Wide Awake: September 2020
I always thought I would hate this month

Several times, I’ve written about how Septembers – and the first day of school – came and went, year after year, at a rather rapid speed. I felt such dread as I counted down to the day when there would be no first day of school in our house. But as I face our first September with no one getting ready for classes, I’m feeling an emotion I never expected: relief.

Of all the dilemmas the pandemic has thrown at us, one of the most difficult has to be parents deciding how to send their children back to school. I’ve been watching from the sidelines as the debate rages on. Joe and I even watched the virtual school board meeting in our town, even though our kids never went to that school. I’ve found it interesting how I can listen to people arguing different points of view and agree with them all. That doesn’t seem logical, but it’s true.

I talked to 2 friends who have a child entering first grade, and they feel it’s vital she attend in-person school. You learn so much in first grade, they say, and taking on the responsibility of instructing her while they also work is overwhelming. They believe they aren’t the best teachers for their first-grader. And they’re right.
Another set of parents I know talked it over with their high-schooler, and they all agreed the risk of in-person education was too great for their family. They appreciated the new precautions and believed administrators were establishing good policies, but they feared it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t be 100% sure their son wouldn’t bring home the virus, so he will learn remotely. That’s totally understandable.

Another mom told me how surprised she was that her pre-teen son was thriving learning at home. He liked the quiet. He liked working at his own pace and having more time in-between “classes” to study. She had noticed a change in his personality. He talked more. He got out of bed easier. He would continue remote learning. It was easy to see why she made that choice.

But that same mom had a daughter who would be going to school in-person. Unlike her brother, she hadn’t thrived with remote learning and talked often about how much she missed her friends and teachers. The loss of human interaction was taking its toll on her 14-year-old. She was spending a lot of time alone in her room and didn’t seem to enjoy anything that had made her happy before. My friend decided her daughter would go back. The decision was hard, but she thinks it is what’s best. And I have total faith my friend is doing what she believes is right for her child.

I asked our daughters what they think they would have chosen if they were in high school today. They said they would have gone in person. Then just a few minutes later, “No, online.” Then, “Wait…I don’t know.”

I’ve tried to imagine how we would have handled remote learning. Where would 3 teen girls sit in our house to do their school work? Do they each stay in the same spot all day? Is our Wifi good enough? Does everyone eat lunch at the same time (and do I have to make it)? Does homework even exist anymore? It’s hard to imagine how school at home works.

But it’s also hard to imagine them walking out the door to sit next to classmates and teachers after being quarantined for so many months. Administrators seem to have established many good protocols, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the virus, can you be certain kids – and their parents at home – will stay healthy?

So the weight of this monumental decision falls heavily on parents, whose everyday goal in life is to keep their kids happy and safe. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision, but I share the heartache of those who do. I recognize that all a parent can do is decide what is best for their child, and go with that. And even when those decisions are all different, they’re all right.

We spoke with parents and students about this year’s return to school, click here to read.

September 2020
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