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Back to School 2020 – Lunchbox, Emails and Feeling of Impending Doom

Back-to-school day, September 15 2020, Ottawa
Back-to-school day, September 15 2020, Ottawa

On Sunday night, I completed Canada’s most important parenting task for the first time in almost exactly six months—I packed a waste-free, egg-, soy- and nut-free, safe to leave at room temperature lunchbox for Mark.

“What did the school say, already… oh, yeah. ‘Any wrappers, containers and garbage created during the Nutrition Breaks will return home in the child’s lunchbox for disposal at home.’ Don’t worry about it, just put your apple sauce pouch back into your lunchbox.”

“Because of COVID?”

“Because your school doesn’t want to pay for the cost of waste disposal.”

We baked small pains au chocolat using store-bought dough and I grilled a few ham-and-cheese sandwiches to celebrate Mark’s first day of Grade 3.

“Just try not to catch the coronavirus the first day, okay?”

Mark laughed. “What do I know? I’m just a kid, COVID is your problem, not mine!”

You bet.

Feng and I are on the same page about school. We know the virus is still around but there’s just no other sustainable alternative. We can’t keep Mark home for the next few months or years and we can’t pause life any longer.

Still, this 2020 school year is a headache.

I always have a hard time understanding Mark’s school’s logic but COVID-management plan took the struggle to a whole new level.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been getting dozens of “parents update” emails with instructions on:

  • Entry and dismissal procedures (“Please note that as per Ottawa Public Health Guidelines, no parents/guardians or children who do not attend the school are to be on school grounds. Families must stay behind the fenced areas.”)
  • Staff safety (“Prior to coming to school each day, parents/guardians must complete the Self-Assessment Questionnaire with their child[ren].”)
  • Exact start day (“In a K-8 elementary school, students in grades 1-3, plus specialized class students start school on Day 1; on Day 2 they are joined by students in grades 4-6 and some kindergarten students; on Day 3 they are joined by students in grades 7 and 8 and the rest of the kindergarten students.”)
  • Exact start date reminders (“Parents/guardians, please pay particular attention to which date is your child’s first day of school this year. Since schools are using a staggered entry by grade level, please do NOT send your child[ren] on the bus if it is not their scheduled day to be at school, even if the bus is driving by your child’s stop. Parents/guardians will need to pick up their child from school if they come on the wrong day.”)
  • Areas of focus (“During the first week of school, teachers will focus on teaching/training the students to self-distance, on the importance of wearing masks as much as possible [even though they are not required to wear masks unless in Grade 4 to 8], and sanitize their hands well upon entering the school and classroom.”)

On Saturday morning, we were finally given the information every parent was waiting for. The email was sent as an afterthought—so, ahem, class size… yeah, 25 kids, same as usual, have a good weekend and see you on Monday!

Okay, I’m paraphrasing but seriously, months of planning to have classes of 20+ kids?

Fortunately, the final email sent on Sunday offered this piece of advice: “Model Calm. As a parent, your child looks to you on how to feel. Being calm and not getting caught up in your child’s anxiety will help your child to remain calm. Think and act with confidence regardless of the challenges. Focus on what is in your control. Believe in your child’s ability — they are often stronger than you think!”

Ah, ah.

“Remember, Mark can’t bring anything other than his lunchbox and water bottle because he has to store everything under his chair. Kids don’t have lockers or cubbies anymore.”

“But… how are they going to do with snowsuits, boots, gloves, hats and all?”

Feng and I looked at each other—this is a real Canadian problem, by the way, winter clothes are wet, muddy and bulky.

“… I don’t think they planned that far,” I said. “No one actually assume schools are going to stay open.”

We burst out laughing. This kind of comment is on everyone’s lips—“kids are back at school… but for how long?” “I give them two weeks!” “No way it’s gonna last past Thanksgiving!”

As you can see, we Ontarian are an optimistic bunch.

(To be continued…)

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