As parents, our days are filled with decisions — small and big, easy ones and ones that we spend hours second-guessing. During the pandemic, decisions about playdates, grandparent visits and, of course, our kids’ education became agonizing exercises in risk management.
As districts announced remote learning for all last summer and parents scrambled to balance work and childcare responsibilities, I counted myself among the lucky ones: a stay-at-home mom to a fifth-grader who was happy enough to navigate online school; and a five-year-old who was slated to start kinder that fall — except that he didn’t.
The decision to ‘redshirt’ my five-year-old, and skip out on a difficult year of remote kindergarten seemed like a no-brainer.
One year later, as we approach the new school year with cautious optimism, I have not changed my mind and know that making that call was the right decision for my son and for our family.
This past year with my youngest (even during winter) had that sweet languid quality of summer breaks; the same easy rhythm to our days we’ve had in the past couple of years, not needing to worry about rushed mornings or homework packets.
Giving credit where it’s due, a definite savior of my sanity was his preschool, where he went back for two mornings a week: hands-on and mostly outdoor, it was the perfect haven for pandemic socialization and structure — and a much-needed break for me! Any worries that he may be bored in his third year in the mixed group of kids (ages three to five) were quickly assuaged. In fact, I would go as far as to say this past year was his best one — he was fully engaged, soaking up the learning and excitedly recounting every part of his day in a way he never did as a three- or four-year-old.
Whenever the sun was out, so were we, off to the playground or to hike or play at the skate park. As some of his peers were sitting down to their Zoom meetings, we ran errands and grocery shopped, rewarding ourselves with a treat from the coffee shop. We read books, watched movies, baked treats and battled over iPad time.
I tried to instill some sort of educational routine, attempting to devote a morning hour or two to workbooks and crafts; but when, too often, the half-hearted efforts would devolve into Hot Wheel races or jumping on the trampoline, I would settle for reading a couple of book chapters and putting on a semi-educational video before calling it a day.
Without the expectations of school looming, I had that luxury — knowing he still had a year to catch up. Once things seemed safer, we added sports and classes to our routine, an endeavor that was also easier without a school schedule to juggle around.
We met with our pandemic bubble of friends for walks and playdates. The only drawback was that these socializing opportunities were infrequent, as most of our friends with similar-aged kids opted to enroll in online school or full-day care programs, leaving my kiddo to seek out the occasional playmate at the park with increased fervor. However, between pandemic restrictions and varying risk tolerance levels, we were definitely not the only ones in this boat — and I was thankful for any amount of real, off-screen peer play, which was essential for his mental well-being.
I am grateful for getting this precious bonus time with my last baby that I would not have otherwise had.
As fall draws near and with it, finally, his foray into what I can only pray will be a more or less normal school setting, I am caught up in an expected mix of excitement and wistfulness. But I'm also grateful for making it to this point, for having weathered this storm as a family, and for getting this precious bonus time with my last baby that I would not have otherwise had.
Naturally, I worry about how will he adjust. Will he be bored? But mostly I am beyond ready and so is my son. His eyes light up every time we drive by the school; his brand-new backpack — that we bought back in January of 2020 — waiting in his closet, ready to be packed with pencils, crayons and a lunchbox.
Our summer has been busy, filled with fun outings, beach time and sports. And yet, early one recent morning, I am awakened by a still-groggy voice:
"Mom? When is summer over already? I want to go to school."