Pretty much sums it up, right?
We can’t see what’s ahead of us and how everything will play out. No one could have predicted this. We can make educated guesses about what to do and listen to people who are smarter than us, but no one has 20/20 vision because no one has ever lived a year like 2020. It’s hard because we don’t have the 20/20 hindsight that comes with most disasters. None of us have done this before, and there’s no playbook to fall back on or previous experiences to draw from.
And to make things even more complicated, there’s enough contradictory information out there to make anyone’s head spin-
- This is the worst thing the world has ever seen, but it’s not that bad.
- Be stocked with 2 weeks of food, but you can go to the grocery store.
- You are under home quarantine orders, but you can leave to get “essential” things.
- People of all ages are dying, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting kids.
- Stay 6 feet apart and wear a mask, but you can go to a restaurant or sports practices.
And it’s even harder when it comes to explaining this to our kids. And it seems like the list is growing more and more everyday.
It’s also hard to explain why-
- Why we can’t give a hug when someone is hurting
- Why we can’t go on vacation
- Why a lady wouldn’t let me hold a door open for her because there was no way we could be 6 feet apart (even though I was on the other side of the glass)
- Why my kids can’t go play with their friends
- Why you can go to the grocery store, but not grandma’s house
- Why I freak out more than usual when you get a fever or runny nose
- Why I don’t know how long this will last
- Why it won’t “just go away tomorrow”
- Why we can’t go out to eat when my kids see a crowded restaurant from the car
- Why we have to get our temperature taken when we arrive for swim lessons
- Why they have to wear a mask when they see other people who aren’t
Today, the hard for me is the anxiety surrounding plans to go back to school.
Or not going back.
Or kind of going back.
Or whatever it is they are suggesting today.
It’s what everyone is talking about. It’s what everyone is so desperately trying to figure out. And there are so many details left unsettled. I’m feeling the stress. We all are. Parents, teachers, administrators, faculty, staff and everyone in between. But we can’t forget about the biggest group this affects. The ones all this chaos is about– our kids. The little people that take up our whole hearts. They are seeing, hearing, listening and responding to us.
School starts in just 2 weeks for us. I feel like summer never really started. Actually, I feel like spring break never really started, but I’ve missed summer. Oh, have I missed summer. I only officially get about 18 of these, 15 if I’m lucky before they are off to college or whatever they choose to do after high school. And I feel like this one was stolen from me. And I know my kids have missed it too. The days of endless Otter Pops with friends and house hopping in the neighborhood. I’ve missed my kids running through the door with 5 other kids asking if they can all stay for dinner while I’m putting dinner on the table. They’ve missed spending hours at the pool, only to come home to eat and then beg to go back.
We made it through quarantine, and a socially distant summer, now we are staring the school year straight in the eye wondering how the heck this is going to work.
The secret is, there is no secret. No one knows. And all of the options are not great options. I love that schools and school districts are getting input from teachers and parents and putting boards together to discuss this issue and make informed decisions. But guess what? There’s not one solution that will work for every individual family, much less make everyone happy. There’s just not. And it stinks.
Going back to school has been something that’s so predictable for the last century. Summer always comes to an end, you count down the days, you go buy your school supplies and potentially a couple new outfits, you get excited to learn who your teacher will be and what friends are in your class, and you basically know what to expect from the beginning of a new school year. You know what it’s like to see your friends and give high 5’s and hugs after a long summer apart. And I know you remember what it’s like to grip your schedule and go on the hunt for your new locker and classrooms.
This year is different. It’s a year none of us could have ever imagined in a million years. And when navigating these unchartered waters, it’s not predictable. It’s not fun. It’s just plain hard.
It’s like the carpet has been pulled out from underneath us when it comes to what most of us have been teaching our kids since birth- tangible love and kindness. Not social distancing. While this is new to everyone, it has turned our kids’ worlds upside down too because they don’t understand why everything changed overnight and they aren’t privy to all the information we have. So it only makes sense that they are going to look up to us as the parents to see how to react.
And it’s even harder because we don’t know what to expect. We’re stressed, anxious, scared, angry, frustrated, annoyed, and our kids notice that. How we react will shape how they form their own opinions about our current situation whether we like it or not.
You know how you smile at babies or stick your tongue out? And you know how funny it is to watch them try and do the same thing? They see you; they watch you and mimic you.
They also see you when you are stressed, anxious and scared. They see you when you have a concerned look on your face. Even before they can talk, they pick up on your emotional cues and imitate you.
