A love letter to my son’s teachers (and all the other teachers out there too)

I had already changed outfits twice. Maxwell’s meet the teacher event started in less than an hour.

I figeted through the top rack of my closet, grabbed a button down top, put it on and then immediately took it off and hung it back up. No, way too formal, and not me at all. I don’t want to be too formal and dressy, and look like a high maintenance mom.

But I don’t want to wear my usual summer jean shorts and look like I’m making no effort at all. Quickly, I scanned the row of skirts below. Jeans? Skirt? No, jeans seems silly, it’s 95 degrees outside, why would I be wearing jeans to meet the teacher when it’s hotter than hell outside?

Ok, skirt it is then. I think it’s appropriately long. Add one simple soft cotton shirt with a belt, smart flat sandals an modest earrings, and we’re done.

I dressed Max in a blue polo shirt before he ate lunch, fixed his hair, salmon colored shorts and his cute little sandals. We drove to school, got out of the car and I saw he had remnants of lunch caked on the front of his shirt. I did my best with a wet wipe, but the orange stains (old goldfish crackers? cheese?) were not coming out. I was frustrated after putting so much (silly) effort into getting read, but remind myself that goldfish cracker stains on polo shirts are the least of our worries this year. I finally shrugged, we all put on our masks, and walked to Max’s new homeroom to meet the women who would have my children’s lives in their hands this year.

This is an outdoor campus style school, with no hallways where my son will have his classes, and there are only 8 children to start in person this year with another 5 who are virtual thathopefully stagger in later in the year. The children will wear their masks all day every day except for lunch and recess this year. Things will be different, so I am way more nervous than I would usually be for something like this. The times for our meeting were planned so only one other family would be possibly visting during the same 2 hour period.

As we entered his new classroom, we saw one of his classmates with his mother, Max’s new teacher and the teacher’s aid. Everyone excitedly introducted themselves at awkward distances across the room, and you could tell everyone was smilling from the masks on their faces raising with their cheeks and eyes squinting slightly.

I hope Max can get used to wearing masks for the entire day at four years old, I think. Then I check his bag of school supplies we are dropping off to make sure I have a plastic baggie of extra masks for his cubby just in case his mask ever gets dirty, or wet, or rips. All of the masks are all labeled with stickers with his name on them that are all the same color so they are easily identifiable and there’s less of a chance of confusing them.

We discuss the new protocols for dropping off and picking up, temperature scans, and the app that parents have to install on their phones to verify their child is not to their knowledge exhibiting any symptoms of being sickr. Pickup times in the car line are staggered, kids have to open their own car door, parents can’t exit the car, bar codes have to be scanned from the app. It all feels like some weird alien world, or something from a futuristic novel about a post apocalyptic world.

I survey Max’s new room. The tables were no longer in circles but broken apart to allow for distanced seating. Signs reminding the kids hand washing were hanging nearby, and a containers of hand sanitizer were mounted on the walls. The arrangement of the room, masks, sanitizer, and protocols are all reminders that the world is turned upside downright now.

In all other respects, it is a very normal classroom for a four year old. There’s a blue bulletin board that is supposed to look like ocean water, with each child’s name written on brightly colored fish swimming on the wall.

There is a station with blocks and engineering toys, a reading station, a toy kitchen and washing machine, and a wall of the children’s named cubbys, starting to fill with the resting mats, glue sticks and other school supplies, just like any VPK classroom any other year.

Max’s teacher is amazing, puts us all at ease by reminding us that we are in this together, and we will figure it all out. She truely seems overjoyed to have children back in her classroom. Her confidence and positivity wear off on me, and put me in a good place. This is a little step toward normal, and I feel a surge of gratitude and tears well up in my eyes. I am so thankful that my child can take a baby step toward something normal in life that I think we have all taken for granted far too often.

This is not a normal world, but we are all in this together, and somehow that unifying feeling helps counter some of the fear, stress and anxiety circulating together.

Max is unphased by any of the COVID reminders. He just checks out the new classroom, completes his scavenger hunt, finds where his assigned seat will be, and proudly instructs his teacher than you have to wash your hands for twenty seconds and use “hanitizer” (Max’s own phrase he coined).

