I’ve always loved September. As a child, it meant back-to-school shopping, reuniting with friends and hanging out at the playground. Now that I’m a parent, it means back-to-school shopping, reuniting with alone time and hanging out in my blissfully silent house as all these people who’ve been in my space for far too long finally, finally go back to school!
I don’t mean to sound heartless. I do love my children very much. My boys are nearly 15, my daughter is 11, and I’m almost positive it’s not Stockholm syndrome that makes me think they’re great kids. But this new COVID reality has tested the boundaries of our fondness for each other. You can’t spend this long with your family uninterrupted and not develop an eye twitch. There’s only so many times you can politely ask someone to eat with their mouth closed and for the love of all things holy put your dishes in the dishwasher before you’re going to snap.
But now we’re in September, and I feel that familiar hopefulness, that sense of new beginnings that comes with crisp autumn air and perfectly pink erasers in unblemished pencil cases. For as surely as there will soon be pumpkin-spice everything in Glebe coffee shops, so too shall there be children in school – unless, of course, Delta has other plans. But I will hold fiercely onto my hopefulness because after the year and a half we’ve all had, kids being back in school is pretty magical.
As they head into Grade 10 at Glebe and Grade 6 at Mutchmor, my offspring seem hopeful about the return to in-person learning too. Either that or they’re desperate for any excuse to escape my daily “You’re going to rot your brain with all this screen time” and “Seriously, why are there so many dirty dishes in your room” rants. It might also be that the three of them are looking forward to school days that include socializing in person with their peers, interacting with teachers face-to-face rather than through screens and moving in spaces that aren’t their bedrooms, the kitchen or the TV room. They talk longingly of hangouts and sleepovers, sports teams and extra-curriculars – I haven’t had the heart to break the news that the OCDSB announced they’re delaying the resumption of in-person sports and clubs this fall. The kids don’t care if they have to wear masks, just as long as they get to be out in the world again.
Still, some anxieties are popping up in our house: What if we didn’t learn enough last year during COVID? What if we can’t handle the curriculum after our pared-down classes? It all felt so rushed. Could I get a math tutor? I’m trying to be optimistic that schools will work with students to alleviate their fears and bridge any gaps in learning. I’m trying not to worry about the inconsistencies in Ontario’s various school boards’ policies, and I tell myself that these kinds of questions are a refreshing change from the incessant “Do we have food? What’s for dinner? When are you going grocery shopping again?”
It helps to know that my teens received both vaccination doses this summer. As the daily news cycle swirls around the Delta variant cases and the likelihood of a fourth wave, we know we’ve done our best to keep them and others safe. Now we anxiously wait for our daughter to turn 12 next year so she too can be eligible; in the meantime, we’ll continue to repeat our COVID mantras of “wash your hands, wear your mask, give people space.” Hopefully, with the safety precautions the OCDSB has said they’ve put in place, this will be enough to keep them safe.
Of course I’ll miss my kiddos when they go back. The house will probably feel too quiet for the first few days. I’ll maybe even roam the house, fondly running a hand over their old online schoolwork spaces or tearing up a little as I hug a cereal-encrusted bowl found abandoned under a pile of dirty clothes. But I know school is where my children are meant to be, where they thrive amongst their friends and teachers. After all, it’s September, the most wonderful time of the year.
Pascale Pergant is a mother of three and a member of the Glebe Collegiate Parents Council.