Back to school. It’s been emotional this year, hasn’t it, mamas? 2020 has thrown us more curve balls than we can manage, and let’s just say that for me, my response to the first day of school was another one.
I am a decade into this motherhood gig, so I have been through my fair share of daycare and school drop offs. I still remember the day I carried my eldest in his Chicco carseat into daycare following maternity leave. I juggled bottles of breastmilk, size 1 diapers and my own overwhelming emotions and walked out of the building with a pit in my stomach. I cried, but I saw that coming.
Likewise, I remember the first day I left our youngest child at a very part-time Mother’s Day Out program. Like many moms, my work situation evolved over the years, so she was home with me for the entire first 15 months of her life. She was my right hand gal on errands, work calls and carpool duty for her siblings, so the quiet house and empty car felt a little sad to me even though she was only at “school” for a whopping 8 hours a week. I shed some tears over that transition, too.
And when our baby started “big kid school,” and I had finally reached the promised land of ALL THE KIDS in school ALL DAY … I cried. I mean I also rejoiced, but I definitely cried. Don’t get me wrong; the ability to finally have some freedom in scheduling simple things like those sexy dental appointments was liberating, but I will never forget turning on the TV in a silent house and Daniel Tiger popping on the screen automatically. “Oh, her favorite show. I miss her.” And freaking Daniel Tiger made me cry.
But 2020 school drop off? This one caught me off guard, y’all. Wearing masks, my daughter and I approached the gate and received our temperature checks. We found her class’s assigned spot and waited anxiously in silence, unsure of what was to come. The mood felt … somber? It was quite the contrast to past years where children gleefully ran to one another shrieking and hugging. There were no excited conversations about how the summer was spent, or how much so and so had grown. The atmosphere that morning was eerily quiet and completely unfamiliar. It felt overwhelmingly and utterly sad. When I got back to my car, the tears flowed.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” I thought. “I want to walk her physically into her classroom and give her a big hug before I leave,” was running through my mind. But of course I couldn’t, which, while understandable, was another hard 2020 pill to swallow. As my daughter sat in silence next to classmates, I was just plain sad for her. The kids can barely hear one another through the masks, and they certainly can’t see each other smile. At that moment, it struck me that the kids weren’t even trying to communicate with each other because it was too much work. If I was upset and overwhelmed by it all, I could only imagine how uncertain my children were feeling.
All of this is to say, I was completely unprepared for crying at school drop off at this stage in motherhood. I wanted to scream, “Where is the chapter on parenting amidst a pandemic?” Even our own mothers can’t relate or understand precisely what this feels like. They try, but they don’t know because they simply can’t. What do you say to a 4th grader who asks innocently after the first day of school, “mom do you think Coronavirus will be gone by next year?” Or to a daughter who wonders if they’ll be able to “cross the line” at recess again?
Please know that I am deeply grateful for many things right now, including the ability to send my children into a school where I am confident they are safe, loved and secure. I see all of the teachers hustling, adjusting and making changes to their routine; I know this is hard and uncertain for them, too. I am thankful for a flexible work environment, as well as the ability to have choices in my children’s education right now. I want my children in school, and I will do anything to keep them safe. I understand and respect the need for masks, temperature checks and social distancing. But I still have big emotions about it all, and I don’t think any of us should have to apologize for that.
I don’t know what the rest of the school year holds, and I don’t have the answers. This is new to all of us, and I choose to believe that absolutely everyone is doing their best. I also believe in the concept of “both/and.”
I support kids wearing masks at school AND I am sad they cannot see each other’s sweet smiles. I understand the kids are safer in static pods AND I am sad they cannot play freely at recess with each other. I know that plays, fairs and visitors are off the table AND I am upset about the lost traditions. I am a resilient mom raising resilient children AND I cried on the first day of school.
Feel your feels right now, mama. I didn’t see the tears coming, and maybe neither did you. But I know I am doing my best, and I believe you are, too. And I can’t wait to see your beautiful smile at carpool drop off again one day.