He takes my hand as we cross the parking lot, to go home, and I run through the mental checklist of things I need to do for the first time in six months.

  • Wash school uniforms so they aren’t scratchy.
  • Prep first day uniform for school.
  • Remember Wednesdays are formal day, so a white shirt is required.
  • Pack lunch.
  • Prep his backpack
  • Sit out sneakers and socks instead of sandals or his rubber shoes just in case he has gym class on the first day.
  • Make sure school mask for first day is labeled, and his most comfy one.
  • Throw a few extra back up masks in his backpack just in case.
  • Set alarm before the crack of dawn so we can get out the door by 7:30 .
  • Try to sleep.

We got out the door at 7:30 on the nose the next morning. In part because I had prepped the night before, but mostly because I had the biggest butterflies in my stomach all night. This was a particularly impactful day.

But for Max, this was just like any other first day of school. He got ready for school, protested as I took a few “First Day” photos, then slung his backpack over shoulder as he messed up his hair just a little with the strap and jumped in the back seat like he had done so many times before.

We followed the route to school that we drove every day until we left for spring break last year and never returned. I turned left at this light, right at that one, then left again. Before I knew it we were driving onto campus, and as I pulled into the car line for the first time in half a year, I looped around the road that lead me to Maxwell’s drop off point.

First we saw his Spanish teacher, then his art teacher, then coach… all of the familliar faces of his world were back (albeit covered by masks and shields), and I cried.

I cried big, humongous, messy, mascara ruining tears. They were tears of relief that we made it to the beginning of a new year, tears of release, tears of hope, tears of joy, tears of fear of the unknown, tears that my child has something so precoius back in his life, but most of all, tears of gratitude that his amazing teachers, administration and faculty were able to provide this opportunity for my child and so many others. I missed them all. Max missed them all, and was so happy to be back

There is still a very long road ahead of us, but by all accounts Max’s first week of school was a success. The teacher reported that the classroom was amazing this week with wearing their masks all day long, with a huge “WOW!” in an email circulated to the parents about how good all of the students in the class were about following the new protocols this week. Max was excited to tell me about the new rules -about when you are allowed to take off your mask to eat lunch (in the classroom), and when it would be his classroom’s day to get to use the big playground (which is limited by day and class so it can be sanitized).

Sometimes I try to explain to him that the world of masks and special rules won’t always be the case, but we have to do it right now to make sure we help keep everyone safe. In his little mind, wearing a mask and following these new protocols isn’t a big deal, it’s just what you do. I actually told him he was allowed to take off his mask in the car after school yesterday, and he replied,

“No, that’s OK, I’m comfy.”

I know there will be good and bad days. There may be more lock downs. There may be more school closures. We don’t know what the future holds yet, except that what I told Max is true, it won’t be like this forever.

To be honest, I hesitated to write about Maxwell’s first day of school at first. Many parents are being shamed right now for the choices they are making regarding their children’s education on both sides of the coin. Here’s the thing I want to remind everyone – right now there are no good options. There’s no right answer. Each family is choosing what they think is the best under the circumstances for that particular family.

Just because we have chosen to send Max back to a physical classroom this year doesn’t mean I think that’s right for everyone. It’s just right for our family, right now. And despite the fear I have in the pit of my belly that I may get a string of messages or posts on my Facebook page after someone learns we are F2Fs (face to facers), I wanted to write this post to say thank you.

Teachers, administrators, faculty, staff, coaches, and every other person who is working so hard to make school possible this year for our children, in whatever form that is, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. I know none of this is easy, and yet you take it all in stride.

Thank you for working so hard to give these opportunities to our children,

Thank you for your positivity, creativity, and reassurance that we will get through this.

Thank you for giving my son the opportunity to learn and have a little slice of normal start back up in his life.

Thank you for providing him with an oportunity to thive in spite of all of the challenges and fears we all have.

School is more than learning from a book. It’s teaching our children how to build relationships and have respect others. You impart upon them the importance of community, and how to thrive in society. Whether it’s virtual or face to face, all that you are doing for them is needed more than ever. I, for one, will never forget this gift you have given to us.

Thank you.

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