This Labor Day feels different from all the others. Used to be that I’d spend the weekend excitedly-slash-neurotically getting my kids’ back-to-school clothes ready, cleaning out backpacks, ordering last-minute school supplies. But it feels futile this time. My kids aren’t going back to a building. There’s no need for chipper haircuts and fresh backpacks. Fresh pajamas and a shower, maybe.
Mentally, though, I’m gearing up more than ever before. Both of my kids will be remote this fall, and most of us will have some component of remote learning in our daily lives—all while we try to balance working, socializing, sports (are you doing sports this fall?) and hopefully some semblance of normalcy. So, I’m not cleaning out my kids’ closets. I’m cleaning out my brain! Here’s what I’m trying to keep in mind:
1. This is temporary. My fourth-grader isn’t going to be forever scarred if his learning experience isn’t stellar for the next few months. Life will go on. This, too, shall pass. But both kids might be permanently scarred if I pass along extra stress to them.
2. My kids actually will learn stuff. It might not be in a traditional classroom, but both of my kids are learning things like resilience, self-reliance, patience and how to advocate for themselves in a new environment. And even though my older son’s classroom (excuse me, “remote academy”) will be virtual for a while, he’s still learning there, too.
3. There are no wrong answers. Unless my kids are licking telephone poles or wetly coughing on unmasked strangers, any decision I make is the best one at the time. No point in second-guessing about soccer or baseball; no point in beating myself up if hybrid actually ends up being wonderful and my son missed the boat. We’re all making the best possible decisions with the information we have right now, filtered through our own personal comfort level.
4. Designing a Pinterest-worthy kids’ learning alcove is a big fat waste of money. I see you, targeted Instagram ads, and I’m not going to be wooed. A battered shoebox for school supplies will do just fine.
5. Education happens everywhere. Maybe I can teach my kids how to make scrambled eggs or, I don’t know, how to write in cursive.
6. Perfection is overrated. I like perfect. I like clean. I like organization. And I really like instant gratification and positive feedback. A lot of us do. But nobody’s watching or judging or monitoring, because they’re all too busy with their own problems. If I want to have a supremely orderly house, I’m only going to do it for myself, not because I think I’m supposed to. My kids really, truly do not care.
7. You can never have too many masks. Buy extra. Where do they all go? Are they all hanging out on a cruise ship in an alternate universe off the coast of Alaska, enjoying a breakfast buffet? They’re the COVID-19 version of stray socks.
8. Simple connections matter. Outdoor playdates, sports, bike rides: There are lots of old-fashioned ways for my kids (well, my older one, at least) to connect with pals. I’m not quite sure about my 3-year-old, who was just starting to make friends when this whole thing hit, but I’m trying to remember that he won’t remember this at all.
9. There are some silver linings. Life has taken on a new cadence: My kids can sleep later without hustling out for drop-off with breakfast hanging out of their mouths. (I can sleep later now, too!) We can share more meals together. I can pop in to help my son with schoolwork if he gets stuck. I get to see his development firsthand in a way I didn’t when he was gone all day. And that’s kinda cool.
10. This will make a good story someday. In the context of parenting, do you really think we’ll ever do anything weirder than weathering a pandemic? This doesn’t happen in every generation. We’ll hold this over our kids’ and grandchildren’s heads whenever we need to. Someday, when my sons call me whining about a sleepless night or a baby who won’t stop spitting up, I’ll simply say, “That’s awful! But, well, I took care of you during a raging pandemic.” (I won’t really say that, but I’ll think it.) We’re doing the best job we can in the most bizarre circumstances imaginable. And that’s enough.