, or their grandparents? Could I ask them to live with that? And my answer was that I couldn’t. I can get assistance in keeping them on track in virtual school, I can hire tutors to work on education areas where they need help, but I can’t protect them from this virus in the school building right now. I love and respect my teacher friends returning to the classrooms. If I can keep two kids out to lower the number of children they are exposed to when some families do not have a choice but to return, I feel an obligation to do that. This is why we decided to do virtual learning throughout the first semester with my kids’ zoned elementary school.
Am I 100% confident I’m making the right choice? I am not. I may be setting them up for falling behind academically or socially. I am keeping my older daughter from her gifted program participation. And I am separating my younger daughter from working with a professional when she is just beginning the fundamentals of learning. Is this risk worth the reward? I have to believe that any avoidable risk involving kids’ and teachers’ health is worth the reward, and right now all I can do is “the next right thing” when everything feels wrong.