My Sadness As Schools Return

This morning I drove past a school. Metal poles were connected with red and white plastic tape flapping in the wind, dividing the school field into separate zones. A stark reminder that different classes or “bubbles” mustn’t mix. I was hit once more by a wave of grief. This is life now, this is the price we have to pay for keeping our families safe and getting an education. We can’t turn back time and stop COVID-19 from ever appearing and yet I wish with all my heart that it never happened.

A school christmas concert that probably wont happen this year thanks to Covid-19
My eldest in her Christmas concert in Reception

I believe in the importance of grieving when we experience a loss. It’s important to allow time to feel sad and to process any form of loss, even when it’s “just” for a future that wont happen as hoped. I’m sure there are plenty of positive people out there who think I should just get over it, or be grateful for what we have, and I am, but please allow me a little time for my grief first. 

As my youngest daughter starts school I am really sad for the things she wont get to experience this year. I am grateful that she doesn’t realise how different her first year at school could have been: the items missing from the classroom, the events, school trips, concerts, fetes, the birthday parties. I wont be telling her, but that doesn’t stop it making my heart ache.

I am sad that my eldest will miss out on these too, that she can’t even play with friends in other classes and that she knows what might have been. Even my son is missing out on so much because it’s easier for me to keep him at home than to worry about what he might be licking in a soft play or playground. 

School will make every effort to make it as normal as possible while keeping our children safe, just like we as parents do at home, but we are all limited on what we can do and planning is so hard as the rules are changing all the time.

Despite everything that has happened this year children are resilient. My children know it is all different at the moment and yet they are fine and mostly looking forward to school. We have gradually eased towards a “new normal” as lockdown has lifted and the transition is undoubtedly easier for us than those who have been shielding for many months. My 4 year old was role playing with us yesterday and told us that in the pretend restaurant we had dividers between the tables and had to use hand gel “because of the virus”. When we are out they often forget that they shouldn’t be touching everything and to keep their distance, but they know what they should be doing if asked. 

And yet ask my daughters what they are looking forward to in the coming months and they will say “trick or treating” and various Christmas activities. My eldest said she was excited about Year 4 because they get to be “book buddies” and read with the younger children. I can’t see how any of these activities will happen, at least not in any recognisable form. I try to prepare them, but it all feels so cruel. I feel like the Grinch cancelling Christmas and of course I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know for sure what will happen so I don't want to upset them for no reason.

I want my children to be back at school. I need them to have some routine, normality, friends and an education that I just can’t give them at home. How long will they get to be there though? We all know that school means coughs, colds and illnesses. It’s inevitable despite the enforced and improved hygiene. My eldest is due to go back to school tomorrow and while writing this I thought I heard her cough. I called her in to the room and asked (or probably barked in an overly stressed sounding voice due to the anxiety) “did you cough?”. She denied it, but it was just a reminder of how I felt in the Spring: constant worry about any signs of illness, questioning whether coughing a couple of times is the start of a “persistent cough” or just a brief tickle in the throat. There is the reassurance that we can at least get tested if we are worried now, but there is a real risk that I’m going to encourage health anxiety in my children that will take years to recover from.

I know that despite the constant threats of a second wave, despite new local lockdowns and suggestions the virus is getting more infectious that the death rate is going down. The risk of serious harm is hopefully getting lower, or is it just that the people most likely to die already have? I choose to believe that my children and loved ones are safe from COVID-19 if we take sensible precautions. I have to believe this or I wouldn’t be able to function from fear. Instead I worry about how long my children will get to stay in school and grieve for what I know they are missing out on. 

Just like for the last 6 months we all have our survival mechanisms, our ways of coping with the unknown. As someone who needs to feel in control, someone who needs to have plans I find it challenging. I don’t feel comfortable just waiting and seeing, or hoping for the best, I never have. Planning that events wont happen is as close as I can get to reassurance right now, but with that comes the grief.

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