Where do I start?
I have been intending to post on here for a couple of weeks now but I have struggled to find the time and energy to put words together.
At first I was going to post about how we decided, in the end, to send both kids back to school in person, with the intention of pulling them out if we didn’t like the direction the numbers were going. We made jokes about “if they make it to Thanksgiving”. I would have written about how E. campaigned strongly for remote learning, and about how I told him honestly that I couldn’t afford to fight with him for five hours a day about his schoolwork.
I could have written about all the meetings I (virtually) attended as the school board tried and tried to come up with a plan that would be approved by the government, how they started the parent survey and then had to start it all over again, how they passed a mask mandate for JK-3 (to match the mandate for the older grades already in place), how no one would engage with me on the contradiction of making the children wear masks in the classroom and then having them eat in that very same classroom with their masks off (still no one has engaged with me on this issue). Eventually the board got a plan approved and delayed the start of the school year by a week.
I would have written about how 66,000 students in the first instance picked remote learning, how our school’s in-person enrollment dropped by almost exactly the board average, how the school lost 3.5 teacher positions and had to redistribute and reshuffle the teachers. How I finally got the emails on the Friday before school started, emails which confirmed that E. was still with his teacher from last year, that she hadn’t switched to remote learning, that he hadn’t been removed from her class. The class was now a straight grade four, rather than a 3/4 split. P.’s classroom assignment hadn’t changed either. E’s class was listed as 24 students. P’s was 22 and a straight JK. Even with masks, that was a much better result than the 30 students and a JK/SK split that had caused E. so much distress five years earlier. I told E. that if he switched to virtual learning, he would no longer be in his school, but a new virtual school (the remote learning branch of my school board is apparently the fifth largest schoolboard in the province). I pointed out that if he stayed in the school, if the school was shut down again, he’d be with the same teacher. He agreed it made sense to try the in-person option.
That was the high point.
The kids were with my mum on a visit that was part ‘Grannie is taking the kids because the university semester wasn’t delayed and their parents really really need some concentrated work time’ and part ‘we can’t be in a social circle with anyone once the kids go back because the idea that their contacts at the school are limited to 50 is ludicrous, so this could be their last chance to visit with Grannie for months’.
E. was distraught when we brought them home. He has a really special bond with my mum. It was breaking his heart to know that he wouldn’t be able to properly visit her as long as he was in school.
Next I probably would have written about how the numbers in my city started to climb and climb and climb, how my board had to delay the start of the school year for virtual learning by another week because the number of students enrolled jumped by 8,000 in a week, how I sent many messages to my sisters and my scientist friends, asking for a metric, for guidance, something tangible I could point to as the sign that I should pull the kids out of school.
On Monday I would have written about how P. had a runny nose over the weekend and how I, after extensive consultation with the provincial health phone line and the local public health unit, determined that she wouldn’t be allowed to start school on Wednesday without a COVID test, how I packed her up into the car and went downtown, to a hospital where they took one look at P. and let us skip the (distressingly long queue). How I asked the frontline health workers managing the line if it was always like this and they said this was the ‘new normal’ for September. How we joked in a hollow way about what the lines would look like once all the kids had to start getting tested. How they asked if I wanted a test too and I said why not, since I was there. How I went first, “to show P. that it wasn’t a big deal” and had to forcibly stop myself from jerking my head back at how unpleasant the test was. How I then sat P. on her lap and pinned her arms and her legs in a terrible hug while one frontline health care worker held her head still and a second one took the swab. How P. cried and cried but was willing to pick a sticker for being brave. How we were in and out in thirty minutes and had our test results (negative, not surprised) less than twenty-four hours later.
On Tuesday I would have written about how I took E. to school for his first day of grade four, how he tried to hold it together, but cried at drop off and held my fingers through the chain link fence that I wasn’t allowed to cross. How he, the child who couldn’t tolerate a mask for thirty minutes in April, wore it all day without complaint. How he came home cheerful, but couldn’t report a single positive aspect of the day. How he again asked to do virtual learning, how I again asked him to take it one day at a time.
