Yoni Goldstein is a writer living in Toronto.
It is now less than one month until the scheduled start of a new academic term, and across Canada parents’ nerves are already frayed thinking about what back-to-school will look like this year. There are so many questions: Will schools be able to stay open for the long haul? Are there enough teachers and health and cleaning staff to make distanced learning work? For students in higher grades beginning the year at home, will remote education be any more effective than it was in the spring? What happens when – it seems more of a “when” then an “if” – there is another outbreak?
The harsh reality is, we may not know the answers to these questions and other vital concerns until school actually starts. But that uncertainty, combined with the continued stubbornness of daily infection rates amid expanded business reopenings, has led many parents to wonder aloud whether they’ll even feel comfortable sending their kids back on the first day of school.
A charitable interpretation of provincial responses thus far on the back-to-school file might suggest this is simply too big a problem to solve in any satisfying way right now, and perhaps as long as it takes to develop a vaccine. (It is, without doubt, a monumental task, and in places around the world where schools have already resumed, the results have sometimes been less than ideal.)
A more cynical analysis would interpret the lack of strong provincial leadership on education as a tacit statement that political leaders believe parents can hang on without certainty about schools longer if necessary. Either way, parents are being asked to make a big – and patently unfair, especially when restaurants, bars and even strip clubs are open – sacrifice.
Many are coming to the realization that they are going to need to be ready for another six months of juggling their kids and careers. At least. You can see their growing disappointment and anger on full display in painful tweets and dejected posts in Facebook groups.
I’m a parent of a six-year-old daughter going into Grade 2 and a five-year-old son starting senior kindergarten, so this hurts on a personal level. But on the bright side, I’m pretty sure that parents can pull off what is implicitly and explicitly being asked of them.
It’s going to be extremely difficult. I know I’m not the only parent who has witnessed disturbing changes in their child’s behaviour during the pandemic, especially as it has progressed – including intense bouts of loneliness, anger and anxiety. Many parents are also concerned about their kids’ unhealthy attachment to screens. (Personally, it got to the point in mid-May when setting up the laptop for my daughter to watch her Grade 1 teacher’s videos was no longer worth the battle that inevitably followed over shutting the damn thing off without a side trip into YouTube hell). It is heartbreaking to think our kids will have to endure this sort of life for any duration, let alone into 2021.
It would probably feel even more heartbreaking if parents had energy left at the end of the day to express emotion of any sort. The precarious juggling act of parenting while working is taking a real toll. By the end of the day, parents are too tired to do anything other than collapse on the couch, or be stuck bleary-eyed in front of a screen for another couple hours, finishing up the work they didn’t get done between lunchtime and the dinner-bed routine.
Routine, though, has been a saving grace in our household. It’s the only thing that is actually kind of controllable on a day-to-day basis. After 9:30 a.m., the kids are out the door (it’s impossible to get any real work done when they’re at home) to the dog park or for a bike ride, or more recently, attending one of the free outdoor programs at the local parks. They’re back home between 11:30 and noon for lunch, then out again in the afternoon – maybe a hike, a dip in the lake, or (though, personally, I’d rather not) a trip to the community pool until 4:30. Sticking to a schedule gives us the structure we need and it keeps the kids off the cursed screens (until 5-ish at least; after that, it’s open season).
It has worked, more often than not, throughout the spring and summer: an imperfect program borne out of sheer desperation for something stable to hold onto. In September, we’ll just have to adapt again. When I run into other parents in the neighbourhood and ask how they’re holding up, I get a similar sense – that it’s hard and they are exhausted, but that they are determined to find a way to make it work, whatever comes next. That’s no surprise – parents are tough. You have to be to succeed at the hardest job on this planet.
So chin up, moms and dads. We will get through this. We may be the only ones who can.
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