It Still Takes a Village

Pandemic School Post 72. Hey, it’s really not that high of a number – I’ve intentionally not made this the theme of the year because it’s annoying and old and I’m over it.

Also, Pandemic School is annoying and old and I’m over it.

I’ve heard multiple times this month from parents who have arrived at the my kid is just struggling stage. Arrived? Still here? Many of us have been here for months – but mostly just peering through the bushes at the struggling. And it is not news-breaking – put together a random gaggle of moms at a random time and at least one will have a struggling child. What is odd, yet also reassuring, is that we all seem to be hitting this struggliest time so far at the exact same moment. Rich and I had just completed the daily version of the How to Get Zack Through the Rest of the School Year conversation when I began hearing similar grumblings from the underground mom’s network. And the grumblings were not our usual efforts to encourage and lift – they were closer to pleas for help. Which is why the following day’s daily version of the How to Get Zack Through the Rest of the School Year conversation was so much different. And, frankly, relieving. And, sounded a lot like hey, can we agree to just throw in the towel?

The hanger called. All helicopter moms should return to base.

We have always been insistent on good grades, which, in our house, has meant A’s. We haven’t had a lot of leeway here with child two after learning some lessons with child one. In reality, our kids never had much else to do beyond going to school. With both being fairly intelligent (#humblebrag) and neither seen studying on a regular basis, we’ve come to expect results. If they had time for Minecraft, then they had time for A’s, right? Except then we noticed that Zack’s schedule did fill up a bit in the last months – going from school and a four hour a week job to school, soccer, an increase in hours on job one, and the addition of a second job. Which is actually still not super full – just a couple of hours after school a few days a week, but enough to seem like insanity after the almost year of nothing. Truthfully, he is mentally managing better than I. It was done with intention – his attitude of BLAH for school developed over the last year, a likely reaction to so many things. Wearing a mask all dang day. Not really being able to socialize. A constant fear of getting sent home (again) to quarantine. Starting high school via zoom. Going from 8 years of A-Days/B-Days to straight A-Days and a crazy pace of learning. Just last week, the entirety of World War One took place in five days – tests included.

I’d be BLAH, too.

The extra-curricular stuff has given him a bit of spark so, when the “times per week” numbers increased, we went with it. In a normal year, if we noticed a drop in grades, we’d have pared those “times per week” numbers back until the grades rose. But, dear lawd, can we just stop already and read the writing on the sanitized wall?

Blah.

It has been thirteen months since Zack arrived home from school with a side note of don’t come back. He finished eighth grade with four months of busy work – acceptable to us as the school was in its infancy of virtual learning, yet it still had to get the kids to a point of state supported completion of the 2019-2020 academic year. For us, that meant piles of worksheets and self-motivation. It was easier then – when the entire town county state country was asked to stay home. There was a solidarity in our daily routine. We all got up together, usually breakfasting at the table. We all took breaks together. We all had outdoor time together. It was a bit like summer camp but it was at home with some assignments thrown in for good measure.

Fast forward to the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

We started virtual, crashed, burned, and ended up in Face-to-Face. We were surprised, but also understanding, that the school still hadn’t quite cracked the online learning code and were fortunate enough to be able to slip Zack back into a real classroom setting. Except that less than two weeks after getting some pep back in his canoe shoe step, he was pulled from that real classroom and delivered to the cafeteria with a note for his parents explaining how to quarantine for the following 14 days. Which sent him right back onto Zoom and away from actual human interaction with his actual human friends. We have been very lucky since – rolling all the way into May and still no second quarantine directive (off to knock on wood and buy a lot of rabbit feet). We see the emails daily, notifications that someone within the hallowed walls of the school tested positive, affecting X number of people who will all be taking a brief break from Face-to-Face. We thought we were guaranteed to nab a second Zoom sesh after Spring Break – our town county state country is not known to be full of folks who follow guidelines and the last major spikes followed the Fall and Winter breaks. But, perhaps, the rollouts of vaccinations have saved us as we are still plugging along with our Clorox wipes and hand-sanitizer.

I guess the towel being thrown is more of a We Get It response.

Those daily conversations about grades often included some mandatory time at the kitchen table – child with his notebooks open, parents with their copy of Algebra II for Dummies open – we’re all in this together, right? No. Not really. We don’t know what it’s like to walk the halls of high school while wearing an imaginary hula hoop and wondering if you’ll be summoned to leave again. We don’t know what it’s like to be handed your lunch in a plastic bag each day, no options on what’s in there, from faces that will never be familiar until they come out from behind masks and shields and gloved hands. We don’t know what it’s like to eat six feet away from everyone else while hoping your not dinged for having your mask off for too long between bites. We don’t know what it’s like to have to wait in the bathroom line, lest two students share their reading time and result in the spread of a virus that has been pounded into their brain for 15 months with words like outbreak, lack of hospital beds, and death. Or at least words like you’re actions affect your classmates and teachers. In the years to come, when asked what stressed him out the most about high school, will Zack’s answer will likely be that I would be responsible for an outbreak. I’ve seen the the text strings. Line after line each time a group is sent home – trying to nail down who was this week’s patient zero, only often to have patient zero chime in with line after line of apologies and guilt.

Blah.

We reversed course.

Just get through the next six weeks, we finally said, do your best and we can re-visit your goals when this school year is over.

This was not like us – and especially not like my husband who channels a tiger mom on most days when it comes to homework and tests and effort. We are typically on the same page here – if there is time for VR, there is time for Biology.

But why wouldn’t this 15-year-old want to drop his backpack on the floor – with all its heaviness of fear and paranoia – and throw on a headset and escape the exhaustion of still having to face it all every day?

We spent so much time this year trying to fool our parenting hearts with words like it’s okay, to Zack, this is just how his freshman year happens, or isn’t he so lucky that he has no experience as a high schooler to compare this with? or we lived nearly fifty years before experiencing a pandemic, it’s probably not so weird for him as it is for us or, the dumbest thing of all, think of the stories he will be able to tell!

We threw in the towel. We are tired of creating stories to tell and he is tried of living in them.

Just get through the next six weeks.

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