I've heard it once, I've heard it more times than my math skills will
allow, "This school year is going to be like no other." No kidding!
Don't we spend every year wondering if our children are going to be
attacked by gigantic murder hornets that are high from feasting on
Chinese mystery seeds and using their enormous wings to waft a deadly
virus up the students' unsuspecting nostrils-left unprotected because
we can't afford to buy face coverings due to the national coin shortage?
Ok, so I'm exaggerating. Nobody uses coins anymore-other than to operate
the claw machine at the entrance to Walmart. But those other worries
are legit, especially the mystery seeds thing. What could be more
terrifying than receiving a small packet of seeds in the mail? A teen
auto insurance statement, maybe?
No, really, what we all are worried about is whether the school year
will survive the COVID-19 pandemic. After carefully assessing the
risks and rewards, my wife and I chose to send our three teenage daughters
to in-person learning at our local school district-mainly because
our pets and Wi-Fi router threatened to boycott us if we didn't start
leaving the house on a regular basis again. Also, our daughters desperately
missed the excitement of dragging out of bed each morning to get ready,
complaining about how tired they are and asking how long it is until
their next holiday.
In an attempt at some normalcy, we even made our annual school-shopping
trip to the mall this year. Well, actually several malls-because one
mall simply doesn't have enough stores with big-ticket clothing items
and accessories that I'll be paying for until I'm excavated by paleontologists.
Due to COVID-19 store capacity limits, I stood in line for half an
hour with my eldest and most expensive daughter for the privilege
of entering a Lululemon store for a pair of plain black leggings that
cost more than my last electric bill. (And my mom thought my totally
rad 1980's threads from Chess King were expensive!) My middle daughter's
school supplies included enough designer bracelets, designer earrings
and designer necklaces to match each pair of her designer jeans and
designer tennis shoes. Luckily, my youngest daughter's requirements
were simpler. She just needed one oversized hoodie for each day of
the week. Apparently, her fashion goal is to look like a Benedictine
monk from the Middle Ages.
As usual, we had to place online orders with trendy outdoor sporting
goods retailers for the girls' backpacks, each large enough for an
extended hiking expedition in the Himalayas. And I won't even get
into the matching water canisters and lunch totes. (Whatever happened
to a brown paper sack and a can of Coke wrapped in tinfoil?)
The most obvious difference to this year's back to school experience
has been the face masks. Students at our daughters' school are required
to wear face masks at all times, except when eating, exercising, or
when nobody's looking. Face masks do offer at least one ancillary
advantage for teachers-they aren't able to smell their students. This
is especially beneficial in the junior high setting. A consolation
for students is that the mask can double as a sort of secret feed
bag for snacks like Cheez-Its (or those mystery seeds their parents
got in the mail).
Occasionally, students at my daughters' school are allowed to socially
distance outside for a brief mask break. This is the one time in the
day when the students can escape their own Cheez-It breath, and the
teachers can sit in their classrooms and scream bloody-murder in peace.
Seriously, though, I do want to thank all of the teachers out there
on the front lines providing a quality education for our students
in these difficult circumstances. Without them, I'd be reliving the
horror of homeschooling my daughters like I did back in the Dark Ages
of last spring. If that happens again, I might be tempted to eat some
of those mystery seeds myself-if our pets don't get to them first.