The Impossible Decision Regarding COVID Schooling

My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”

Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.

Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?

Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.

As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.

One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!

My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.

My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.

So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school.  We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.

Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.

Parenting Boys (and girls) 102: Starting School

Dear Mr/Mrs Teacher,

I truly expected to get this year off to a more organized start. Apparently not (and apparently I forgot to read last year’s post about how I was most certainly going to be better this year!).  Despite how it might appear, I want you to know that I highly value education for my child. After all, I am personally a “highly educated” individual with a BS in elementary education (no less) and a MS degree and a PhD and even an MD degree. Yet, despite all those initials trailing my name, I am unable to remember to check the homework folder on a daily basis. It’s a character flaw.

In the spirit of true confessions, I’m sorry to say that I have also not yet cut apart those addition and subtraction “flashcards” to begin practicing. I’m pretty sure that someday that card stock paper and a pair of scissors will be in the same vicinity and I’ll get to it. It just hasn’t been today or yesterday or the day before….

Also, we read for about 10 minutes every night (I mean, most nights, well, I mean on those nights that I’m not already falling asleep reading to the other brothers) and as it always feels like 20 minutes, I’m hoping that counts for our “daily” reading time.

I would also like some clarification of the terms “homework” and “please practice” that you clearly have ink stamps to use on their papers. “Homework,” I take it, is something that you definitely expect to be completed and returned the next day…in the ideal world. On the other hand, the “please practice” pages are something that can go into the ‘papers that I intend to deal with at some later point that is not tonight because the kid is already asleep‘ stack. Is that accurate?

In the same vein, is it okay to skip the night’s homework assignment if the 6-year-oldcrumpled is in the “I-will-crush-and-crumble-all-paper-in-my-sight” kind of mood? I doubt the morning will be any better, but I’ll try to get him reading Nan the Cat as soon as possible!

Just a couple more questions. When my son is on the list for “Star Student of the Week” for January 11th, is that something you expect me to keep track of or will you be providing some kind of reminder system post holiday chaos so that the poor guy isn’t identified as having “Loser Mother of the Year” for the week?

Also, I hope that you got the “mystery student” paper bag with 5 tiny objects that are somehow reflective of my son that I dropped off around lunch time on the day it was due? Maybe you might have given him a chance to show his bag that afternoon so he wouldn’t feel left out. (Oh, I guess that would defeat the purpose of guessing who it belonged to. Huh, just thought of that. Nevermind. On the other hand, will we get that bag back soon? We could use the hockey puck this weekend and I’m worried the crab leg to signify having been to the beach might increase in stench intensity soon. Just wondering.)

And finally, that Class Dojo app that now beeps incessantly on my smartphone dojo to inform me that the kiddo has yet again received a “ -1 for talking to neighbors” – will you be continuing that all year or is this just a first-month fad that we’re all going to get tired of PDQ? (My gram liked to use that for Pretty Darn Quick. I’m thinking Positively Definitely Quitting!).

I think that sums up my apologies and questions for now, day 10 of the new school year. It’s likely some continuing confusion might linger, but once I get the house unpacked and the kids’ sports schedules imprinted, we should start on a better trajectory.

Thank you for your patience and even more importantly, thank you for loving “education” so much that you passionately teach at least 20 energetic kids every day and gracefully cope with many more quirky parents. It’s a challenging job and a huge responsibility and I’m thankful that you are there to give my kid a hug when he needs it, a pat on the back when deserved, and a push in the right direction when necessary.

Please let me know if I can help in any way (other than the obvious stuff that I clearly should be doing and haven’t yet).

Yours gratefully,

Mom