Worried about back to school? Remember, as a parent, they’re all unprecedented times

3 mins read
Students work at their desks on the first day of the new school year at St. Matthew School in Franklin, Tenn., Aug. 6, 2020, with extensive COVID-19 protocols in place, including temperature screening and mandatory face masks for each student. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

Before 2020, when I heard the words “global pandemic,” I imagined bunkers and hazmat suits. I envisioned the only beacon of hope would be the radio signal coming from a far-off community that, against all odds, managed to survive. I’m really grateful we aren’t doing the movie version of this pandemic, because I’d be the first to go. I’m no Will Smith. In reality, we have Zoom meetings, paper masks and buckets of hand sanitizer. If the COVID-19 version of global pandemic was to be made into a movie, it would be terribly boring; no one wants to watch a movie about people arguing about masks on Facebook or binge-watching choreographed daddy/daughter dance videos. (Although, just being 100% honest, those videos did carry me through those first few weeks of quarantine.)

This is the life we’ve been living for nearly six months. We double-back to our vehicles because we forgot to grab our mask, and we say things like “new normal” and “unprecedented times.” I read a meme recently that said, “I miss precedented times.” Me too, meme, me too. I find great comfort in the fact that even though this time might be unprecedented, my worry isn’t. This isn’t the first time I’ve been worried, and it certainly won’t be the last — because I’m a parent. I worried when my baby took her first step, and I worried the day she started kindergarten, and I worried the first time she spent the night at a friend’s house. Haven’t we all watched for the rising and falling of our sleeping baby’s chest?

Parenting is a series of unprecedented events over and over and over. That’s the way the whole thing was designed. The day we signed up to be parents is the day we signed over our right to ever live in precedented times again. Every time we let our kids out into the world we learn to balance the utter ecstasy that they’re no longer with us against the worry that they might not be OK without us.

Our kids are headed back to school during this unprecedented time, and you might be wondering how you can find peace, but here’s the truth: you can’t, because being scared is part of the job description. Three-year-olds are inherently terrifying, and if you wanted to live in peace, you should’ve just raised a plant.

We never thought we’d have to live through a global pandemic, just like we never thought we’d bribe our kids with food, and, well, here we are. We’re doing the things we thought we’d never do! Are we doing them well? No! But at least we’re doing them.

Next week, I’ll load up my kids in my mini van and drive them to school. I’ll yell at them from the front seat: “Stop fighting! It’s time to say our prayers!” My 7-year-old will pray he gets to be line leader; my 5-year-old will pray for her sister to stop looking at her; and I’ll pray the Lord guides my children in making good choices and good friends. I’ll ask him to watch over them as we pull into the drop-off line. Three of them will file out, and two of them will stay home with me and beg for snacks all day.

I’ll smile with my eyes and wave at the teacher before I head home. For good measure, I’ll throw an extra pack of pencils and a note of gratitude in my kindergartener’s backpack, and then I’ll go home and cry to my husband like I always do. I’ll keep my phone handy in case the school needs me, like I always have. I’ll shovel COVID-19 worry on top of all the other worry I’ve gotten used to living with.

We know how to look calm and collected on the outside while freaking out on the inside, because that’s what parenting is. We can do this because it’s what parents have been doing since way before COVID-19. We will not be fine this school year, because we have not been fine since the day we brought our first baby home from the hospital.

I know “you’ll never be fine” might sound depressing, but it’s also the most beautiful truth I’ve ever had the pleasure of living. Jesus instructs us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that seemed impossible — like some unreachable goal. Then I became a parent, and it happened in an instant. I love my children deeply and wholly and unconditionally. You and I won’t be fine — and thank God, because it means we have the pleasure of loving well.

Diana Vallette blogs at dianadivulges.com. She writes from Louisiana.