Older kids will form their perception of things based on how you are feeling, how you react, what you say to your friend when you think they aren’t listening, or in my case, the negativity and frustration of the last text message I sent to a friend.
Our kids need our support and guidance now more than ever. So put on a brave face and demonstrate a little positivity when they are around.
They are listening when you talk about the terrible decisions their school is making.
They are listening when you talk about how their teacher isn’t going to be able to handle everything.
They are listening when you say no one knows what they are doing.
They are listening and they are forming their own opinions behind the scenes.
Give a little grace.
Have a little patience.
Practice a little self control.
So as we go into this school year, we can help our kids by not letting them see us talk and react to the current situation only in negative ways.
But my top piece of advice when you can’t find anything positive to say?
If your kids are little, they don’t need all the details. They need the 10,000 foot overview. You don’t have to completely ignore this issue, but you don’t have to tediously break it down either. Share your thoughts and insecurities, then follow it up with something positive. You can ease their minds, provide reassurance, and help them know that everything is going to be ok. YOU. You have the power to be that person for them. The person who helps make everything ok when everything is not ok. It’s pretty much a superpower. So smile, suit up, put on your mask (see what I did there?), and use it to your advantage.
Carter is 6. He’s my only boy and he’s the one that wears his heart on his sleeve. I had a particularly hard day this week surrounding all of the decisions that had to be made about school. I thought I hid it well and had conversations with my husband out of earshot of any of the kids.
He came up to me while I was making lunch and asked why I was so quiet. I said, “what do you mean?” He said, “You are just so quiet today. Why?” I tried to make a joke about how I don’t have to yell when he’s being a good listener, but he saw right through me. So we had an honest conversation about why I was feeling extra anxious and how I wanted to make sure I was doing my best to keep him safe. Then I smiled (even though I didn’t feel like it) and gave him a hug. And he smiled back and cheered up for the rest of the day. He didn’t need to know the 1,000 negative thoughts flowing through my mind. A hug and a smile fixed his world for the moment.
When Aubrey takes her tiny hand, rubs my back, looks up at me with her pleased and eager eyes and asks me if that helps me feel better, of course I smile and say, “Yes, it does help my back feel better! Thank you!” I don’t go into all the reasons that my back will never get better and tell her how foolish it is to think a 3 second rub will fix anything. No one would do that. But you know what, it makes my heart happy. It fixes another part of me and she feels like she fixed my whole world and she’s on cloud 9. Same goes for this. Just smile. Not every single moment has to be a lesson.
Think of how you react to certain situations and how a little positivity, even fake, can help you as an adult. Perhaps you are super stressed out about a health issue so you go to the doctor hoping for any sort of good news. You will cling to that, even if you don’t fully believe it, right? There’s hope. A sliver of good news. A possibility that everything is going to be ok. Sure, there are probably still tests and surgeries and PT and dr appointments that are going to happen. But for that one moment, there was some positivity, and it helped you.
Don’t underestimate our kids.
They are attentive, smart, intuitive, strong and resilient.
Just like we’ve taught them to be.
Let’s continue to nurture that.
And let’s help them learn the lessons that can only be learned way down deep in the hard-
- We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them.
- There is a big difference between hard and impossible.
- There’s power in putting others before yourself.
- Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good, but it has a bigger impact.
- The silver lining is always brighter when you have to go searching for it.
And there are some things we can do as well to help them through this time-
- We can put on a brave face, like we so often ask our kids to do.
- We can share our anxieties and insecurities with them, but we can also follow those up with reassurances that we are in this together and that we’ll figure things out.
- We can tell them it’s ok not to have an answer for everything all the time.
- We can encourage them to not put life on hold while we wait this out.
- And we can, when all else fails, fake it.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
I’ve found faking it is about 75% percent of parenting. Just pretending like I have any sort of idea what I’m doing or saying. So fake a smile and give them a hug. It’ll mean more to them than you think.
I read an article recently that used the term “pandemic parenting.” It caught my attention because I thought, “Yes! This is exactly what this is!” No one has any experience with it. No one has been through this before. There’s no one to turn to for advice. And if we don’t like the choices presented to us, our kids definitely aren’t going to like them. And then parenting gets even harder.
I have 3 little kids ages 4, 6 and 8. Even at the young age of 4, Aubrey would constantly ask me at the beginning of this whole mess why we couldn’t go places anymore. “Why can’t we go to the zoo? Why can’t we go to the museum?” The whys slowly turned into whens. “When can we go to the pool? When can we go to the park? When can we go to school?” Then it was simply, “I hate the Coronavirus! Is it almost over?” I can’t give her a good answer because there isn’t one, and I feel terrible. For a long time, my answer was, “Hopefully everything will be better this summer.” Well, summer has come and gone. And she’s disappointed and I feel like I lied to her and keep changing my story.
