I’ve tried to keep my mind from wandering and worrying about the upcoming school year. With the statistics and guidelines changing every day, I didn’t want to waste what little emotional energy I had, thinking through every possible scenario, and processing how each one would affect my kids. It’s just too complicated with no clear answers in sight.
I thought I’d wait it out and focus on the daily decisions I’ve had to make to keep my kids safe and healthy. Every. Single. One. Has been hard, exhausting, stressful, and confusing. Parents know this well; we’ve all had to manage this new way of life the best we can, constantly weighing the risk of our choices over and over again, with the pressure to do the right thing, the smart thing, the acceptable thing, the safe thing for our families.
Our district just announced the tentative plans for the school year. The students will rotate weeks of in-class and virtual learning. The hours of the day will be shortened for buses to be sanitized and there are countless rules and regulations the students must follow. I’m not confident this plan will be successful. I’m not confident any plan can be. We are all wading in uncertain waters, and the tide changes constantly.
I’m now forced to consider all the questions and concerns about the details of this plan. It will be complicated and stressful and look nothing like school did before this pandemic hit. Having one freshman and one senior in high school, they will have to forfeit so many firsts and so many lasts.
Their school year will have gaps and empty spaces that will never be filled again.
It will be difficult to learn and adapt to their school’s new systems of education, socialization, recreation, and every other opportunity high school used to offer our kids. This year will be marked with restrictions and limitations, modifications, and cancellations. I grieve for all the important moments they will miss, the ones that define their teenage years, and create memories that should last a lifetime.
I start to think through all the big high school events and small details of each day that simply won’t happen as the year unfolds, and my heart cracks a little bit more. It all starts with that first day of school, the one special day every student anticipates with anxious excitement no matter what grade they’re in. My freshman will be entering through those high school doors for his first time, and my senior, for her last.
I remember my senior’s first day when she was a freshman. Before that big day, we picked up her schedule and roamed the school for hours trying to find her classrooms, while hundreds of other kids did the same. It was exciting and scary all at once, learning the terrain of this expansive new world she would spend her next four years living in. We went back to the school a few more times to walk through her day’s schedule until she could remember the fastest route to each of her classes because there is nothing more humiliating than getting lost and being late for class. She was nervous but ready for this new season of her life to begin.
She had the luxury of certainty and predictability that my son doesn’t have. The school calendar was already planned and in place, set with all the various events and activities students could experience and my daughter had the freedom to pick and choose anything she wanted to do.
There were no limitations or restrictions.
My girl didn’t have to worry about safety guidelines and wearing a mask. She didn’t need to understand the risk of infection and how she could contract a deadly disease. She didn’t live in the world we live in now.
My son will not have the same experience as my girl. He won’t be given a predictable calendar and he won’t have all the new opportunities offered to him. He won’t have the luxury of roaming the building to practice his route to his classes before the school year begins. His first day of school won’t be focused on meeting new friends or signing up for new things. Instead, he will be worried about social distancing rules and struggling to keep his mask on all day. He will be overwhelmed with how to navigate the new building and find all the classrooms while carrying the mental load that comes with figuring out all the complicated details of socializing and learning in an entirely new way.
My senior will miss all the excitement of her last first day of high school, having mastered the layout of the land and how each day unfolds, she would have walked through the doors with well-worn experience, hugging friends she sees and visiting old teachers she loves. Instead, she will join all the other students trying to navigate the new rules while wearing her mask, feeling awkward and uncomfortable every step of the way. She won’t be offered all those senior year experiences she’s looked forward to and earned. The joy of starting her senior year has withered into disappointment and frustration. The thrill of being a senior is gone.
From Kindergarten through college, the first day of school is a momentous occasion for students, but this year it will be difficult to endure, no matter what each school district decides. The days that follow will be challenging and unpredictable, confusing, and stressful too. I can only hope that by the time the last day of school comes, their lives will be restored and they will recover from all that was lost.
This is a contributed post by Christine Carter. She writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications and she is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” and “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. Both sold on Amazon.
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