Wednesday would have been a post on how it was P’s first day (ever) of school, and how Q. and I both walked them because their entry points were on opposite sides of the school and there was no way E. would be ready to go on his own, and how P.’s backpack was so stuffed with her lunch and her indoor shoes and her spare clothes that she looked ready to topple backwards at any moment. How she got into the line and cried when she turned around to wave at me, but still went into the school. How I went home and Q. and I worked in glorious silence and then ate lunch and then were just waiting for the delivery truck with our new appliances (we finally bought a new dryer and dishwasher) when the school called and said that E. had a sore throat and they had him in a wellness room and we needed to come and pick him up. How the principal had double checked the health policy and told me that even though P. and I had just been tested on Monday and E. clearly had the same cold, he couldn’t return to school without a negative test result (or after 14 days of self-isolation), because the health policy is that any child that shows even a single symptom (from a list which includes every symptom that befalls children, especially when they are in an indoor environment with lots of other children) has to be sent home immediately. How, after a grand total of four hours of having both my children at school, I brought the big one home with me, and we packed up a bag in a rush (forgot the hand sanitizer) and drove to a different testing site, where we could wait in the car, because I thought maybe then I could still get some work done. How we hit traffic (why is there always traffic?) on the way there, even in the early afternoon, and how I noticed that they’d stopped accepting new cars maybe twenty minutes after we arrived. How we sat and waited and sat and waited and gradually worked out how the system was operating (which meant E. understood just how many more cars were in front of us). How we grew increasingly worried that the testing site would close before it was our turn, and how I repeatedly told E. we were not going to give up and leave and try again first thing tomorrow. How I tried to prep some slides for the lectures for the courses I am teaching online for the first time (one course for the first time ever). How E. tried to read, and spotted some planes, and we openly judged the people in other cars who left the site and came back wielding boxes of donuts and pizza, having taken themselves into shops while they were waiting for COVID tests. How I had to use the disgusting portapotty, even though I didn’t take a sip out of my water bottle the entire time we were there, because I’d just finished a big mug of tea when the school called, and I was going to pee my pants if I didn’t. How forgetting the hand sanitizer nearly brought me to tears. How it took over four hours for E. to get tested and when we finally made it, he freaked out and tried to pull out the swab and both the health care worker and I had to grab frantically at his hands. How we drove home, E. telling me that he’d never fake a COVID symptom now that he knew what the test was like, with me silently calculating how to game the system if this was to become our new normal (conclusion: always test both children the minute one needs to be tested, because they inevitably pass the germs on, and go to the location where the small one gets to skip the line).
But it is Thursday now, and that means I want to tell you that I barely slept last night because the cold that I didn’t have when I was tested with P. on Monday, that was a sore throat which I attributed to my four synchronous Zoom classes in twenty-four hours on Tuesday, that is definitively not COVID, is now a force to be reckoned with. I’ll tell you that I took P. to school, and she cried again at drop off, but again had a wonderful day (and thank all the gods she did because I do not think I have the strength to manage two school refusers). I’ll tell you that E. stayed home, and I made him read in French for thirty minutes, and then look up five words in his French dictionary (to practice using it), and then I made him write in French and fill two pages in his journal (he wrote about the COVID test experience and, as is his wont, showed no awareness of how to distinguish between the passé composé and the infinitive), and then he read the library books that we picked up on Monday morning that we’d been quarantining ever since, and then after lunch we let him play math games on the iPad for most of the rest of the afternoon.
It was not difficult for me to get a full day of work in. The danger is that this limbo is nothing like virtual or in-person school, that it is largely a continuation of the holidays, and that E. will be ever more resistant to going back if he can’t get into a solid routine before being sent home. I read articles when my sleep-deprived brain rebelled that described the horror waits at testing centres all over the province, and empathized with labmonkey when it took her hours to get a test for Spud. It seems (once again) that this government is only able to react, that somehow it escaped them that if you require every student to be tested for COVID if they have even one symptom, that this might lead to a huge increase in demand for tests as soon as the schools started.
And now it is Thursday night, and his test results are not back, so he is likely to be home again tomorrow, and I haven’t heard from his teacher, and I’m realizing (slowly) that this is a huge issue that the school hasn’t thought about yet – how to support parents when their children are at home awaiting COVID results, because the school will surely be just one big revolving door and kids will fall even further behind if parents aren’t given some guidance on what to do. I’m hoping once all the classrooms have their online presence established (which they are required to do), this will become easier.
Our numbers are skyrocketing.
Our provincial “leaders” are either in denial or are relying on wilful ignorance, their drive to reopen the economy and get everything back to normal apparently superceding anything else, including sensible public health decisions.
I still think the kids will be lucky to make it to Thanksgiving before the schools have to close.
But now I’m wondering just how much time they’ll even spend in the classroom before that happens.