To say that 2020 has been a strange year would be an understatement. Somewhere in between the months of lockdown, global protests and general unrest experienced pretty much everywhere in the world, I’ve been trying to prepare my three-and-a-half-year-old to start kindergarten.
Every September, my social feeds are flooded with images of kids decked out in their backpacks, with fresh haircuts, ready to take on the school year. I’ll admit, I often rolled my eyes at these shots—what was the big deal? But now that it’s my kid’s turn, I feel robbed.
As I write this in mid-August, we only have a vague idea what school is going to look like. And with the uncertainty of how this pandemic will continue to play out into the fall and winter months, and the lingering threat of a second wave, it’s likely that the classroom will be a place of uncertainty for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t how I pictured my kid’s first day of school. Despite my silent judging, I know I would have taken the cute photo in front of the school’s brick wall and left with teary eyes, thinking of her toothy grin. But instead, I’m haunted by the images from the news of small kids in masks, separated by markers that keep them six feet apart as they quietly line up to enter the school building. Squeals of excitement are replaced by the intermittent beep of the thermometer as it takes each kid’s temperature and the hiss of the disinfectant spray sanitizing their school bags. The hallways are free of chaos, clutter, life. And this may be the best-case scenario.
While most government officials have announced their plan for kids to return to the classroom in September, if a second wave hits, it’s possible that they’ll all get sent home and the drudge of distant learning will become the new normal.
I realize I’m privileged to have these fears. Here I am worrying about a photo op and my kid being able to hug her friends when others have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay the bills. And, worse, people are still very much getting sick and dying from COVID-19. I understand that all of these safety measures are necessary and put in place to protect the most vulnerable. But even knowing this, I can’t hide my disappointment.
My daughter has been talking about starting kindergarten since she understood what kindergarten was. She’s desperate to be a “big kid” and finally flex some independence.
Even when school starts in September, there are still so many question marks. Without a summer orientation, I have no idea who her teacher will be, where her classroom is, where she’ll eat lunch or who will be in her class. Small things, sure. But these are details parents get because they help everyone ease into the transition.
While I’m relieved she’ll go to school every day, I’m nervous about putting her health at risk. I don’t know how I’ll be able to work if she gets sent home for 14 days because of a cough or a runny nose—things that are extremely common in the fall and winter months even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. And my biggest fear: What happens if we go back under lockdown?
As a parent, I just want my kid to have a normal life and a normal school experience (not that I can even define what normal is anymore). I don’t want her to be freaked out by all the extra measures or to look at her new schoolmates as beacons of disease to be avoided. I worry she won’t be able to understand her teacher if she’s wearing a mask and that she’ll lose interest in school before she even gets started. I have all kinds of negative thoughts about how this and the last few months will have a lasting affect on her psychologically.
But I also have hope.
If I’ve learned anything from months of lockdown, it’s that there are good and bad things about every situation. Although I’m shocked to still have my job and my sanity, I know I’m lucky to have enjoyed aspects of this unprecedented amount of forced family time.
Over the last few months, I’ve witnessed my daughter’s language skills explode with all the time at home spent with only two adults to speak to. And now that she so desperately craves interaction with someone other than her parents, any shred of shyness has been replaced by bubbly extroversion—she will literally talk to anyone we pass on the street.
Aside from when I was on maternity leave, this is the longest chunk of quality time I’ve ever spent with my kid—and unlike before, we’re both old enough to appreciate it. We’ve crafted, baked, watched movies, done yoga and attempted to learn new things. We’ve gone on adventures on our bikes, explored the empty streets of the city and finally had a chance to just slow down and enjoy each other’s company.
Without the comfort of her peers, I’m now her favourite person to cuddle with and the one she comes to when she has “a really great idea.” More than just being her mom, over these long months, we’ve become friends.
While I’m still anxious about what’s to come in September, I take solace in knowing one thing, and it’s that my kid is resilient—she’s more than proved that over the last few months. And, like all of us, she will get through this.