This post was not planned, it was inspired.
I reached the height of my personal stress yesterday, October 11th, knowing the next day my daughter was going back to in-person school.
It has been on my to-do list to make over my daughter’s room from “little kid” to the much awaited “big-girl” room I had promised her earlier in the year. Be it fate or bad timing, I dedicatedly met this promise over three days. Since last Friday, I destructed all my daughter’s old, worn-out furniture, hauled it away, and put together her new room furniture (bed, storage, shelving, desk, etc). I was determined to get this done before her first day of school. Despite the fact I had been preparing her (and myself) for back-to-school for weeks, even months, I was still laboring through my anxiety. What I had been emphasizing:
~ School will be different.
~ You’ll wear a mask everyday and for hours at a time.
~ There won’t be as many kids.
~ Lunch will be in the classroom.
~ You’ll still have to do online meetings.
~ Recess will be greatly limited.
~ They’ll do temperature checks everyday and have stricter rules about sanitization.
~ You can’t share or trade with other kids: In fact, no contact at all.
I’ve silently warded off all judgement from decision-makers and parents alike, as, I assure you, on the topic of sending my kid back to school there was plenty of judgement to go around. As if I hadn’t thought about every conceivable outcome and possibility a thousand times over. As if I hadn’t dedicated nearly every waking thought to my daughter’s health, well-being, and education. It is not within my abilities to homeschool. Simply, I have to work. Therefore, my options about her returning to school are pretty straightforward. Despite knowing and accepting the outcome, this did nothing to shore up my anxiety. I know me. I have to be in it before I can let it go. Before I can experience the release of the pressure, I need to see a thing through into actuality.
For weeks, I had prepped my daughter for her return to school by doing all the customary things: New hair cut, new school clothes, new backpack, flu shot…the works. I kept a smile on my face the whole goddam time. I expressed my excitement. I expressed the real expectations about going back to school as I emphasized to my child, ‘Things will be different but it’s still progress. You’re going back to school and I’m so excited!’ I wasn’t lying either. The excitement I felt was genuine as I saw her own happiness in knowing that yes, things will be different but hey, she’s going back to school!!! What I did not allow her to see (or tried to at any rate) was my ever present, sometimes crippling anxiety around the inevitable.
As of this Monday morning, my back and muscles are just twitching from the exhaustion of the physical labors over the past three days. But here’s what’s funny to me, I slept through the night last night (something I’m not generally good at). Not from all the work, it was relief. Emotional, perhaps mental. The thing I had been dreading was here. No more delays. No more bullshit. Time to go back to school.
I’m so grateful. When we arrived (pre-entry health checks in place) the staff and teachers were smiling. I couldn’t see their mouths (of course, masks) but the smiles were in their eyes and in their voices. I could have cried and nearly did. That same sense of relief for returning to some kind of normalcy was radiating outward from many. Parents were laughing and catching up, again, all masked and respecting social distancing, creating a lot of loud but happy conversations. I could feel the energy of the kids. Our school principal, who knows my daughter by name, personally performed her wellness entry check while saying hello to me, all smiles in her eyes. My daughter was so ready to get to class she all but ran off before giving me a hug goodbye. I traditionally take a first day of school picture and while I rarely share much about my kid (privacy reasons), I figure this one’s okay:
We keep our smiles despite not being able to see them and not just for the sake of the kids. The parents and educators feel it too: Different, but progress. It’s back to school!
Feeling relieved and reassured, I immediately took off on my morning walk. Lately, my head is too full of stuff to notice much around my environment, today I felt I could actually take stock of my surroundings and saw some cool things:
Not long after my walk I had to run to the grocery store, I smiled in my mask as Bon Jovi’s, “I’ll Be There For You,” came on over the store speakers, and I think to myself once more, ‘Nothing beats the intensity of an 80s love song. Decades have since tried but can’t quite manage it.’
Here’s to feeling a little more normal; different, but progress. I’ll take that.
Christina Schmidt, MA