Remember how naive we were when we thought this was just going to last for a couple of weeks while we shut everything down? Laughable, right? Now, will 2 years be laughable? Will it be a decade? Again, no one knows. And that’s what makes this so hard. And in this so-called pandemic parenting, there’s no good cop, bad cop. We are all bad cops right now. And then on top of everything, we have to figure this whole school thing out.
Chapter 3 in the COVID-19 Pandemic Parenting book is titled “Back to (this thing that maybe kind of sort of but not really resembles what used to be previously known as) School
We really are just all flying by the seats of our pants with this one, because what other choice do we have? We have no past experiences or outcomes to base our decisions on. And let’s face it. The choices we do have, well they all stink. They stink like a forgotten upside-down sippy cup of milk slowly leaking out into your car and baking in the 100 degree sun for a month. Add a poopy diaper in there and we are probably getting close to how much this stinks.
Every option seems to have way uglier cons than attractive pros.
- Send your kids back to school
Risk them getting sick or exposing others, learning while wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from everyone (which won’t happen), not having a real lunch or recess.
- Keep your kids at home
Give up your job to help be their teacher, be around them 100% of the time, worry about their mental health, lack of social interaction and potentially falling behind.
- Hybrid – part time at school, part time at home
The supposed happy medium to make the majority of people happy, go to school part time and stay home part time, only really works if everyone attending is part time and no one is attending full time, somehow seems like the worst of both options 1 and 2.
So what do we do?
We each make the decision that is right for US.
I live in Highlands Ranch, CO. A decently swanky little suburb of Denver. A lot of people around here have a lot of money. We have a 5 bedroom house with a great backyard and finished basement. So many people would consider this a mansion. Other people around here think of it as very modest. I like to think we are pretty middle of the road for this area. That said, on top of all this, I’m married to a man that has a wonderful job that enables me to stay home, and that’s what I have chosen to do for the last 5 years. We have 2 cars. Each of my three kids have their own bedrooms and we have more toys than anyone should own. We eat out pretty much whenever we want to and we don’t have to count every penny. I belong to a gym and my kids take swim lessons. We were truly blessed that when COVID hit, my husband just switched from a desk at work to a desk at home without missing a beat. If I’m being completely honest, it’s actually been EASIER for us since all this happened. I see him more. The kids see him more. He doesn’t have to commute. This was not the story for so many other people and it breaks my heart. We are lucky and blessed. It was no big deal for us. We are PRIVILEGED during this pandemic. We were afforded the time and opportunity to be able to work on our house we bought 3 years ago- “pandemic painting” as I have referred to it. We have been able to get so much done that we never had time to do before. I was able to get this blog up and running. And because everyone was on lockdown, I didn’t have to say no to something to stay home and work, so there was no guilt attached to the time it took to complete these projects. Yes, we missed vacations and important events and we’ve all been disappointed over one thing or another, but all in all, it’s been more than just ok. And we are really lucky and greatly privileged in the middle of all of this terrible pandemic.
So when someone asks me what my position is on all of this school stuff, I have my personal opinions on whether to go back or not. The agony of making a decision has been seeping from my pores just like everyone else. But I have a CHOICE. So I’m not going to go up against someone who won’t survive if their kids don’t go back to school or vice versa. I will listen and I will support the majority of my community and what their needs are. Why? Because I have a choice. I have privilege in the middle of this mess. And so many others do not.
We are all agonizing over the less-than-ideal school choices in front of us and so many people in my pandemic-privileged circle are angry that kids are going back to school (even though they have the choice not to).
Take a moment to stop and think about individual situations. Maybe there will be some room for you to see why there is such passion on the other side of the issue. And yes, I believe the schools are opening back up to full time because of the push back from parents. But it’s not always just because they are lazy and want free babysitters. It’s more than that.
Think about the single mom who needs to keep her job because she could barely make ends meet before all this happened. The dad who had to give up his job when the schools shut down because he had to be there for his kids. The child in an abusive home who isn’t safe there. The kid who goes without food when school is not in session. The child who doesn’t have access to a computer, internet, or school supplies. The friend who is suicidal because of isolation, loneliness and depression. The small business owner that lost everything and is doing everything she can to not lose her home too.
