Yesterday was my forty-ninth first day of school. Kindergarten through high school was thirteen years, tack on four years of college plus two years of graduate school to add another six, and yesterday I embarked upon my thirtieth year in urban education. Holy shit, I’m old.
I don’t have vivid recollections of most of my first days, but I’m comfortable asserting that 2020’s school opener has to be strangest ever first day of school. And I know from strange–may I remind you that last year’s first day came on the heels of a complete emotional meltdown subsequent to my husband’s near-death summer? People are all, 2020 is the worst, and I’m over here, real quiet-like still cursing the nightmare orbit 2019 was for me. I mean, 2020 sucks for reals and globally, sure, but for a girl whose hopes and dreams were pinned on the fresh start a change of the calendar was to have brought. . . I guess what I’m saying is blah. It still sucks as in present progressive, still sucking.
Last week was freshman orientation. My older son–now a high school junior!–sat at his bedroom desk helping to lead a group of freshmen through their orientation and welcome Google Meet event while my younger sat directly below him in the dining room Google Meeting as an incoming freshman. Google Meet orientation was not the experience either had hoped for, but they both grew from the experience. Definitely check the pro side of a pros/cons columnar list.
My brain’s a go, but my heart remains unconvinced that our district’s virtual start is ideal even if it is. I’ve elected to work remotely, meaning my work with students and colleagues will be based temporarily out of my dining room. Next week when my own children begin their virtual classes, my “office” will be relegated to the basement, which is fine because I need a work space that’s different from the space where my family and I eat dinner together. I have an office and eight school sites, so working from home makes sense and is my design, yes, but I’d much rather have a front row seat to my coworkers and students. I miss talking to people with my whole self, I miss cracking wise, hearing stories about my colleagues who are also my friends’ lives and loves. I miss how faces light up at the “Heyyyyy, did ya have a good summer?” back-to-school reunions. I miss those knowing smirks, inside jokes, eye rolls, and snort-laughter. I talk to so few people in real time now that I’ve lost my conversational rhythm and epic timing. I’m not even funny anymore.
But. . . What kind of mom or mentor would I be if I noticed nothing but what I am missing? I saw some social media post asking parents to support whatever their kids’ school districts decide for opening, because kids will follow their parents’ leads. So I am trying to find the silver linings, the items I can tick off as a thumbs-up on my own T-chart of pros and cons. But I am a very keepin’ it real parent. I openly tell my children things like, “Yeah, you can think this sucks, guys, because it sucks.” But I also try to remind them that none of us has the right kind of experience to manage what a pandemic really means for our mental health and well-being. I don’t know what’s the right type of reaction or behavior, and I’ve had forty-nine first days of school! I should have more wherewithal than teenage boys whose brains are well, the brains of teenage boys. I should be more capably equipped, but I’m not as OK as I’d like to be. The photo below is not an inaccurate representation of the current state of affairs in my “office.” Except my Chuck Taylors are pink and yellow.
Instead of having to wake at 5:05 AM to ready myself for work before shuttling my kids to high school, I can stay in bed until 6:30. Later than that really if I go light on the “ready” part. My commute is a grand total of seven footsteps. Definitely a pro in the pros/cons tally.
I can pile my hair up in a bun without even having to rely on a mirror anymore, thereby styling down another few minutes from my AM prep time. I call it my pandemic ‘do, and was told by at least one person it’s super cute. That person is my favorite. Pro.
I took an hour-long walk before work today. I showered, bunned up the hair, put on makeup, and made it to work with time to spare. Pro.
I walked my dog around our neighborhood park during my lunch break, sneaking in some belly rubs and a couple thousand steps. Pro. Woof!
No shopping for back-to-school wardrobes, so I saved a boatload of cash on fall clothing for both boys. My baby already towers over everyone, standing at 6’2″ at age fourteen, so it’s a guarantee that he’ll have outgrown any shorts or tees I’d buy now. Pro.
No sports for the sport. We were all hungry for football, looking forward to my little one’s debut as a gridiron Husky pretty much as soon as he hung up his cleats after his eighth grade season. Con.
No knock-down drag-out fights over the last red 2″ binder you MUST have for Physics class or 10-color multi-pack Crayola markers at the Target Back-to-School bins. School hasn’t even mentioned the $125 calculator needed for algebra, so yay. Pro.
I’ve got to learn online apps and virtual service delivery and communication platforms whose names I’d never even heard until recently. I feel like a relic, and that makes me feel sad. Professional pro, personal con.
I’ve received a few emails welcoming me back, telling me how great I am at my job, and thanking me for fighting the good fight. PRO PRO PRO.
No drum line. We all lose. Con. But the drum line and my kid did make it on his school’s web page. OK not really. The top of his head did though, and I swear, I knew it was his hair. Moms know.
I do miss my afternoon auto concert performances. Time in my car is necessary for the emotional disentanglement accompanied or maybe fueled by the songs that fix me. I miss singing loudly (though not well), but all by myself and with unmatched conviction. I miss the songs I need both to buoy my broken heart and celebrate ordinariness with their extraordinary melodies and lyrics. The speakers in my new car are so good and Apple Car Play is magic. Definite con.
I really want to high five my students when they get it! Their proud faces beam when the skills/strategies I teach them click into place and work! I’ll see them sure, but the screen dampens even the most genuine of joy. Student victories? They’re how you make it to your thirtieth first day, you guys. Con.
I want my kids to be with their friends. There. I said it. Not at the expense of others’ health and well-being, but I want my kids to hang with kids their age. I’m still friends with many of my high school friends, which is a gift and a mega-pro. My freshman son’s friendship stories are gonna be missing their first few chapters.
I travel city-wide on the daily, and log a crap-ton of miles driving from my office to the many schools where I provide services to kids and support to other professionals. Having no commute has saved me some green in gasoline costs and vehicle wear and tear. Pro. And that’s better for the environment, so double pro.
All those extra miles I purchased when I leased my new car are laughing in my face now. Con. Total burn.
I leaned a little heavy on the cons, but did manage to find a few rays of back-to-school sunshine, right? What’s your back-to-school ray of sunshine? We’ve been healthy, so I don’t want to be a drama queen, but this distance and isolation are bound to leave wounds that will take some real time and effortful and intentional undoing to heal. We all say “kids are resilient” because they are, but I think lately we throw “resilient” around more because WE need to believe it. This mama needs to believe it like never before.