An Impossible Position for Parents

Exactly a week ago, I wrote about the impossible position our schools are in. How no matter what their decision will be, there will be a lot of people pissed at them. Now, it’s time to talk about the impossible position we as parents are in right now.

As parents, it’s our number 1 priority to ensure the safety of our kids. We are responsible for making hard decisions every day about what’s best for them. We plan out where to live to make sure they are in the best schools we can provide them. We carefully pick out a pediatrician so that they get the best care we can provide them. We make every decision to do what we think is best for our kids. The minute a decision is made that isn’t in the best interest of our kids, that’s a failure on our part. We’re not perfect as parents; we’re just trying to make it through the day without anyone dead, if possible, and with as much of our sanity intact that we can salvage.

This pandemic has divided parents as much as other hot topics such as vaccines, breastfeeding, babywearing, and staying home/going to work. The thing is that at our core, every parent has their own ideological beliefs that drive them. Some parents think that school is so important to kids that they are willing to just risk it. It’s no worse than the flu anyways, right? Some parents don’t have the option because the world is fundamentally stacked against the working people, so they have to send their kids to school out of financial necessity whether they believe it’s safe or not. Some parents are so stuck on the idea of remote learning because of fear of the virus entering into their carefully crafted bubble or just because they believe that masks are deadlier to kids than the coronavirus is.

Then, there are parents like me that are torn. Sort of. My oldest, as long as if there are sports and he can participate in them, will likely do remote learning either way. I just don’t understand how they expect to keep high schoolers maintained enough for proper contact tracing if a virus outbreak in the school happens. I just have too many questions that I feel aren’t addressed. Does he get in a cohort with kids who have the same exact courses as he has? Does he have to sacrifice classes, like his AP classes, because he’s in a cohort that doesn’t offer those classes? Sure, it’s been 18 years since I’ve been in high school, but high schoolers like mischief. They like rebellion. They probably won’t wear masks, or they’ll pull that super awesomely effective move where they wear the mask under their nose. They’ll huddle around each other and the schools won’t properly monitor that. They’ll pull down their mask and cough on someone screaming “Corona!!!” thinking it’s hilarious. Plus, he’s on an already overly crowded bus. Even in cohorts, how are they going to manage the safety of the kids on the bus? There are too many questions and I personally enjoy having a child who is alive and being alive myself that I just can’t risk it.

The issue is then my youngest child. He receives services in school. He’ll be 8 when school starts. He has anxiety attacks and a sensory disorder that they said he would’ve grown out of by now, but hasn’t. He requires movement breaks and his noise-cancelling headset when he gets anxious or the class is too loud. How is that going to work in the new COVID classroom? How can we expect that these kids are going to keep their distance or even keep their mask on? How can we expect that they will wash their hands regularly? What about when they eat together? They need their mask off to eat, so how does that happen safely with kids? But, he’s at an age where school is so important for his social and emotional development, an area where he does need help in.

I understand that sending him to school is a preferable choice. Even at the beginning, I mentioned that my plan was to go hybrid for my youngest and remote learning for my oldest. But after last week’s school council meeting, I don’t trust that they really have a viable plan to keep my kids safe. Even if they have a plan, I’m not sure I trust the higher ups to follow through with their end of the bargain. This puts us parents who have to make this choice in a really hard spot. What are we supposed to do? The default for me as a parent is to err on the side of caution, suck it up, and do my best. That means both will be in remote learning, even though I’m risking the mental health of my child (and myself, the way last year went). But that’s our difficult decision.

Parents always find their way when making these impossible choices. It’s not for us to judge others for their choice. This isn’t a time where you call the remote learning families “scared wusses that fall for media scare tactics and propaganda”. This isn’t a time to put down those pushing remote learning as “bored, stay at home mom keyboard warriors and what about us parents who actually work”. We’re all trying to do the best we can in a situation that we’ve never had to face. There’s no parenting book on how to raise a child during the pandemic. Even if they were, how useful are parenting books anyways? They just make you feel bad about yourself because nothing works for you. We are forging our own paths here and a little more support and a little less judgement is the right play here.