Yes, there’s the other side of this issue too; I totally get it, and I am not blind to it.
Teachers have become a part of the frontline. They join the doctors, nurses, surgeons, firemen, policemen and so many others. The only difference is, this is not what they signed up for when they became educators. The other groups go into their careers knowing there’s a possibility they will be called to the frontlines when disaster happens. Never in a million years would our teachers expect to be lumped into this group. But here we are. So we all need to remember that and we really need to think about what we are asking them to do. We need to hear them when they say they don’t feel safe or comfortable. They don’t have the same level of protection that so many other frontline workers do. So let’s make sure we listen to what they are saying.
I have so many teacher friends who are struggling behind the scenes. My mom and my aunt are both retired teachers with a heart for education. But no matter how much you love teaching, safety is the top issue. Managing lessons and students on two platforms is challenging. Figuring out how to run a classroom with so many rules is mind-boggling. Where do we draw the line of asking too much of them? How will it all really work? What’s the plan? Some have spouses who are immunocompromised, some are immunocompromised themselves. What if they aren’t immunocompromised but don’t feel comfortable going back? What about them? One friend has a newborn and is dealing with being told she has to go back with no other option. What about school supplies and equipment? If they have to stay with their classes all day, and there’s no lunch or recess, who will cover to give them a break? Education graduates are not applying for jobs and seasoned teachers are leaving. How do we figure out how to accommodate the teachers who don’t want to stay in the classroom, while figuring out how to best utilize the teachers who are comfortable being in the classroom? I know some are being offered online positions, but I know others are not.
The schools are having to make a decision between two impossible choices. I don’t envy them one bit.
Please hear this: I’m not advocating for one side or the other. I’m advocating for the ability for everyone to make their own choice. Parents, students and teachers alike.
What I AM saying is if you are in a position where you get to choose what you want to do, maybe show a little kindness to those who don’t have that privilege and are seeking a specific option. Focus on what is best for your family, and then let’s help figure out how to help those that can’t survive one way or the other. Let’s support each other and love each other instead of judging one another. There’s not space in the world for that right now.
I am still struggling with what choice to make. I honestly don’t know where I will land. The options are not great options. I had a lung infarction with my pulmonary embolism almost 2 years ago. That means part of my lung is dead and will never grow back. When they released me from the hospital they told me that while I was healing, any sort of respiratory illness, even the common cold, could be detrimental for me because my lungs were stressed and wouldn’t be able to handle it. I’m not 100% healthy, but I probably won’t ever be. I don’t necessarily consider myself immunocompromised, but I also don’t want to find out what this virus could do to me and my respiratory system. There’s just too much we don’t know about it and its long term effects.
Do I send my kids back to school and risk getting infected?
Do I keep them home so I can be more protected?
My youngest has an IEP and needs speech therapy. Will she be able to get what she needs over a computer screen? Will this delay her development even more?
How do I decide between their mental health and their physical health?
What about my “alone time” I was going to gain this fall with all 3 kids in school?
Am I being selfish for keeping them home?
Am I being selfish for sending them back to school?
Am I stressing over these decisions? Of course I am.
Am I worried I am making the wrong decision? Yup. Join the club.
But you guys. I’m so blessed. I’m so privileged. If you are in this situation to choose, you are also privileged, despite the options you’ve been presented with or the challenges you are facing. My family can make the school situation work however it shakes out because our livelihood doesn’t depend on the answer. It’s OUR choice and it’s possible because our specific schools are giving us this choice. This is just my opinion, but the choices being made about schools reopening or not should not be made with the pandemic-privileged family in mind, like mine; they should be made for the people who’s survival depends on it. Whatever side of the issue that may be.
One day this will all be behind us and we will have 20/20 hindsight. Then, if we really want to, we can take the energy we have left to bicker about what should have been done. But most importantly, there will be a playbook. Experience to fall back on. Research. Technology. Education. Mistakes to learn from. Successes to applaud and knowledge to gain. We will know better what to do next time, God forbid. But for now, we just have to trudge through the sludge and make it to the other side. And we need to do all we can to help each other get to the other side as fast as possible. And we have to do it together whether we like it or not. Because no one is enjoying this.
Everyone’s answer on what to do this school year will be different because every situation is different. Everyone has to evaluate their personal risks vs. rewards scale. And we have to stop judging others for the decisions they are making for their family just because they are different from ours.
So be thoughtful.
Most importantly, BE KIND, always.
It may not seem like it, but 2020 is just a season.
And this too shall pass.