Yesterday morning, early (around 3 am), I woke from a fitful sleep and started doomscrolling.
Everything is awful, of course. The wildfires in California, another Black man shot by police in Wisconsin in broad daylight in front of his three kids, twin hurricanes headed to the Gulf Coast, the Trump-led war on democracy, and the thing keeping me awake the most: schools reopening around the US in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic, with limited to no leadership, no universal guidelines, and far, far fewer resources than needed to keep communities safe.
Here in NYC, public schools are scheduled to start up in just over two weeks on a hybrid model where kids are physically in classrooms anywhere from one to three days a week and working remotely the rest of the time. But very few details have been shared with families – or with teachers – about what that will actually look like and how it will be done safely. Even in a city where transmission rates are now among the lowest in the country (and in the world), there are many risks. And we’re familiar with those risks probably more than anyone, save healthcare workers in hospital Covid units. At my kids’ school, we lost a beloved third grade teacher at the end of March and several parents through the spring. Principals, including our own, are arguing that schools are not safe yet to open. They have (mostly reasonable) demands and requests that the city has not yet met that they say will help ensure the safety of their teachers and the students and their families. They’re threatening to strike if the city continues ignoring them. It’s a mess.
Many of our city schools lack adequate ventilation and appropriate staff (especially when up to 40% of the city’s school personnel have medical waivers to allow them to work remotely). Classes are scheduled to begin in just over two weeks and we don’t know what days our kids will be in class, what days they’ll be home, what remote learning will look like (it was an absolute shit show in the spring), or even whether our kids will be taught by teachers at their actual school. I am expecting nothing short of a logistical and an emotionally-draining nightmare, and so we’ve chosen what we think will protect our kids the best and have opted to go full-time remote as the school year begins. Best-case scenario: The inevitable wrinkles are ironed out by November when we have our first chance to opt-in to hybrid learning and get our kids into the school a couple days a week.
And in school is where our kids belong. Joanie is five years old and going into kindergarten. She can’t read or write or type. She has a very limited toleration and attention span for virtual classes. I signed her up for a virtual camp last week to get her used to the platform, and even with a super engaging 90-minute class with built-in breaks, snack time, and crafts (where the materials were hand-delivered to us ahead of time), she was distracted. How is remote learning going to work for her? And at five, she needs to be developing social skills. I worry about her and Jackson’s emotional well-being with the isolation of being out of school for six, seven, eight months. And so I am strategically planning outdoor play dates and signing them up for outdoor classes and sports through the fall, emailing and texting and calling parents of their friends to coordinate times and organize pods of four to eight kids, hoping this will be enough to keep them connected and offset the damage already done with so many months of partial quarantine.
And I am so lucky to have the time and the resources to be able to do this! I can choose remote learning because I can be home with my kids and I don’t work a full-time job and I can give them attention and supervise and supplement their learning. I can choose remote learning even though it will compromise my own mental health and my kids’ social skills and will continue to chip away at the work life I’ve spent the last decade cultivating for myself and that had finally started paying off in the past couple of years in a way that felt satisfying on multiple levels.
For eight years, I balanced working from home with at least one child not yet in school, home with me. When parents now talk about how impossible this is, I want to scream, “I KNOW!” It is impossible. I hired a part-time sitter a few mornings a week for six and a half years to help me, and it was still hard and nearly all my earnings for a while went to childcare. And then, finally, I got both kids into school full-time, and Iwas so excited to explore other creative endeavors and potential revenue-generating projects, only to have them both back at home again six months later when the pandemic hit, and now over five months after that there’s still no end in sight. It feels unfair, and yet I know I’m among the luckiest.
My kids will be ok. It’s going to be incredibly hard, but we’ll get through it. Families who need the childcare, the services, and the social aspect that school provides because they have kids with special needs or they don’t have the luxury to stay home with them or the money to send them to theater class or to play in an organized soccer game in the park on the weekends may not be as ok. Teachers are not going to be as ok. Some will get sick. There will be more deaths. Our case count will increase again, and I worry about how quickly that will happen and how high the surge will be this time.
I have PTSD from our experience in the spring when the sirens didn’t stop wailing for three weeks, when Drew and I both had Covid symptoms and couldn’t get tests, when half our friends were sick too, when we had to tell our then-third-grader that one of the third grade teachers at his school died and he then refused to step outside for an entire month because he didn’t want to get sick and die too. And so, at 3 am when I can’t sleep and I start doomscrolling, reading about case clusters forming in schools already opening around the country, about outbreaks from big weddings people were too selfish to postpone or limit the size of, and about the parties and gatherings in places where the virus isn’t under control, I’m livid.
I want my life back, too. I want my kids back in school, too. I want to get on a plane and go visit my parents, my friends, some other place – anywhere, really because I am so sick of being home. I want to gather with people again. I want to feel normal and free and to not worry. But I can’t. Because our leadership at every level – but especially at the top – is cruel and dysfunctional and because so many people don’t believe this will affect them and haven’t made enough sacrifice in the shorter-term to give all of us a little more freedom in the longer-term. It’s another great American tragedy unfolding before our eyes, and just like climate change and police brutality and systemic racism and sexism, it will go unchecked as long as enough people remain unaffected by or in denial of the worst of it.