Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. Tidy desks lining the walls. Fresh reams of paper neatly stacked, wondering what life as a tree was like.
This is how school lies in wait for us this late summer night. Mere yards from my bed where I write this. I feel a great many emotions. Joy because the start of a new year is flush with possibilities. Peace because we’ve done all we could do to set up success. Disbelief (is that an emotion?) because I never imagined 8 months ago that we’d be here doing this.
A family of five, living, working, and schooling all in the same square feet.
Early in the pandemic I encouraged my kids to do life the way it is. Not the way we want or think it must be but the way reality has unfolded it at our feet. It’s more true now than even then.
Yet for the first time on the eve of school I don’t fear a school shooting. I suppose you’ve got to gild whatever is available for the gilding.
I do still fear. Mostly my inadequacy as a go-between for my children in their education. Our elbow-to-elbow schedules. Our spending several hours together in one room on various conference calls and video meetings. Chemistry problems. Math I no longer remember. Lack of everyday friendship. The list grows longer the longer I ruminate.
We are not in a terrible position. Our kids are old enough to use a computer adeptly, make their own lunches, and read (which, honestly, is the only reason this could possibly work). My sympathies pour out to parents of lesser means, younger ages, and essential jobs.
I couldn’t send my children to brick-and-mortar school right now even if it were an option. Why? Because I’m privileged enough not to and willing enough to not add strain to the education system.
If anyone didn’t already know, this pandemic should have taught them by now that schools are heavily relied upon to make the world go ’round. Child care. Meals. Health care services. Front line combat of home violence. Socialization. Motor skills. And book learning to boot.
Teachers, administrators, and support staff are in an untenable situation. They know the needs. Many of them experience these needs. Many want to be where they long to be.
I cannot fix education. Or the social systems that entrench Americans in patterns that elevate few and shove down many. I cannot of my own will create a new way wherein people have plenty and can care for their children easily and have simple equity (were that a thing) and all the rest.
I cannot blame any parent for sending a healthy child to school when that is the best of too few options. I cannot blame any teacher for teaching through the risk to provide for themselves. And I cannot blame a teacher who refrains from teaching in an unsafe environment.
I can withhold judgment. I can do the best I can with what I have. I can reduce the educational strain by three students. I can demonstrate for my boys that a thing can be hard and done out of necessity and still be worthwhile, beneficial, and have at least spots of genuine fun.
So tomorrow’s supper sits in the fridge. And new notebooks sleep on fresh desks. Log-ins buzz with restraint, and the house settles into quietude. But the quiet doesn’t always herald a storm. Sometimes it’s just what it is, a slice of contentment exhaling softly. I’m living it as it is.
I hope you have quiet when you need it, fun when you want it, and the best possible, most successful school year ever!