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Challenge: Back to School 2020

Back to school blues

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To all those parents out there wishing their kids were back in school, I have this to report: the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. Two weeks in to back-to-school 2020 and I officially have no idea what solution is the right one in terms of pandemic schooling.

My daughter, Belle, recently started first grade and the first few days went great. We were all VERY excited that she was going back full time. She goes to a small Catholic school - 207 kids to be exact. They're using the gym, cafeteria, and even the parish function hall, allowing adequate space for each grade to keep kids three feet apart in the classroom. Their custodian, sanitizing plans and procedures are top-notch. I'm not worried about her getting sick at school, and that's a relief.

But Belle's emotional state? That's a whole other ball game.

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I have two very different kids - one, who is three, wears all of her emotions right there on her sleeve and she has a lot of very big feelings for such a small child. The other, Belle, requires a master class in emotions in order to figure out what's bothering her. And I have logged those hours - so many hours. She appears happy and then seemingly out of nowhere and all at once, she starts to unravel. She doesn't know why, she can't explain what's bothering her, she just starts to act out and cry at every little thing, and that's when I know: something is up.

And so begins the task of trying to unravel the very messy knot of her feelings. One, fragile little thread at a time.

Here's what I've uncovered thus far: first grade is different. The addition of desks (that she was so excited about) means the subtraction of things like toys and play areas that made pre-K and kindergarten so fun. And speaking of kindergarten, there was no closure. Kindergarten basically ghosted her and she's still sad about it.

The responsibility of bringing your mask, wearing it, trying to remember not to touch it or fuss with it, where to put it when it's time for a mask break, breathing in it when it's 80 degrees and humid, knowing when and where to wash your hands, when you can go to the bathroom, where to go, who to ask, walking one way down the hallway, learning and following the signs and new rules and and and and....it's a lot.

It's a lot of big kid stuff for such a little six year old.

And the days are long. Sure, she's sort of used to it because she's had the same schedule at the same school since pre-K.....but she didn't have your typical summer break from the schedule and the routine. She had six months off and this is yet ANOTHER new normal she's trying to learn and figure out.

For six months she's been playing Lego's and watching too much TV and playing outside, getting messy in her mud kitchen, catching frogs, having picnics in the yard, swimming in the pool, swinging on her swings, playing endless hours of vet hospital. And now she's in school.

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Yes, she has music and gym and art and library. But they're all taking place in her classroom and the other day she told me she's "not allowed to sing" in music class. I'm still waiting for confirmation on that one, but I'm hoping it's not true. Library was always her favorite - you get to borrow books! But this year they have a black and white print out to flip through, select their top three choices, and then wait a few days to see which one they get to borrow. Not nearly as fun as fingering through the shelves on your own and judging every book by its cover.

These are all the new things and changes that are rolling around in her little mind.

And here I am, encouraging her and trying to make all the new stuff sound like fun. God bless that librarian who had to make all those packets, and who now has the task of sorting through each wishlist in time for next week. That sounds exhausting.

Here I am, one very grateful mom, so thrilled that she gets to go back to school in person with a community of teachers and friends who sincerely love her and care for her well-being. But at the same time, I'm also questioning if this is the right thing.

Isn't that just motherhood in a nutshell?

Does the good outweigh the bad? Does the time with people other than me and her sister and her dad improve her life and open her mind to new experiences, or is she distracted by the masks and the rules and the fact that it's all so different from what she remembers? Is this just beginning of the school year adjustments and jitters or is it bigger than that?

Is first grade a hard adjustment in non-COVID times? If she'd had a normal kindergarten experience - a complete year, and then a normal summer at camp (which was canceled) with her friends, continuing to learn and grow - would the blow of first grade not hit so hard? Or is it just magnified by the fact that she's been home for 6 months and she misses her momma?

I. have. no. idea.

I don't have the answers to this one. But I do have this: the confidence of knowing that no one knows my child better than me. When it comes to Belle, no one else has that mom super power that's specific to her. That gut instinct, that mother's intuition that I've relied on as my guide for six years.

I'm her advocate. Yes, people say "kids are resilient" but it's up to me to know when that resilience is wavering. Kids in general have been through a LOT over the last six months. It hasn't been six weeks, it's been six months. And frankly, I'm a bit tired of playing roulette with my kids' childhoods/emotions/education/overall well-being.

So here's my plan: I'm gonna listen to my gut. I'm gonna lean on it like never before and continue to take things one day at a time, while also keeping a close eye on the fact that those days add up and it's up to me to know when we need to adjust our plans. This week she took a half day on Wednesday for some extra family time and rest time. She told me she needed it and I knew she was right.

And just so YOU know - any other moms or dads who may read this - there is no right answer. Back full time, remote, hybrid, homeschool, whatever the school scenario you're facing, it's all hard. Each scenario comes with its own set of challenges. The grass is not greener over here, or over there.

Listen not just to their words, but to their actions.

Help them put words to feelings.

Have faith.

Encourage them to catch a few more frogs.

Give yourself some grace.

And most of all, trust your gut.

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