Alex is a mother to two children under four, living in Barcelona. This week, her girls go back to school.
"Has the Corona (virus) gone away?" asked my 2-year-old this morning, as we packed her cold snack into her backpack in preparation for her first day back to her newly opened playschool. I consider my answer. Has the Coronavirus gone away? In the eyes of my children, it must appear so.
I will not be able to eavesdrop on secret squabbles nor overhear hysterical giggles as the girls raid my makeup bag and paint the bathroom Elisabeth Arden red
This past week we had our first meal in 4 months outside on the terrace of a restaurant. We have been visiting green parks every day. Granted during our walks and excursions we wear masks and we no longer kiss hello and goodbye to friends but do this bizarre elbow high-five, but we are out and about again. "Yes and no, " I reply, smiling into her cherubic little face, mostly hidden behind an enormous pink and white checked face mask, "The Coronavirus is going away, but will still need to be careful of what we touch and we need to wash our hands, a lot". She nods agreeably and we continue onwards, hand in hand, to her playschool.
On my return, I sit at my laptop in silence and consider the situation. I have been both fantasizing about this moment and rejecting its inevitability ever since we began our lockdown. Our period of intense cocooning is apparently over. I will not be able to eavesdrop on secret squabbles nor overhear hysterical giggles as the girls raid my makeup bag and paint the bathroom Elisabeth Arden red. At least not in the mornings. I will miss the little monsters. I am intensely grateful for this sublime slice of silence.
Logic and reasoning
Yesterday I went to visit the headteachers of each of my children's' classrooms. We discussed, in detail, the proposed back-to-school operation; a reduced timetable, meal free, operation with fewer children, and an increased emphasis on hygiene and handwashing. The visit was, more than anything, to assess the emotional preparedness of our children to return to school. My children, ungratifyingly, bolted in through the front door without a backward glance. Stripping off their outer gear and stuffing it into their 'home bags' they pulled on their (disinfected) indoor shoes and danced into their respective classrooms.
"I love the fish so SO much. I missed the fish SO much."
My 4-year-old had, unknownst to me, smuggled in an assortment of her newly acquired quarantine books to flaunt to her friends. My 2-year-old, upon entering her classroom, gazed around, gave a deep sigh, looked at her teacher lovingly, and said "I love the fish so SO much. I missed the fish SO much. Can I feed the fish?" A classic back-to-school response.
I have questioned the logic and reasoning of sending them back to school. I have considered the socialization that they crave, the necessity of seeing their best friends, of having new work and better play materials, of spending time with their favorite teachers. I will undeniably relish the time to myself - all 3.5 hours of it -and the ability to do things like clean an entire room without two small tornados twirling around me and scattering objects like leaves during a storm.
I am aware of the risks, the potential hazards. I know that it is not possible to expect children aged between 2-5 years old to cohabit a space together for several hours, sharing work materials and toys, and to not have some form of crossover or germ exchange. It simply isn't. I accept that by sending my children back to school means exposing my child to risk. I accept both the normal day-to-day risks of cuts and colds and being clobbered because they didn't share the red truck fast enough, but also the smaller risk that they may be exposed to someone who has had or is currently a carrier for COVID.
Life must go on
I have heard arguments which tend to fall into two camps: one that follows the chickenpox party philosophy i.e. throw all the kids together and let's get this sickness over with, we are all going to catch it anyway" and on the other end, the "bunker down and stay safe until there is a vaccine available" side. To my mind, the most sensible and sustainable route is to proceed with caution, but ultimately to proceed onwards. We cannot live in a stand-still. Even time exists in a vacuum. Life must go on. And so my children will go back to school.
This is a decision that must be made by each family, according to their needs, the health of their nuclear and extended family, their childcare needs, and their work requirements. There is no right or wrong answer. There are only choices to be made and responsibilities to be shouldered. I trust the care and effort of my children's teachers and their commitment to protecting their staff and my children. And I trust my intuition that this is a good move for my family. So onwards and back to school we go.
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