Back to School Blues

Posted on: July 24th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote about a new chapter in life for me. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you as it unfolds. I’ve got a lot to unpack, reveal, and share. This week for my blog I want to take a side step into my work and experience as a mama as we all make decisions for the fall.

photo of a child holding luggageThis past week has been a collectively hard week for every mama I know. Across our country schools are announcing what they are choosing to do in the midst of COVID. Emotions are high for a variety of reasons. No emotion is invalid and yet for the space of this blog I want to be clear on one thing. If you are in an emotional space where your fear is expressed by lashing out at others this blog is not a space for you today. Unfortunately, I’ve been on too many Mom Groups who have behaved unkindly to each other and teachers because they are operating in fear. We are all afraid at some level. These are new times. I’m asking that my readers take a collective deep breath and hold space for each other’s fears and don’t take those fears out on each other.

Okay. Whew, now that we’ve cleared that up, I’m ready to write. As I’ve said this past week has been a rough one. A lot of what I’m seeing is defeat and despair. We’ve all been collectively navigating COVID since March and I think the true wish is that we would be farther along. I know a lot of people are wishing that all the efforts made during Shelter in Place would have taken us back to a reality closer to pre-COVID. Our truth today is we are not going back, and neither are our children any time soon. That in itself is such a hard pill to swallow.

Now there are a great many valid things to be frustrated about as to why rates of COVID are not contained in the United States. I honor those deeply. However, I don’t believe me listing them will help anyone personally. My reality is, alongside many, that Americans collectively could be making some better choices and those who do not have the ability to make their own choices (think shut in’s in assisted living facilities or our children) could benefit from our better choices. Until we’re able to get to a spot where we are collectively dealing with the virus, we’re left to individually navigate a world with new limitations. It’s scary and sucks plain and simple.

A large part of what I see weighing on the hearts of so many parents is what to do in regard to school this fall. District by district different choices are being announced. The choices so far that I’ve seen are entire remote learning, partial weeks, or full weeks in school with the option to opt out for remote learning. There are vague statements about face coverings and sanitation procedures. What we all want is certainty and I’m sorry to be the one to write this; I don’t think it’s coming. This year is going to be all about making the best decision possible for our own children or grappling with the reality that the decision is beyond our control.

My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace

So, what can you do? What choice can you make for your children in a pandemic? I wish I could tell you the best answer, to give you that certainty but I can’t. I don’t have this for me. I can give you my advice, the best I have today as a mama and educator myself. My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace. To realize we are all in this together do the best we can. My next advice, if it’s at all possible for you, is to choose the education plan that creates the least amount of change for your child. I say if this is possible because there are many families who have no choice in this. There are schools that are announcing all e-learning regardless and families who have to send their children to school because they are working. If the choice is beyond your control, then focus on what you can control. And, for the families that will financially suffer through this, I am so sorry. I wish this was not the case for you. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be able to choose what I want for Dametrius this fall because he’s an older child and I can still work if he does e-learning. I’m also lucky because if he were younger I could afford extra childcare. I know this is my privilege.

Ok, so back to choosing the least amount of change for your child if that’s possible for your family. I believe that in coming out of Shelter in Place what we hoped for was some normalcy following the restrictions. Currently that isn’t happening and so our nervous systems are overloaded with the ever changing information and choices. It’s wreaking havoc on all of us. I literally just told my husband he couldn’t ask me to do things today because I’m overloaded, then I asked him to cook dinner. Martin responded, “so I can’t ask you anything but you can ask me?” I paused, then a deep sigh, “yes that’s exactly what I’m saying & I have therapy at noon.” God love him.

If we chose an education plan for our children that would remain the same regardless of restrictions ever changing, we can eliminate this nervous system overload (hello anxiety) and create some calm. By choosing a schedule that you will least likely have to change for your child you can eliminate some nervous system overload for your whole family.

Keeping children with ASD in mind

I also want to take a moment and speak for children with autism. Because, you see, constant change is harder than it is for neurotypical children. My recommendation to create a stable schedule triples when it comes to children with autism. The ups and downs of every changing schedule is a ton for them to process. If you are a parent of a child with autism I would strongly recommend to rely on therapy schedules and clinic settings as the primary structure for your children. We are ramping up our own programs in Castle Rock, Naperville, and opening up a South Side Chicago location this fall to address this need. These won’t change in the midst of COVID and will provide a wonderful way for your children to continue to have structure, socialization, and make progress. This was true prior to COVID but even more so now I think these clinic structures are important.

Okay, so now we’re gone through the choices. The limited ones we have. You’ve heard my recommendation to limit changes the best you can. Now what? Grace, grace, grace. These are not easy times. Collectively and individually we are all grieving. Downplaying what is individually hard for you does nothing to help us all through 2020. Remember I wrote about this before? Personally I’m incredibly upset that Dametrius won’t be going in person to high school. He is a beautiful person, new to our family, and I want nothing more than for him to make new friends and play football on Friday night. It’s not coming. I’m going to need to grieve this. Henry will not be making new friends, he’s stuck with us. I’m grieving this too. Declan, well, he’s 16 months (today!) and for that I’m thankful.

All individual fear big and small matter. Make the decision best for your family, give your great big heart a hug, and feel those feelings. Then call someone making a choice different than you and let them feel those feelings too.

Xoxo,
Jessie

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