Surviving the Roller Coaster of Back-to-School During COVID-19

I want to talk to you about back to school. (Hang on one second while I stuff cookies in my face. This is my new coping strategy for how to deal with back to school feelings and I don’t have time to judge myself about it right now so let’s just let that part be.) Whether your kids have gone back to school, are learning from home, or a combination of the two, one thing is for sure: you’ve thought about it. Extensively. Exhaustively. Probably even in the middle of the night. And so did your neighbor — who decided to do exactly the opposite of what you’re doing.

We are all second-guessing ourselves these days. How can we not? I’m ready to let go of the idea of a “right” decision because that implies there’s a wrong decision.

This time does not feel easy or comfortable, but transitions usually don’t. (And neither do pandemics, so I’ve heard.) This back to school season we’ve reached the part of the rollercoaster ride where we are ticking up, up, up the incline and you know there’s a drop but you don’t really know what’s on the other side. You’re wondering if you made a mistake getting on, but it feels like it’s too late because if you ask the operators to stop the ride that seems like a really big deal and other people seem to be OK, so you should be OK too. So you close your eyes and rely on your ability to stay calm and you trust that the mechanics and operators have done all they can to keep your safety top priority…. and you drop and you scream and it’s scary but then it slows down and you are stable again.

Our kids need us to hold on tight. Whatever we’ve decided, our kids need us to be confident in that decision. They need that to feel stable. They need that to feel safe.

After this time at home, many of us know our kids better than we ever have before. Trust yourself. And trust that other parents are making the best decision they could make that day too. Let’s just keep checking in with each other. And, of course, with our kids.

This does not mean things can’t change. You may have made your best guess at the beginning of the school year;  you prepared, you went for it and it didn’t work.  It doesn’t mean it was wrong, it means you made the best decision you could based on the information you had at the time. So you re-assess, you make your next decision and you dive in again. That’s still showing our kids we are in control while demonstrating flexibility.  We are showing them we are paying attention. We can’t know how it will turn out, but we can remember that we made the best decision we could for our family with the information we have right now and trust that’s enough, for now.

So what’s next?

I’m ready to move on from this turmoil that is the decision-making process. Who’s with me? I want to dig deep and do what’s next.  If we’re going to school in person, let’s do it! (as safely as we can). If we are learning remotely, buckle up, let’s go!  If we are hybrid, OK! I still don’t know what this means but look at me figuring this out!  (One sec, more cookies.)

I know I still need to get my kids’ hair cut this fall — I think it’s time to say goodbye to the COVID mohawk/mullet/fill in the blank. I know my son has certainly grown out of his sneakers — didn’t I just buy new ones? And I know I’m scrambling each morning to make daily lunches again — remember when making lunches was the thing we complained about?

This year we’re thinking about other things, too.  Maybe we need a space in our house for remote learning, or maybe we’re stocking up on extra masks or sanitizers that hook to backpacks. ExceptionalLives.org created a back to school checklist for families of kids with disabilities with things like helping your child manage anxiety or get comfortable wearing a mask all day.

So what are you doing to prepare for this school year? Or if your school year has started, tell us what’s working. Have you started to create schedules for the kids at home? Do you have a backup plan in case Plan A does not work out? Do you have lists of goals or plans for spaces to transform in the house?  Or are you eating cookies in the corner of your kitchen and doing your best to stay informed and there for your kids? If you have tricks and tips, please share! If you need a minute, take it! Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow try again. We’ll be here.

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