We Look Towards Our Leadership… And They Failed

We trust our school council with the lives of our children. Our children, the most precious things in a parent’s life. These are the people who we are entrusting right now to make an informed decision on what’s best for the education of our children during these uncertain times. Sure… we have an option of remote learning no matter what they decide, but that’s not the point. The point is: why weren’t they better prepared?

The schools should have been working on a plan since March to come up with all of these “what ifs”. What if this virus gets worse? What if it’s still a major issue come fall? How do we do a great remote learning plan in case we need it? How long do we offer remote learning? Will we open school in phases, like the state did? There are so many questions I have. What if my senior in high school gets exposed one time, then needs to quarantine for 14 days? He can only miss 16 days for the entire school year, so what happens if he gets sick or has to quarantine for another 14 days? Are they getting rid of the attendance rules? My youngest has anxiety attacks. Are we going to put him in a “sick room” with another kid who might have the virus because he’s showing symptoms, so he can get infected? What if he has an anxiety attack and tears off his mask because he’s hyperventilating? These are real concerns and I’m not unique in struggling with them.

The meeting had flawed statistics. Of course the remote learning wasn’t successful. Half the time the sites were down and the teachers were completely unprepared and were thrown into this remote learning plan without any real experience with it. How can you say that you can’t really measure attendance and the success of remote learning and then show charts of how unsuccessful it was? Great, there haven’t been many cases of kids getting sick in Chicopee… because parents have been smart about protecting their kids. My kids also didn’t get a bad flu like they normally would during the early spring because they weren’t in school either. The original basis for the recommendations for face to face learning are flawed to begin with. But we’ll stick with the flawed recommendations because…. why not?

Maybe we should listen to our teachers. You know, those people who are severely underpaid for what we expect of them and under-appreciated who are tasked with educating our children for 180 days a year. Maybe we should take their concerns, being on the front lines and all, and listen to what they think is best for our kids. They’re the ones in the schools. They are the ones we are asking to risk their lives for our children. Maybe they should have more of an impact on this decision.

At the meeting, it seemed like the representatives were unprepared. I sat through this 2 1/2 hour meeting for answers, because I wanted to be prepared. So I could make the best decision for my children. So I could be prepared. I looked to the school council to help me be prepared. I looked to them, the people that we as citizens of this city voted in, to give us answers so that we knew what we were going to do as a family for our kids. And these leaders and our mayor failed us.

Some members of the council, including my ward 7 councilman, asked great questions. What about lunchtime in the high schools? The representative from one of the high schools stated the precautions they were going to take. My son laughed. “I can barely get lunch some days because the cafeteria has no room for us. How do they think we’re going to accomplish 6ft. distance?” He’s right. My kid gets it. Why don’t they?

It started out to be a reasonable discussion with the school council giving their comments, until the Ward 1 councilor passionately spoke on the subject. Which led to a heated… tantrum. Which led to a postponement of the vote. For a week. Us parents need to wait anxiously for another week when they should have been better prepared. They should have had a better plan. The meeting was a failure. It was embarrassing as a resident of the city to see things turn ugly like that. It was frustrating to sit for nearly 3 hours to get answers, to get nothing but watching grown adults shout at each other. It was awful to realize that we have trusted these people to make these decisions and they couldn’t do it. Instead we get a “Well, let’s do remote learning until Springfield starts their hybrid approach to see if it’s safe enough for our students”. What? Let’s see how those sacrificial lambs do in the next city over to see what we’re going to do? Insane.

At this point, I’m not sure why I’m more afraid to send my kids back to school. Is it because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away? Or is it because these representatives of our city are the people making the decisions that directly impact my kids?

