The three of us were still half-asleep when we got into the car on Monday morning. We’re not morning people, including Mark.
“Mommy, why is it cold?”
“Because it’s already mid-September.”
Feng turned the radio on.
“COVID cases in Ottawa are on the ris—”
“And today is the first day back to school for many students, but how long—”
I pressed on another button to skip yet another depressing news report and Madonna started singing “Like a Prayer.”
“That will do.”
Traffic was unusually quiet. It’s been like that for months, as if Ottawa was still on lockdown mode—most federal government employees kept on working remotely and around 25% of students opted for online learning.
“Are you sure his first day is today? Where are the other kids?”
I shrugged. “Socially distancing? Waiting in the car? Who knows!”
Mark and I walked to the fence. His three teachers (maths and English, French and arts) had introduced themselves by email over the weekend. They even sent a picture and a snapshot of the “new normal” classroom—kids sit behind their own Plexiglas shield.
“Is she my teacher?”
“I… have no idea. It’s hard to tell who is who with face masks and face shields. Look, I can’t walk you to the building, parents are not allowed on school property. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah… I guess.”
Mark was supposed to cross the field and enter the building through a backdoor—a two-minute walk, really, but I felt bad for him. For a seven-year-old on his back-to-school day and without other kids around (where the hell was everyone?) he may as well have been instructed to reach the top of Mount Everest alone.
Fortunately, a school bus arrived and a handful of kids walked into the schoolyard, looking as lost as Mark. Finally, one of the masked grownups took interest and led the kids to the back of the building.
Mark waved back.
“This is just so fucking weird,” I muttered.
Feng picked up Mark at 2:50 p.m.—for foreign readers, this is not a special COVID pickup time, it’s a normal school day around here.
“So, did you have fun?”
“Awesome. Best day ever! Everything’s great! Except the not playing together part. And having to stay in one corner of the field. Yeah, yeah, I know, because of COVID.”
I went back to work. Two minutes later, I got an email from school. “Changes to improve procedures.”
“Ottawa Public Health is advising people not to use lanyards for masks. When students take their mask off using a lanyard, particularly at recess, the side touching their mouth may have come in contact with contaminated particles from another child which is then placed back on the child’s face.”
And my favourite: “Parents, please do not bring your family dog to the school at drop-off and pick up as this may discourage our collective goal to physically distance. We know people love dogs and want to pet them!”
Oh boy… it’s gonna be a long year.