They are excited. I am apprehensive.
When the fear of Covid-19 first shuttered the schools we worked at and attended in mid-March, my daughters and I cried. They were scared of falling behind. I was scared we’d get sick. They worried they would miss their friends. I worried I would not be enough: I would not teach enough, talk enough, give enough, provide enough, entertain enough, soothe enough, be steady enough.
And yet, some part of me was giddy that somehow, in this life, in this strange twist and turn, I got to be a ‘homeschool mom,’ if only for a few months. I got to have that experience, to pull back my growing, fleeting, pre-teening children and plant them in the warm safety of our four walls, away from the panic and pain and busyness and brutality and endless consumption – endless exploitation – of the rest of the world. We would be like the March girls of Little Women, drawing on one another for all things we need. It would be like when they were three and five years old, my eldest not yet spending days in school or visiting friends down the street. It would be something like the vision – the hope – I have for a distant future; grandchildren in my mind’s eye:
a tall, thin boy with a shock of black hair and green eyes towers over me as I teach him to knead bread. Girls with Cailena’s curls noisily following the footsteps of their grandfather, a chill of winter still all around them having returned back from those things they might do: street hockey, ice skating, chicken hunting. A houseful of young people, filling all quiet space with laughter, song, questions and ideas.
For more than four months, we did live that way, our now-family. We told stories and created art and took long walks and short runs and played road hockey and learned to skate and built lego houses and made music and seeded small pots and, then, a large garden. We made chore charts and groomed pets and baked – and baked, and baked – and planned and dreamt and built forts with the discarded old Christmas tree their Dad hadn’t yet chopped into campfire wood. We set up learning stations and made video calls and searched and researched and debated and ‘virtually visited’ great museums & galleries and wrote poems & essays and struggled when the answers didn’t come easy, or when tech didn’t cooperate at all. We read books again – and again, and again – developing appetites so ferocious the book-buying came to surpass the cookie-baking. We looked through photo albums, meandered through conversations cradling mugs of Ovaltine or hot chocolate in our palms. There were afternoon naps and basement sleepovers. Tight hugs and hand-holding like they were four years old. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, then Easter, then Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the summer solstice, and the first of July.
Part of this time was heartbreaking. There were tears after video calls because of how much my daughters missed the friends and teachers that showed up on the screen. There developed a terrible refrain, sprung from anxiety whenever mistakes were made: I’m so dumb! I’m so dumb! I need to go back to school! There were fears that the world would leave us behind as if everyone out there was still motoring forward. There was the sometimes still and sometimes rushing current of concern ever-present just beneath the skin. When will we see family again? When will they see friends? How long will this last? How long can it?
Slowly, we eased into small-circle friendships and strategized northern family visits as reported numbers diminished. The presence of our old bonds wrapped us like laces around a shoe, strapping all parts of us together, making us strong, grounded, able, ready.
Now rates of infection are no longer slowing.
Cases are rising, fast, much faster than we’ve seen before.
The kids are going back to school, and they are delighted.
And I am happy for them.
The shoes are tied, and, still, the current rushes.
Despite much simple, simpering platitudes from our premier about The Albertan Way and standing like buffalo or some such nonsense, no extra effort is being taken by our government to make the schools safe. There will be no extra funds contributed to school districts for sanitization, PPE, janitorial needs, to replace equipment like the current tables used with individual desks, or – most importantly – to decrease class sizes. Last year, there were 33 children in my eight-year-old’s class. The Nordic countries our premier has credited with opening schools safely insist re-openings can only be accomplished by keeping school cohort groups to 15. It is clear classes must be small and well-funded to be safe.
I want my children to learn, and to learn with their friends. They can’t live away from other children. They can’t be readied for adulthood without their teachers. The truly enraging part is that it shouldn’t even be a worry. It never had to be like this. It didn’t have to be a big school versus no school decision. In fact, if our schools had been properly funded from the start, we wouldn’t have had to have shut down at all.
In many-times-over oil-rich Alberta, schools could have been prioritized. Our parents’ generation could have invested in schools, our grandparents’ generation could have, and we could have, too. Hell, look at how much we could have invested into schools, but instead threw away. Now, we are in a recession, almost certainly heading toward depression. In underfunded schools during this pandemic, our children suffer, we will suffer, and our grandparents will suffer most of all.
And yet… I’m not really worried for my children’s health.
Okay, maybe 10%… or 30% (If I don’t think about it too much).
What I really worry about is if September 1st is the last time we can safely take the children to visit their grandparents. What I really worry is that this virus will sever generations, will push those who raised us, need us, into small rooms away from us.
And damn right I worry about the economy because I don’t want my someday-grandchildren avoiding me because their classrooms are too large. I worry this generation – ours – won’t learn from past mistakes. I worry we won’t see that we’re the next seniors to be tucked away and isolated from loved ones “to protect the vulnerable” because we keep electing people too bloated-up selfish to properly fund schools and old folks’ supports now. I’m worried that, collectively, we’ll fail to safeguard the visions, the hope, we have of a distant future.
I worry if we continue to forsake the public school system, the systems we’ve neglected will someday force our grandchildren to forsake us, too.
If you are also concerned about the Alberta Government’s lack of sound plan to re-open our schools, use this link to contact Premier Jason Kenney.