The Impossible Position of Our Schools

Our district just laid out a draft for the upcoming school year. I feel bad because no one is going to be happy. The fact of life is that they can’t please everyone. They will get slammed with insults. How dare they make our kids wear masks?! Good luck. Maybe I’m unique in making my kids practice wearing masks in anticipation of this requirement, even if we’re at home. Why? Because the masks aren’t going away anytime soon and neither is this pandemic. It’s common sense.

The smart play would be to take this process in phases, much like the reopening of the state. Start off by doing the remote-only option for students who don’t need any special attention at the schools. This allows the students who actually need to be in school, whether they receive OT or other services, to go there in the safest way possible. Then, as the situation starts to get better, slowly transition into their hybrid model. Then finally, when they get to the threshold of under 5% positive cases, they can safely return to full-time. It should be a slow, phased-in process. If it’s good enough for reopening the states, it’s good enough for the schools. If things start to get bad again, roll back to the previous phase.

Granted, I’m not an expert on the educational system. This is all opinion as an outside observer. I think a rational approach, not a political one, is the approach we should take. This isn’t the teachers being too lazy to teach; it’s them not getting paid enough to risk their lives (or the lives of their loved ones). They didn’t sign up to be babysitters, people who take bullets for our kids. But that’s often the realities of their job. The perception of their job. It’s not their fault a pandemic has taken over the country and there’s no leadership stepping in to stop it. They definitely didn’t sign up to potentially die of a virus in a slow and excruciating manner because parents need the kids to back to school.

As a parent, I’m concerned about sending my kids to school. I’m concerned about them bringing something home that could kill someone with my craptastic immune system. I’m concerned about them bringing something to school that could potentially kill someone else. I’m concerned that my kid won’t keep his distance from others or keep his mask on all day. I’m concerned that my oldest will take an overly crowded bus to school, then swap around to 7 different classes and god knows where he got whatever he brought home. It’s a mess. This whole thing is impossible for our underfunded school systems to deal with. And they aren’t the ones responsible for this mess.

So let’s not get mad at the schools for trying to keep our kids and themselves safe from becoming another statistic of this virus. Let’s work together and start supporting our schools for everything that they do for our children. Ask what they need. My school district gives out lunches during the week, even though it’s summer, to ensure the kids are eating well. My school district seems intent on wanting the safest approach while still educating my children. I appreciate them for trying their best and working with what they have. They deserve our appreciation, not our scorn.

Teachers with Guns

I’m not sure about most people, but I can think about a few teachers in my time at school where the thought of them with a gun was infinitely scarier than the craziest kid in our class. I won’t name names, but trust me there are a few of them that I swear would have shot their students if they had the means to. Times were different back then. I think. I don’t even know anymore. For all I know, back then was the wild west and they all had guns. Times were different back then.

Joking aside, this week there will be a national protest against gun violence in schools where students will be walking out. (My oldest has been deeply considering this and asked my opinion. As I did the last time he pondered walking out, I shrugged and told him to do what he thought was right. Not sure where he ended up but I guess I’ll find out when he gets home.) I remember when Columbine happened. I remembered the drills that took place afterwards, where the police would actually pretend they were shooters trying to break in the classroom. It was scary, even as a teenager. I knew it was fake. I knew it was just a drill. It was still terrifying as they aggressively banged on the locked door trying to get in. Realism got the point across back then: we weren’t safe in the schools. Every time there was a fire drill, I would worry that it was a fake and something was going to happen. I remember wanting to cover my ears and trying, only to be scolded for it. I remember my chest feeling like it was going to cave in every time we had any drill at the school. It wasn’t their fault. This was just how things were going to be now.

Then, I became a parent. I wasn’t too worried about him at elementary school. Those places are so locked down that you can’t even get in while wearing a hat. Then Sandy Hook happened. I worried every time that I put my oldest on the bus to school that today was going to be the day I get the bad news. Now, I worry about both of them in school. School should be the one place where they are safe from that level of violence. Children should not be massacred in schools.

