I had an interesting question posed to me last week. I’ve been pondering it and agonizing over it for days. Frankly, it has put me into a real funk and led me to a fatalistic answer.
The question? If the kids (my grandchildren) go back to school in person, what will you do about to visiting them and the rest of the family?
The answer? Throw up my hands in defeat and go to living my life as it was. If I get sick, I get sick. If anything happens to Travis and his family or Dani and hers, I don’t want to live anyway. So I may as well just take the same risks that they and their children are taking.
I’m not getting to see them now out of caution even though I’ve been quarantining and distancing since the beginning and even now go very few places and see only a select, small group who have also been very careful. For the first time ever, I didn’t welcome my father to my home with open arms and no reservations. Instead, I told him he could come only if he was taking all precautions so that I would be able to see my granddaughter. It hasn’t mattered much. Travis isn’t letting me come down for our normal dinners. He’s also told me that if things aren’t any different when Christmas comes around, no one will be allowed into his house who has not completely isolated for two weeks prior. That means I will be spending Christmas Eve alone if I want to see my son and my granddaughter on Christmas. It means I can’t spend it with my group of friends who are so close that we refer to the group as “The Fam.” I will have to isolate when he and his father cannot.
I’ve had to stop having dinner with Dani and her family for a two-week quarantine periods twice since the restrictions have been loosened. These came because of the kids going to church youth group activities where no one was distancing or wearing masks. When we began meeting again, Dani told the grands who were there that we were only welcome if we stayed to the rules. As the only legal parent these children have, she can’t take chances. I fully respect that decision and stand by it. But then it was bent by the children.
All in all, it doesn’t matter what I do. The rules are being made and bent and shattered by people everywhere. At the point where the kids go back to school, all of the precautions I have been taking are meaningless. If I can’t see them for the next nine months of the school year because it is too dangerous for me to be around them, I call bull shit. If it is safe for them to be in school, it is safe for me to be with them. If it is safe for my friends and colleagues from my teaching days to go to work, it is safe for me to visit families where the children are in school. Spending nine months in solitary would be like death anyway.
Do I actually believe it is safe for the kids, for the teachers, and for the families? Well, no. But that doesn’t matter. There is no solution that is a win for the kids, for the teachers, for the families, and for the economy.
SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS ON OPENING SCHOOLS
All of those children living where schools will be open will be walking into schools where:
- the recommended limit of 25 people for an indoor activity cannot be accommodated
- recommended social distancing is impossible
- the state has said that no one can actually force anyone to wear a mask
- any child or adult who claims a health reason for not wearing a mask cannot be asked any questions regarding the health issue and cannot be forced to wear one
I’ve seen pictures of the desks with plastic shields separating one desk from the next. One teacher even made them look festive with beach umbrellas over each quad of desks. Great. They look like cute and valiant efforts to give the illusion of safety…and they are safer…if the children are sitting ON the desk. If they are in a chair pulled up to the desk, they are not shielded. All they have to do is turn their heads and they are facing another child. And, of course, we’ve all been taught to turn our heads when we cough or sneeze.
I listen to people arguing that children can’t catch COVID-19. In one evening news broadcast on ABC recently I heard government officials asserting that while the very next story was about the rise in cases among children. I listen to others saying that at least if they catch it, it isn’t as serious for them. And then I hear of a new illness – multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) an illness to which children who survived COVID-19 can succumb that can be fatal or can have lifelong effects.
People argue for the mental health of the children who cannot go to school. Children need to be able to socialize and learn social skills. And I get it. That has long been one of my arguments against home schooling.
They fight tooth and nail for the right to play sports because that is vital. And I get that. Almost. I see the truth of what they say about the value of sports in the development of a child but can’t get on board with the place they have given it on a list of priorities.
I know that parents need a place to send their children so that the parents can go to work. The teacher in me wants to climb the tallest tower (even with my fear of heights) and shout that the school is not your freaking babysitter. But I know that it is. And I know that for all the value some people place on education, the sole purposes of school are to provide babysitting and sports. I don’t like it, but I get that.
I’m more aware than many people of the role schools play in the health, safety, and nutrition of many children. Some children only have food stability because they are in school. For some it is the place of respite from the violence, abuse, and drugs in the home. It breaks my heart because I get that too.
What I really know is that all of the situations we face for fall are no-win situations.
I don’t have to make the decision of whether I will send my child back to school. My child has to make that decision for his child. My “daughter” has to make that decision for her children. But I worry and agonize over the choices they have to make. I don’t even know what advice I would give because there is no obviously best idea.
I don’t have to make the decision for myself as a teacher since I’m retired, but I worry for my friends and former colleagues who do have tough decisions to make. There are teachers making up new wills out of fear for their lives and some writing their own obituaries (many of the latter being a means of protest). I can’t tell them what to do either.
Usually in a crisis people band together to do whatever they can for their communities, for the common good. We don’t have that going on in this time. I listen to the people in my neighborhood, read the comments from friends on Facebook, talk to my closest friends, and watch our so-called leaders on television. No one knows what is going on. This is all new territory. They aren’t taking the time to allow the medical experts to learn, provide guidance, and continue to learn and provide updated guidance. Instead of acknowledging that this is uncharted territory and the experts are doing their very best, people are placing blame and making accusations.
All we have division and hate. We have people spewing hatred to anyone different – different race, political party, economic standing, gender, sexuality, etc. We have conspiracy theories. We have people concerned only for their own desires and “rights” – the rest of y’all be damned. We have people flaunting the guidelines being given from our elected officials – and why not! Our elected officials can’t get together and do what is best for the country. They are busy making this all about politics and the upcoming election. The elected officials and their minions (I won’t call any of them leaders because what has been clear in these months is the dearth of leadership we have) are showing their true colors in being only interested in themselves and getting reelected rather than their country.
The only expression of solidarity I’ve seen is a post from nurses encouraging teachers. They offered words conveying that they understand what the teachers are facing because they have been doing it all along. They also offered a vote of confidence that we did it and you can too.
Others went from recognizing a bit of what a teacher actually does and hailing them as heroes in the spring to telling teachers to suck it up and get back to their jobs. They claim that if store clerks can work so can teachers. Anyone able to tell me how spending a full day in a room filled with others in close quarters from whom you cannot distance is anything at all like being a cashier who has short encounters with individuals in the public at a social distance and with a plastic shield placed between them?
I taught 130 students a day. They were each in a classroom with multiple people for a prolonged period and then switched to my room where they mingled with different people. This continued all day. So my 130 had many more encounters that they would then share. When one kid in a middle or high school comes down with the illness and you have to quarantine everyone they have come in contact with…well, good luck. It isn’t just the one classroom and one teacher. It’s likely to be the entire junior class, all of their teachers, sophomores and seniors who also had classes with the juniors, and then the rest of the sophomores and seniors and their teachers who had contact…
What I know for sure is that people are hateful and self-centered. Everyone seems to be only concerned with what will work for their particular situation. No one wants to listen to what anyone else is experiencing, what their truth is. Maybe my living like a hermit isn’t all that bad if only I could see my kids.