The Kids Can Go Back to School: So What Are You Gonna Do?

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So what should we do about school this fall? NO ONE KNOWS. Parents all over America are breathlessly following updates on the unfolding school situation, and hotly debating the pros and cons of sending kids back to in-person learning environments. Holy fuck are we all stressed. I would bet money that nearly every conversation we are having with other parents (with the privilege of choice here) devolves into “do you think you’ll send them?” by minute two, tops. Or text number three. Allow the heavy silence (either in-person, or via the “ . . .” ’s on your phone screen) that follows your response tell you the amount (more or less) you are now being judged.

My informal poll of the roughly 35,456 moms in my online Mom Group has not come back with any definitive answers either. No one can agree on what to do. I’m apparently too late to join anyone’s “homeschool pod” even if I wanted to (I don’t), and anyway, you had to submit your application last April to get into any of the “good ones.” Here’s the thing about the back-to-school dilemma: The question isn’t simply philosophical. I know what I “want” to do. I want to send my goddamn kids to goddamn school. But is there any overwhelming evidence that supports that it is actually safe (for the kids, the teachers, the communities where we live) to send them? Hm . . . 

You might say I should go with my gut. But it is hard for me to rely on instinct anymore. What is “instinct”? I think I killed that concept at around midnight sometime in late March and threw it into the Hudson River while my family was sleeping. (No one will ever find it.) I can’t even decide if I should get out of bed without consulting an outside source. A quick scan of the latest news on my Instagram feed each morning reliably shows that things are still dire, and the world is still swirling slowly in an overflowing toilet bowl of diarrhea. Why even put on pants?

So really, what I am seeking is validation. I want someone to tell me that yes it is OK to send my kids to school, and that it is not only OK, but COMPLETELY SAFE. And not only is it safe, but it is actually BETTER! For everyone! That children go to school. That it will solve everything! Fix pollution! Help us find a cure for COVID! Make everyone prettier and thinner! Make it rain dollar bills! All the things. For these reasons, when it comes to the question of whether to send my children to school this September (as well as the question of WHAT THE FUCK SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE right now), I’ve decided to consult some other, more objective sources. They would know.

My gynecologist: Don’t judge me, but it’s probably been two years since I had a good pap smear. Or any kind of pap smear. Let’s face it, they all suck. As I lay back on the crinkly paper, enjoying the rare moment of rest for my aching lower back (too much physical activity with my kids) I take advantage of the captive audience between the stirrups. “Do you think I should send my kids to school in the fall?” I ask her. She pauses with whatever awful tool she is about to use on me, and offers that she is planning on sending her own kids to school. But then I remember: She lives in a town in New Jersey with high taxes, likely with smaller class sizes. Hard to compare, but I note her response. You know, as a Professional.

The octogenarian cashier at the food store: She sees lots of people day in, and day out, and must be privy to the conversations on school and what the neighborhood is planning on doing. Besides, she is a hero on the front lines. Heroes know the answer to lots of complicated problems. “Do you think it’s safe?” I inquire, as she licks her finger to separate some bills. But the market is so noisy, and the mask situation makes social interaction 10,000 times more difficult, so she thinks I’m asking about the price of the bing cherries. (Overpriced, btw. Just letting you know.)

The Guy Living Under the Underpass: This is New York where our neighbors are our neighbors, period. We have one and he is lovely and full of wisdom. He is always with his nose in a book (when he is not raving and shaking his long hair wildly while holding a styrofoam takeout box). Guy Living Under the Underpass is pretty sure this is all a conspiracy to rid the world of children and to do it swiftly and with few repercussions to those in power. He might just be a prophet.

The three coaches I recently interviewed: I have decided that I would now like to be A Person Who Has A Coach. It would be ideal to have someone to tell me what to do, both in business and in life, and I’m willing to pay for it because my own friends have threatened charging me hourly if I keep calling them. I’ll cut cable, or maybe get rid of the family dog (man these vet appointments are getting expensive as he ages). In each “exploratory” call, I try to get a sense of where these experts are at with my quandary about September but they expertly dodge me each time and instead email me their pricing packages. Disappointing. Because at least two out of three of them tell me we have a “soul connection.”

Dead authors, such as Albert Camus: A young babysitter of mine (yes, we brought back a babysitter, and you should all nail me to a cross right now), recommends I read Camus’ The Plague because she read it in her graduate program and it was extremely prescient about our current state of affairs. What would Camus say about the implications of sending the kiddos back to school in September, I wonder? From the deep annals of history, I hear his voice, saying something like: “Bitch, you know how the story ends. The rats come out. They dance like zombies, and everyone dies. Sit your ass home.” So I decide dead authors don’t get a say in this matter.

My nine-year-old’s Magic Eight Ball: Yes, the answers are quite limited, but I am a believer in magik. Besides, it totally just knew the answer that time when the kids asked “Will Mommy ever have another baby?” Because the answer is definitively HELL NO. See? Eerie. The first of the 10 times I consult Magic Eight Ball if I should send the kids to school it says “Ask again later.” I set it back on my son’s shelf, and resume my daily task of destroying my cuticles until they bleed. Annoyingly, for the next nine times I ask, it toggles between “Better not tell you now,” and “Concentrate and ask again.” I am pretty sure that means it is broken so I throw it out.

After all of my searching for answers in unexpected places, I’m still left with not a clue what to do besides watch every season of “Thirteen Reasons Why” and try not to be even more depressed. So here I remain — looking earnestly for someone to coddle me, preferably service me a nice cocktail and possibly give me a relaxing Swedish massage, and tell me that sending kids to school will not bring on the next wave of the pandemic. Seriously considering putting out a Craigslist ad, or if it’s not going to throw my marriage out of wack maybe something on one of those apps the young kids use to have satisfying, non-monogamous relationships these days: “40-Year-Old Woman Seeking Validation For Decision To Send Her Kids to School This Fall. No Strings Attached. (Send Nudes).” 


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