This is not an anti-guns post. I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti-crazy people and criminals with guns. There’s no perfect solution for this that will fix it overnight. People are going to hurt people no matter what. That’s a fact and a scary one. What this will be is a post that is anti-teachers in the classrooms with guns. The idea of giving federal aid to schools to train teachers to use guns and have them in the classrooms is insane to me. First of all, the original scenario: Giving guns to underpaid individuals in high-stress jobs never ends well. Also, where is this money coming from? I see a lot of policies coming out of this administration that involve money but not a lot of revenue coming in. There is also the final problem with this solution: you have schools that do not have enough money to run, buy supplies, or can’t run after-school programs. There’s no aid coming in for that. But, hey, let’s give them money so they can spend it on the NRA’s cause so I can get more money when election season rolls around. The idea makes me feel uneasy and almost makes me consider homeschooling as an option.

The point is that teachers already don’t have what they need to run a classroom and teach our children. They don’t have the time or the resources because of bureaucracy and lack of funding. But now, you are going to give them money for guns. Awesome idea. Why not make sure that the resource officer is actually on site in case something goes wrong? Why not give them that money to focus on helping kids who are bullied to the point of wanting to shoot up a school? Why not use the money to create better anti-bullying initiatives or more ways to constructively decompress at school so kids aren’t so stressed out? I can think of a dozen other ways that money could be used to help prevent these things that do not involve arming that crazy teacher that doesn’t even want to be there to begin with.

I agree with the sentiment that “guns aren’t the problem; people are.” I don’t have a gun. I’m too crazy for that. I have shot people with a BB gun and didn’t feel remorseful for it. I’m too short-tempered, anxious, and paranoid for that. Heck, I even admit to having something that can be used as a weapon around me at any given time. People are crazy and irrational. Parents are letting their kids do whatever they want without accountability, creating a culture of dumb, entitled, and even more irrational people. “More guns” is not the answer; “fixing the broken culture” is.

From Typewriters to iPads?

In a conversation with my dear friend, we realized how crazy different things are now than when we were in school. Her son started Kindergarten this year, while my son is a seasoned 4th grader. The conversation started when my husband came home, embarrassed that this intern that is following him around at work “basically” called him old. (Take note: my husband is 27.) He drove by someplace and pointed out that there was a game store in this plaza that doesn’t exist anymore and he reminisced about his game genie. While I smiled remembering the game genie, he pointed out that this intern didn’t know what it was and he had to explain it to him. Then, the intern made a look like my husband was old and my husband carried that embarrassment home with it.

After he left, we started talking about our kids at school. She mentioned this interactive white board that the schools have now. Last year they didn’t have them, but this year I remembered playing with the one in my son’s class during open house. Then I mentioned that my son’s school has an iPad for the kids, and she said “my son’s does too”. We sighed for a moment, how could we not? Admittedly, these schools have nice fancy things to teach our kids with now. Then we felt old.

When I was in grade school, we had one computer each classroom from 3rd grade and up. The computers were nothing, and we played Oregon Trail on it. In middle school, we had to take typing… on a typewriter with this jerk of a teacher. My friend, who went to middle school with me, laughed pointing out how we had to do “Space Space X Space” etc. to make pictures print out. Yes, we used typewriters to make boring designs on papers. Now, our kids have iPads.

Times have changed, and technology will always get better. Unfortunately, we’re at an age now where we can say “I remember when  _______” and we feel incredibly old doing so. I bet my husband’s intern doesn’t know that “Jan died of dysentery”. But we can sit there and laugh and remember repeating that for days after playing a level of Oregon Trail. Our kids wouldn’t know what to do with a typewriter if they saw one, and just look at it wondering why there was no monitor. It isn’t a bad thing, technology advancing gives us more tools to have successful and longer/healthier lives. I don’t care how old these changes make me feel, you can keep them coming. Except iPads, Apple fan boys really need to learn that there are better stuff out there. Every other technology can carry on though.