I watched her slip her little feet into her pink shoes and toss her new bag over her shoulders. My bright-eyed first-grader was ready for her first day at school.
“Are you ready?” I asked a few minutes before we left our home.
“Finally! Trust me, mama. I will be OK.” Lil Z replied, trying her best to reassure me that she would take care of herself. Behind that mask, I saw a genuine smile cross her lips. This week has been about instructions – how to wear/take off her mask; sanitize hands; wash hands; maintain social distance; above all NO SHARING! Yes, this year she is going to unlearn sharing. As parents, we tried our best to teach our toddlers to share their toys during playdates, and now we’re telling them sharing at school is a grave mistake. Well, that’s the new normal! For parents finding it hard to deal with the idea of their kids having to unlearn sharing, I recommend reading ‘It’s OK NOT to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids’ by Heather Shumaker. While her reasons for not sharing do not include protection from a deadly virus, it gave me peace to know this wasn’t the end of the road for my daughter’s social skills.
At 7:45 we were standing outside the school’s main door. We were the first family to arrive. My husband looked at me with eyes filled with anxiousness. Were we making the right decision to send Lil Z to school this year? Would the teachers and staff be as careful about the students as we as parents had tried to be during these challenging months? Would Lil Z remember what we’d told her about maintaining social distance? For a moment there, I know I doubted the decision we’d made. And while he may not have said it aloud, I know he did too. And before we could muster the courage to ring the main doorbell, a teacher noticed us standing outside and opened the door. That was it! The doors were open. We were going to take a leap of faith as a family. No one saw a pandemic coming, and no one knows what it will be like a week or two from now. What I do know is that as a society we need to keep at it and do our best to ensure we don’t spread the virus and keep our communities safe. Parents have had to make difficult decisions weighing both their child’s mental and physical well being (depending on which city they live in). It has been equally hard for both sets of parents and this post isn’t to judge who’s being less cautious or too protective. Some parents do not have the necessary support system to work-from-home or go to the office, while many others may have seen their children deteriorate emotionally (there are several other reasons). The juggle is real. Fellow mamas and daddys know that we’re all in this together. Above all, it has been our children who’ve outshined us with their resilience. I don’t remember my daughter complaining about being away from school March through July. She was only too happy to spend one-on-one time with her father who had been thousands of miles away for 5 months (long-distance relationships are real ha ha). As a family, we were happy making memories with the limited resources we had. Like Nina, (if you’ve read Love Is Never Easy) when life threw us lemons we got greedy and made lemonade and lemon pie. This summer, Lil Z learned to make hand puppets, build imaginary Lego cities, make yummy french toast and convince us to flip pancakes for dinner. She now rides her bike without stabilizers, dances and sings to Bollywood songs and has begun devouring The Critter Club Series too. When restrictions eased up, we visited Niagara falls, drove through a zoo to see a pride of lions and splashed around at a nearby beach (lakes are beaches here). We were happy ticking off some of the touristy/ newcomer stuff. Even without a regular schedule, we’d managed to do so many things together. I was convinced we were enough for Lil Z. Until we weren’t. Early August, she was invited to her friend’s 6th birthday party and there she was exposed to the world of children. They ran wild and free with regular breaks to wash/sanitize their hands. Then came a play date where the two children were inseparable; the little boy refused to go home. Later that evening she asked us if school was ever going to reopen. It was clear she needed more. We took our time and decided yes we would give it a try.
This morning, as the door shut behind her, my husband and I walked away in silence. He gave my hand a Let’s get through today little squeeze. It made sense. One day at a time. Or as Dory would say “Just Keep Swimming”. As I type this blog post, I tell my heart to be calm and at peace. The decision we took is not engraved in stone. For now, I need to trust in God, my child and her teachers at school. I look forward to picking her up when the school day ends and hear all about her ‘masked’ adventures. She has strong opinions, and I am eager to know what she thinks of this whole new situation. I saw her eyes roll this morning when she saw the teacher wearing a face shield and a mask. Will she be as excited to go back to school next week (today was orientation day) or would today’s strict adherence to rules suck the enthusiasm out of her? I will soon know. For now, I’m going to step down to the bakery and buy some Swiss Roll. She’s in for a surprise tea party.
P.S. A huge shout out to teachers and staff across the world who’ve returned to in-school teaching. It’s challenging but we are thankful for all that you do.