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The parents are not okay

Jason Gurley
Jason Gurley
4 min read
And suddenly now it’s back to school while cases are rising, back to school while masks are a battleground, back to school while everyone under 12 is still unvaccinated. Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives—except this time, no matter what, kids are going back.

That's from "The Parents Are Not Okay," Dan Sinker's essay in the Atlantic. Felicia texted it to me a few days ago. I read it, then replied:

I shared it with another parent, who replied:

I keep coming back to it, partly because it matters, and partly because it's caught the wind, and it keeps appearing in all the internet places I haunt. I shared it with the parents who I work with, who all can commiserate.

Being a parent right now is hard. All summer long, we'd cautiously planned to send our daughter back to school in person. After all, last year's remote school was hard. Hard on Squish, for whom suddenly school was no different than Daddy's job, hours every day spent at a computer, often in a Zoom meeting; hard on Felicia, who put her own education on hold to facilitate Squish's. There were tears, there was frustration, there was lost hope.

I'm a nervous parent, it's true. A few weeks ago, someone's doorbell camera captured a cougar crossing their driveway in the middle of the night. Just down the hill from us, a neighbor wondered if the scat she'd discovered in her backyard belonged to a bear. I'm utterly unraveled by the idea of my kiddo leaping and laughing and playing outdoors while predators stalk the woods at the edge of our property. The stats don't dispel my worries, but they don't support them, either. There's only a single recorded human fatality by a cougar in Oregon. (Two, if you count an unofficial report from 1868.) And the list of fatalities by bears includes no Oregon instances.

But COVID-19, and particularly the Delta variant, are not so statistically insignificant. We had hoped this year would be different, that our child would go back to school and enjoy some social stimulation again, after more than a year in isolation. After all, what were our other options? Virtual school was once again offered, but this time it wouldn't be conducted by local teachers; it would be a third-party program, one without a stellar reputation for ease of use.

So we planned, tentatively, to send Squish back.

Except:

School is only just starting and already kids are being quarantined in mind-boggling numbers: 20,000 across the state of Mississippi, 10,000 in a single district in Tampa, Florida. They’re getting sick too, with hospitalizations of kids under 17 across the country up at least 22 percent in the past month, by the CDC’s count, and each new week sets pediatric hospitalization records for the entire pandemic. The rapid increase of COVID-19 cases among kids has shattered last year’s oft-repeated falsehood that kids don’t get COVID-19, and if they do, it’s not that bad. It was a convenient lie that was easy to believe in part because we kept most of our kids home. With remote learning not an option now, this year we’ll find out how dangerous this virus is for children in the worst way possible.

Unnerved, we kept a close eye on things. We saw the news reports about kids quarantined en masse in other states, saw the stories about children's hospitals filling up. Closer to home, we noticed that, when the governor mandated masks in schools—for students and staff, no exceptions, and with fines for violations—our local sheriff wrote an open letter to the governor proclaiming that no one in his office would enforce those mandates. We saw our county's numbers rise, then spike. It was enough, and it was too much.

So we made a call. This year—hopefully only this year—Squish is going to learn at home. Not via the online learning option proposed by the district, but via homeschool curriculum we've selected ourselves. Felicia took all the steps required to inform the education service district of our plan, and it's real now. We're not sending our daughter back to school until we're confident school is a safe place.

Squish is onboard with the idea; she was a little worried about going back to school herself. Felicia's singular goal: To make school fun this year. Last year's unpleasantness did some real damage to Squish's optimism and her love of school, and it was hard for all of us to watch that slow-motion car crash unfold. So this year, we're going to do whatever we can do restore some of that joy of learning.  

All this and parents are somehow expected to be okay. We are expected to send our kids off into God knows what, to work our jobs and live our lives like nothing’s wrong, and to hold it all together for months and maybe now for years without ever seeing a way out. This is not okay. Nothing is okay. No parent is okay, and I’m not sure how we come back from this.

Sure, there'll be some rough spots. But it can't possibly be worse than last year. And most importantly, we can do more this way to keep our child safe and healthy, and to stave off our own frustration and outrage with this impossible situation that every parent in America, and many parents around the world, are contending with, too.

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