The Nightmare After Christmas-Break

The end of Christmas break has finally arrived! I am filled with hope that the second semester of school will be less roller and more coaster! Only, my children haven’t received the same memo. Actually, life took the memo containing all of my hopes and crumpled it, lit it on fire, and laughed while it turned to ashes.

My children have spent the last nine months doing distant learning first, then traditional homeschool after we moved. Like so many children who are doing the same thing, the lack of social interaction and connection to others their age has led them down a road of isolation bordering depression. Upon realizing and accepting that the loves of my life need more than just the walls of our home and people within it, I decided to enroll them back into traditional school with in-person instruction.

Many other factors played their part in weighing out this decision of course. I don’t know a single parent who impulsively changes the educational track their children are on. Since we moved during the first lock down in March, I needed to learn more about the schools around us to find the best place for them. I looked into the local school district, neighboring districts that allow transfers, and several charter schools. Finally, we decided on one and reached out to them about enrollment.

Through the exchange of emails, phone calls, and a few zooms I was able to get a feel for the administrative team at this new school. I felt comfortable and more confident than I have since before this whole pandemic started to be honest. I was excited. My children were over the moon as well! We made a whole evening out of looking on various stores online to order the perfect combination of supplies. We even ordered brand new face masks to add to our growing collection so extras could be kept in their backpacks just in case they lose one. We were ready for this new journey!

The night before their first day was one filled with uneasy tension as the anxiety set in. Thoughts of new friends, new teachers, and where they would be academically in comparison to their peers weighed on all of us in their own ways. For nine whole months they have been under my protection. They have been home, where it’s safe. This felt like letting them go off to kindergarten for the first time all over again.

They couldn’t help but take their concerns out on each other. Shouts of anger and defense rang throughout the house as they argued about everything. I mean it! Every. Little. Thing. They fought over who the dogs love more, over who used the bathroom last, that insult that was said two years ago and was never apologized for. As hair-pulling as the bickering was it reminded me of the normalcy we’ve been missing. These were the same exasperating behaviors we see at the end of the long two week breaks every year. The moments where the kids sense that school is coming so they decide they can’t spend another second being nice to each other. Escape from their annoying sibling is on the horizon. We need normal again, it makes me smile.

Around the dinner table my husband and I addressed the fighting with each of the children and found ways to ease their minds. They apologized for the mean things they said to one another and we decided to think of all the positive experiences the kids were likely to encounter the next day instead of lingering on the negative.

As my husband and I cleaned up from dinner my son was eager to take his shower, he even washed his hair, twice! My daughter stood in her closet trying to decide which uniformed shirt would be most fashionable, she wants to look fabulous for her first day. The worries are gone and nothing except the initial excitement of school remains for them. We fill their backpacks up with the new supplies and set them by the front door, just like we used to, before we say our goodnights. A story, two sips of water, and one bathroom trip later the kids are finally settled in for the night.  

Once alone, my husband pulls me in, knowing that my anxiety hasn’t faded away as easily. He assures me that they will be okay! He reminds me that they need to be back in traditional school for all the reasons that I already know. He gently tells me that I have to let them go. He is right, of course. He usually is, but don’t tell him I said so. We finish up the evening chores together before settling down to watch a movie. The light from the television screen shines brightly as the movie begins, then the phone rings.

We get the news that we were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. While this shouldn’t be a surprise during a global pandemic that is surging with positive cases after the holidays, it’s still a hit. It’s still alarming. We both inform our employers immediately, knowing that we need to be tested and cleared to return safely to work. We know this virus is real. We know the importance of being cautious and taking the right steps after potential exposure. Then we schedule our tests for the next day, as early as possible. He is able to get an early morning appointment while mine is for late morning.

I am jealous of this, though I am unsure why. Perhaps it’s because I want to know sooner. Or maybe I want us to know together. Either way, our life is paused like the movie we have lost all interest in, until we are tested and get results. We spend all night tossing and turning as sleep evades us. All of the “what if” scenarios that could leave us in ruin play through our minds like a carousel leaving us dizzy and sick. It’s almost a reprieve when the alarm sounds at 6:30 am. That is, until I realize why my alarm is going off so early.

The kids. Their first day back to school. My heart sinks into my hollow stomach as it dawns on me that not only do I have to call the school and cancel with the principal and counselor, who made time on the first day after break to meet me face to face, I also have to tell my children. I crawl out of bed and make my way to the living room where my laptop is already open, like a prop in a bad joke. I email the principal, counselor, teachers, and the receptionist about our current state of living. I inform them that we will give them the results of our tests the moment we get them so we can get back on track with starting school. This is just a little speed bump. Nothing more! I’m not sure who I am trying to convince more with my email.

When my kids wake up, they come out in a flurry. They are wide eyed and confused as to how I let them oversleep when I have obviously been awake for a while! I look into their hopeful and concerned eyes while I tell them that we need to quarantine until we get our results back. That this means starting their new school has to be put on hold. I try to give them a silver lining, if our results are negative then they will be able to start in a few days! They don’t see the bright side. They just see more time spent doing the same thing they have been doing. Their excitement is gone.

I realize now that the hopes of coasting by with an easy and normal second semester are nothing but fantasy. Nothing is easy or normal in our world today, not for us and especially not for our children. Our results will come back, one way or the other. We will follow any other precautions and steps necessary depending on what they are. My children will start their new school with in-person instruction eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later. Life will continue on like it always has. I just need to strap in a little tighter because this roller coaster isn’t over yet.

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