At Long Last

Kids can be excited to go back to school and also pretty nervous.

My kids’ school closed down early in the pandemic and I was so grateful for the option to continue their education through virtual learning. We were on spring break when things started to get bad in other parts of the state, and the school added a week to spring break to figure out how to cope, and eventually asked us to all stay home when the school year resumed. We muddled through, did our best, and were relieved to be able to hunker down and limit our exposure (my husband was also able to work from home thanks to a note from my doctor explaining my high risk of serious complications).

That was March 2020. We were hanging on, doing whatever we could to finish out the school year, but when the next academic year started, the school was really well prepared. It was a lot of work for all involved, but especially for the teachers who had to keep the kids engaged through distractions at home like siblings, pets, and parents. I spent all day sitting in a kid-sized wooden chair helping both kids navigate Teams meetings and independent work, catering to two different lunch periods and switching headphones between the kids to limit interference but be alerted to teacher cues. And then I had a third kid wandering around aimlessly all day with no one to play with.

By the end of the year we’d gotten the hang of things, but were exhausted. We’d been in the house together nonstop for about fifteen months and the only “alone” time anyone had was when they put on headphones and tuned the rest of us out. My husband and I got vaccinated as soon as we could, and things looked up for a while. I was thrilled for the kids to return to school and make friends and have real PE that wasn’t in their playroom.

But alas, in the days before school started last week, our local cases escalated significantly. El Paso has a decent vax rate, but obviously my elementary school kids are not vaccinated so we are relying on everyone else to get the shot to keep them safe, and there’s no way to verify whether they have or not. I spent the night before they started school sobbing and looking up home school options far too late.

Things were supposed to be winding down. When cases popped up there were supposed to go away because the vaccine was finally here! Unfortunately, people elected not to get the shot which breeds variants and spreads COVID all over the world, so thanks so much for that.

The argument for kids in schools is clear — though my children did well with distance learning, they had a stay-at-home parent on call to help them adjust, and a lot of kids are restarting school with gaps in knowledge from an unstable year. Socializing is important! Physical activity is important! A key mantra I have developed over the course of the pandemic is more than one thing can be true.

Kids can learn more in the classroom than at home and need protection from a disease we know very little about. Distance learning can be near impossible for parents who are trying to keep their jobs and the safest way to protect a vulnerable population. I can know that the risk is low for a child who contracts COVID and know that if it’s my kid who dies, I’m not going to give a flying fuck about the statistical probability of that happening. I can know I made the best decisions I could with the information I had and blame myself for whatever happens to my children for the rest of my life.

I use this mantra a lot with people on the internet. He can be a conspiracy theory sycophant and be a good father. Or so I tell myself.

Our governor, in his infinite wisdom, has declared that no student can be told to wear a mask. My kids are wearing masks, but half the class is not. Masks are effective when everyone wears them and we protect each other, but far less effective when only half the people are masked. The governor also said the best thing to do is make your own choice and get vaccinated. Well, I am vaccinated, but my kids are not because they are under 12. The entire school is under 12, save for the staff. It can be true that we need the kids in school and that we need the kids to wear masks to prevent rampant spread of disease. The vaccine is like a more effective way to flatten the curve — it won’t keep everyone from getting sick, but it will keep most people from getting seriously ill, and that keeps hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Masks can be an inconvenience and a crucial step to mitigating spread and severe illness. CDC guidance says that immunocompromised people should get vaccinated but then still avoid people and wear a mask if you have to go out. We will also probably need boosters of the vaccine because of a weak response to just two shots. I am immunocompromised, but my kids are now attending in-person school with a bunch of unmasked kids and teachers, and the governor has also decide there will be no virtual or hybrid options for education.

I can desperately want my kids to return to school and still choose to continue distance learning if I think that’s the safest option for our family. Unless, of course, the governor forbids it. CDC guidance says all people should be masked indoors. It can be a pain in the ass and still be necessary. Make no mistake, I do not want to homeschool. I want the kids to leave the house and make friends and have experiences that are not solely in our living room. I’m not a great teacher (I’m horribly impatient) and don’t want to wreck my kids’ brains with my awful teaching if there is another option. Until a few weeks ago, the best option was in person instruction, but now I don’t know what the best choice is for us.

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