By Nadine Araksi, Toronto-based Story Coach

Like many of you, my kids have been home since March 13. After a spring of yelling at various members of this household to get on their Zoom calls, I have enjoyed a summer of leaving them to their own devices (literally), taking them on mini-vacations and enjoying our lunches together outdoors. But there is no divide, no podcast-filled commute between work time and home time to prepare for my alternate state. I am always both Mom and Work Nadine now and I miss compartmentalization. Compounded by my ADD brain, focus work has become impossible, or so it feels.

Why should we care about kids going back to school? Because the health of our economy relies on parents being able to get work done, and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get focus work or a conference call done with kids around, but there’s this classic video of a dad being interrupted by his offspring during a BBC interview to shed some light if you’re not familiar. (I will never tire of this video.)

The future leaders of the nation need to be educated and properly socialized (although Steph would say that, just like feeding them, this is a choice and we could choose to make other choices/priorities – HA). We now have an entire generation of kids that will see a portion of their childhood through the lens of lockdowns and isolation. While I believe kids are resilient, I can see what is happening in my own home. We’re tired of talking to each other, the same faces day in, day out. We may be closer, we may have improved a lot of our household chore skills (yay to kids making meal kits or baking unsupervised), and my kids may get along without fighting, but whoa do they miss the routine of in-school education and being around other kids.

The New York Times called this the Shecession, with RBC Economics reporting 1.5 million Canadian women losing their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. The wage gap means that in many heterosexual couples, the mom takes on the brunt of childcare and schooling in this time because she earns less. Some moms are doing many shifts, forgoing sleep to answer emails and get on top of expectations early in the morning or late at night. Others, like me, are just letting their performance and productivity slide, which causes self-image issues. It’s all exhausting.

Frankly, there’s no back-to-school plan that feels good to me. Almost every parent I know is somewhere on the scale between complete apathy and losing their shit. As parents, we’re being asked to choose one kind of health over another. Send your kids to school so they can learn and be socialized, but risk exposing them to Covid. Or keep your kids home and quit your day job to teach them, risking your own mental health because you’re not an actual teacher (nor do they take instruction from you). Or collaborate on some sort of “microschool” or schooling pod if you have the resources to do so and because it seems safer, but contribute to a growing equity gap in education. There was always risk involved with sending kids to school, but after months of hiding our offspring at home to protect them from this invisible monster, how do we confidently prioritize our sanity and theirs by sending them back?

It’s easy to let my mind spin about all the possible choices and options. Some friends of mine have shifted their energy to advocacy, because it all just feels so out of our control right now and getting loud is a good outlet for all that energy. I’ve been surprised by my own casual approach to kids going back to school. On one hand, as a lifelong anxious person, I would expect myself to agonize over the options. I have two special needs kids, who both highly benefit from being in a classroom, but who are also slightly more prone to strokes due to genetics, and strokes are something we’re seeing happen in some Covid-19 cases. I now have the added concern of being in a relationship with an elementary teacher. One more person to keep safe. But while I feel a current of low-level anxiety running in the background about back-to-school, when I check in with myself it’s more about getting the team back into a routine and yelling about lunches and homework. Because whether schools open or not is out of my control. I’ve learned through coaching that the circumstance is neutral and I get to choose my thoughts about it.

So my thoughts around the education plan are surprisingly pretty calm and “let’s wait and see” right now. At the time of this writing, there are about 12 days until my kids are meant to sit at a desk. I have sent a casual text to their dad about doing inventory on masks and hand sanitizer, things firmly within our control that can help the kids stay safer. I have told the kids that after a summer of making their own lunches, at 13 and 15 they are now officially in charge of their own lunches. I also know that the plan could change many more times, because it’s such a hugely political and emotional topic for so many, so maybe there’s no sense getting worked up about it until closer to the date

If there’s one thing Steph has taught me, it’s that making a decision, any decision, moves you forward and gives you a data point. And since we’ve decided as a family that everyone is going to go back to school to see how it goes, we are assuming the risk that comes with it. Also, one of my favourite Rumi quotes (yes, go ahead and roll your eyes) ends with “Do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” When I zoom out, try as I might, I don’t know how school is gonna go. What if it turns out to be worth the risk? What if everyone does their best and the kids stay healthier than they typically would during cold and flu season? We just don’t know. When faced with uncertainty, the outcome has equal chance of turning out awesome as it does sucking. Where do I want to put my energy and my thoughts?

I hope I don’t sound all Pollyanna about it. Everyone is making big compromises and taking different approaches, different levels of risk. I get it. It’s less than ideal. But what if, out of all this, we find a path to a truly new way of educating our young people, of supporting educators, of coming together as communities (masked and at a distance for now) to make a better world? Isn’t that ALSO a possibility?

So forward we go, taking this one day at a time. Measuring, evaluating, assessing whether the school plan of today works for us. And when it no longer does, then we get to work to change it to suit what we want.

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