I got the email at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. Wednesdays in quarantine are notoriously hard for me, especially since my husband went back to work full-time on May 1. The email was from my son’s preschool, which had been cleared to open back up on June 1 with new protocols in place. They are prioritizing families of essential workers, a category we fall into because of my husband’s job as a dentist. However, my job is not essential. In fact, since May, my job has been nonexistent beyond freelance writing. I emailed back that we do not need care but, when it opens up to non-essential families, we will consider coming back.
I received a response in minutes. They have space for my kid! They have space for him every day if I like. He went full-time before the schools closed. I also worked five days a week, though. I forward the exchange to my husband. Unlike the preschool, he does not respond immediately, so I trudge down to the basement where he’s playing video games in his cave.
He refuses to stop playing video games to read the email so I sum it up. He says, without hesitation, “Send him every day.”
“What?! Full-time? I’m not working.” He must not be listening.
My husband says, “So what?”
I ask him to turn off the computer and have a discussion with me and he says no and does a magical spell or throws a potion at a bad guy. The screen is all color and movement.
He needs socialization.
“He needs socialization,” my husband says, killing an orc or a dark elf or something.
“He plays with Alice,” I say. Alice is our kindergartner who has also been home from school since mid-March.
“He needs peers,” my husband says, and then swears at the screen.
He’s not wrong. Our son has been having imaginary conversations with his school friends, out loud, for months. He has an Individualized Family Learning Plan, an IFSP, through the school and all of his goals are social ones to address his anxiety, sensory issues and probable ADHD. Trying to implement peer strategies at home does nothing for his development.
Not only that, but he’s a chaotic 3-year-old, and any time I leave him alone, be it to pee, help the kindergartner with her distance learning or make him a snack, he causes havoc. Today, while I was helping my daughter log in to her class meeting on Google, he climbed into the refrigerator to get himself some strawberries and ended up spilling the whole container onto the floor … all in the background of my daughter’s call. Later, he went through the garage when I sent him out to play and found a small bottle of Super Glue, which he squirreled away in his pocket. Fortunately, I caught him right away. Then, when he was supposed to be napping, he snuck out of his bedroom, went into mine and climbed the shelves in my closet until he fell and came to me for sympathy kisses. He is a handful, and I’m worried about head injuries.
“Is it worth it, though?” I ask, not believing my husband understands the situation. He’s still playing video games and isn’t looking at me. “He could bring home the coronavirus!”
“So could I,” he says, and turns into a werewolf. He’s, again, not wrong. He wears PPE, of course, but goes out into the world every day and touches other people’s mouths.
I’m starting to come around. “I guess,” I say. “I could get some learning stuff done with Alice while he’s at school. I haven’t been able to do much on her level when he’s around.”
“She needs more school,” he opines, wielding a great sword or mace or destruction staff.
“Can we afford it if I’m not working?” I feel like I’m maybe looking for an excuse for him to say no, now. I never made a lot of money, but I did keep a spreadsheet of child-care expenses and my paychecks and always made enough money working to justify paying for child care.
My husband is getting that glazed look, “Uh-huh.” He mashes the keys on his light-up keyboard.
I’m not satisfied. I go upstairs and text most of the moms I know. Since we’re all moms in quarantine, likely scrolling the internet on our phones after putting the kids to bed, I get lots of responses right away. What’s interesting is most of my friends are keeping their kids home for the summer, even the friends who have kids going to my son’s preschool. What’s also interesting is that most of them emphatically agreed with my husband: Send the kid to school. They agree that, in our case, it’s worth the risk, all things considered.
I start to weep. The feeling is relief. School. Wonderful school. It’s in my grasp. I only have to reach out and take it.
I will be able to read chapter books to my kindergartner in the morning without the boy knocking the illustration-less book out of my hands. She and I can do crafts that require scissors without fear of rogue tablecloth sheering. My son won’t spend nearly as much time on screens, which was my only form of babysitting him when I had to help my daughter with something, clean, cook or take a break from near-constant parental duties. He will be back with the teachers who love him, doing age-appropriate activities with other kids who can peer-pressure him to participate. He will get to play on a playground again, which he hasn’t been allowed to do in our public parks since March when we hardly went due to weather.
It is a risk. Under different circumstances, with a different kid, I might not take it. But, for my family, school is worth it.