We’re hurtling into a new school year and for those of us with young kids, absolutely nothing has changed regarding COVID-19. We don’t have a vaccine for children, and if anything, Delta is more transmissible and making things even scarier than old-fashioned Alpha. But while last year many parents could choose a remote-school option, this September it’s not even possible. Officials want our kids in the classroom no matter what—which makes sense in many ways—but for people who are risk-averse, have preexisting conditions or just plain health anxiety, it’s terrifying.
I think we all agree that last year took a terrible toll. We want normalcy again. Who can blame us? But, as for me, I also don’t want my kids to get COVID. It feels like a Faustian bargain. And so I’m weighing the lesser of two evils. On one hand, I could yank my children out of school entirely, which is absolutely unrealistic and would probably cause me to lose my job, my marriage and my sanity. On the other hand, I could send them back to school and hope for the best (masked staff, vaccinated teachers)…which is, truly, the only viable choice for me.
And so I’m shopping for masks as though my life depends on it (and it kinda does?) and sending chirpy emails to my 4-year-old’s preschool asking if every teacher is vaccinated (they are). Parenting is all about weighing risk and embracing the unknown in ordinary times, and this is the ultimate exercise in blind faith. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, a period of introspection and repentance, I’m wondering if I’m completely failing my kids by not making them sport hazmat suits.
I asked other parents who went remote last year how they’re coping. It’s not pretty.
“I’m being forced to subject my kid to a level of exposure I wouldn’t even want to do myself, and I’m fully vaccinated. I feel powerless and frustrated,” one mom told me.
“There are things about our school’s policy that terrify me, foremost being that close contacts of more than 3 feet aren’t expected to quarantine after exposure, that classmates aren’t notified of an infected classmate if their seats are more than 6 feet from the infected person, and that students will be eating lunch in the cafeteria. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has left us with no good options,” another frustrated parent messaged. “Schools aren’t equipped to prevent COVID spread, but an attempt at homeschooling would take an immense toll on our family emotionally and academically.”
“My kid definitely needs the socialization. I just hope that anxiety about getting sick doesn’t get in the way,” another parent told me. “I wish they’d distribute real masks—K94s and KN95s—to kids.”
A dad of two elementary-schoolers summed up my feelings entirely: “I feel like we’re sending our kids into some scary void.”
He told me that he feels dread as the school year arrives. I’m not quite at the dread stage, but I do look at my kids—who have very little clue about the risks that await next week—and wonder if I’m failing them somehow. Is this their last week of innocence? Or am I being completely melodramatic? Will they come home each day happy (and COVID-free)?
I just don’t know. And that’s the scariest feeling of all.