Thursday, July 23, 2020

The choices we face...

It is happening more often than not these days when I get in a mood where I feel helpless and paralyzed. Frozen and not knowing what to do to move forward. I seem to have forgotten the one thing I’ve always been able to do when nothing else feels right: And that is to write.

Writing has always been my coping mechanism. The only way I can get out of my head the cyclone of thoughts circling around. And once I have been able to express what is overwhelming me and keeping me down, I usually feel instant relief. That is what I am hoping to accomplish today.

Not that there was ever a time when being a parent was easy, but parents with school-aged children are being faced with an extremely difficult decision right now. We have to make a choice. An extremely important and difficult choice. And in my district (and likely others), we are being given ONE WEEK to weigh all the options and decide what to do.

Do we send our kids to school and expose them (and our family) to the risks of contracting this new, ever-evolving virus? Or do we keep them home where they are more likely to stay healthy and we TRY to keep them happy while they learn virtually and continue to be isolated from their friends?

I recognize that for many, there isn't a choice at all. Both parents work so the choice is made for them. They have no other option but to send their kids to school so they can continue to work and provide for their families. I am sure it is an equally unsettling feeling to have no control over the choice.

Our situation is different, though. Last year I made the difficult decision to leave my job. To give up the juggling act of trying to balance my career and my family. I never could have known when I made that choice, what a blessing it would end up being for my family down the road. To have a choice in how we respond to the current situation of this virus.

So while I am grateful we are able to choose whether or not we send our kids to school this fall, it is still not an easy decision to make. There are so many factors to consider. So many unknowns about this virus.

I commend the schools for the careful thought and consideration that has gone into the planning of how to re-open schools and keep our children safe. I know a lot of time and effort has gone into these re-opening plans. But the reality is, the state of this virus is not any better than it was when schools shut down in the spring. In fact, the numbers are even worse now.

Regardless of how well thought-out the schools' plans are and how careful they will be, so much of what will happen will be out of their control. Kids are going to get this virus at school. There is just no way around that. And the part weighing most heavily on my mind is that our family's health is, quite literally, in the hands of other families. And that is perhaps what is most unsettling to me.

To understand what I mean, all you need to do is read the comments from articles and videos posted about the virus or a post about your school's plan for fall and you will see the reflections of the families who would be potentially attending school with your children.

You will see comments from people who aren’t taking this virus seriously. Even more terrifying, you will see the comments of people who don't believe the virus actually exists.

You will see comments from people who don’t believe that wearing a mask is important. You will see the large amounts of people who are refusing to wear one, even though it is now a state order. You will see the people who are already planning to get a doctor’s excuse for their children to not have to wear a mask to school.

You will see comments of parents who state they will refuse to get their children tested for COVID, regardless of whether or not they are sent home from school with a fever as to not be a part of “the statistics.”

Drive through your neighborhoods and you will see the people who are having large parties and gatherings, not wearing masks, and not practicing social distancing.

All of these people are expressing their "right to choose" (although, arguably, once it becomes a state order it truly is no longer a choice to be made). But in this situation, their "rights" and their choices could directly impact my children and my family. And it's really scary.

So much about this virus is still unknown. It isn't as simple as either getting sick and getting better or getting sick and dying. Doctors and scientists are learning more and more each day about this virus. They are learning that there could be long-term side effects from people who contract it. And there's no denying that some people who contract it, regardless of age or underlying health issues, are getting very sick and for some, dying.

And we still don’t have a vaccine. And when we do, we don't know how safe it will be.

Even though there are so many unknowns and questions about this virus, we must make a choice about what to do with our children's education. We must use the information we have now to make a decision for September 8 when students will return back to school. We quite literally have to choose between our children’s education and their health.

I don't think there is one right or wrong answer. This choice will look different for every family. And there is no fast and sure way to know which choice is best. All anyone can do is make their choice with love and knowledge.

And that is exactly what we have done. We talked. We researched. We talked some more. We read through the school's plan, we watched the Board of Education meetings. And we read through the comments.

Although we so desire for our kids' lives to return to "normal," we have talked about the fact that nothing about returning to school in the fall will feel "normal."

Kids of all ages are being required to wear masks while at school, which I understand the importance of and appreciate. However, our kids will be attending a school with no air conditioning. A school that is already extremely hot and uncomfortable during those first few months in the fall. That is not going to feel "normal."

We are so desperate for our kids to get to socialize with their friends at school. However, how much socializing are they going to be doing while wearing masks with desks either three or six feet apart? That is not going to feel "normal."

We want so badly for our kids to go back to receiving a quality education, unlike what they were learning virtually from home in the spring. However, while they and their teachers are wearing masks, in the uncomfortably hot building, how much "quality learning" is going to actually be taking place?

The district has explained that there can't be social distancing on the school transportation as there aren't enough busses to accommodate this. Students will be required to wear masks on the bus but will be sitting with at least one other child.

For our daughter who will be entering kindergarten, they have already reduced the days from full-days to 2.5 hour days. How much will she actually be learning in those 2.5 hours? Is that even worth the risk of exposure? She will be meeting new friends and her new teacher without ever showing her face or being able to easily talk?

The way the plan is designed is to vary based on the county's level of emergency. We are currently a level 3 so students will be taking place in blended learning where half the students are in class one day while the other half is learning remotely. I think it is safe to assume that as schools re-open and the cases go up, our county will become a level 4 which means the curriculum goes back to being completely virtual. Yet another heartbreak and transition for our children (and parents and teachers).

I am not currently working outside the home. We have the flexibility to accommodate keeping our kids at home and learning remotely. I can't justify the risks. I don't see the benefits of sending them to school under these circumstances.

For all of the reasons stated above, we have decided our children will attend school virtually for the fall semester. Our district is letting us choose for the fall semester and then re-evaluate for the spring, which is what we plan to do.

Do I feel guilty that my daughter won't get to ride a school bus to kindergarten like she has so anxiously been waiting to do? Absolutely.

Does it make me sad that my son is desperate to return to the school he loves with the friends that he misses? It sure does.

Am I looking forward to returning to the roles of both mom and teacher? Definitely not.

But when I weigh the pros and cons, the risks and the rewards, this is the decision I am most comfortable with for my family. I can handle the mom guilt that will come from the sadness and disappointment of my children not returning to school. But I don't know that I could live with the guilt of my child or someone we love getting very sick and even worse, dying, because of a decision I made. Especially because I have a choice.

I would much rather know that I did everything in my power to keep the people I love safe. This is why I wear a mask. And this is why I am not comfortable sending my kids to school where I don't know that every other family is doing the same.

I so long for the days where my kids don't have to ask me if they can hug their own grandparents and we can go out to eat without giving it a second thought. I long for the days when our kids can be back in school in an environment that is conducive for learning and will also be good for their social/emotional well-being. But regardless of how badly we want these things, I don't think that is the reality for this fall, no matter what decision is made.

Be kind to those in your life who are making these important decisions. It is an extremely difficult time to be a parent. Or to be a teacher. Heck, it's a difficult time to be a human right now. Spread love and empathy instead of hate and judgment. We can't control much right now but we can commit to being good humans. And wear a freaking mask!