Back-and-forth over back to school

Parents weigh the pros and cons of returning to classrooms

I vividly remember that early afternoon on March 13, 2020, when my children walked home from school for the final time. I watched as they slowly ambled down the sidewalk and up our driveway, weighed down by book bags that had been stuffed to the brim with the entire contents of their desks and crinkled artwork that had been hastily pulled from the school hallways. It was implausible to me that those backpacks were able to zip closed, but even more unbelievable that my daughters' little bodies could carry such heavy loads. They looked like cumbersome turtles with huge shells, and had I been unaware of the severity of the situation, I would have probably made some kind of joke like, "Why did the turtles go to school?"

Instead of making jokes, though, I quickly ushered them into the front door and instructed them to drop their massive backpacks in the foyer and strip their clothes off. While I began spraying Lysol all over their belongings and preparing to throw school uniforms, sneakers and scrunchies into the washing machine, I ordered them upstairs to shower in the hottest possible water. Everything about that hectic day is etched into my mind, and looking back, I'm certain I didn't handle it very well.

Luckily, we've come a long way since those early, worrisome days of COVID, and up until very recently, it seemed like things were moving in the right direction. Considering how promising things were looking, my husband and I enrolled our children to go back to school for in-person learning, and we were happy that things were getting back to normal – whatever that means. However, as summer draws to an end, we've found ourselves feeling quite ambivalent about our choice.

On one hand, we are genuinely excited for our girls to return to in-person learning. Not only have they missed their friends and teachers, but having our entire family working and learning from home for 15 months hasn't been sustainable. No matter how hard my husband and I try to find a quiet place to work within our home, it's impossible to escape the requests and needs of our children. Despite what we have going on in our professional lives, we can't ignore the kids while we barrel through deadlines or write up legal contracts, and that often leaves us feeling frazzled and cranky. As you can imagine, maintaining any type of work/home balance or keeping up with a schedule has completely gone out the window, and we're all ready for a break from one another.

On the other hand, we have worries about the substantial rise in breakthrough cases and new strains of COVID that are emerging. When I first sat down to write this article, I was able to run errands without worrying about wearing a mask in public places, but in a matter of hours, all of that has changed. Like every parent, the health and safety of my family is my main concern, and not knowing what things will look like at the end of August gives rise to a new kind of anxiety. After all this time spent keeping my children safe, I'm beginning to wonder if we are making the right decision by sending them back to school.

I suppose the answer to that question is different for everyone. For now, I'm going to try not to stress over the unknown and enjoy that nostalgic back-to-school feeling that floods over me at the end of every August. Instead of worrying about how school is going to look for my kids this year, I'm going to delight in the smell of a new box of crayons, and when my kids ask if they can get a folder covered in hearts and puppies (instead of the generic primary-colored ones that I always choose for them), I'm going to say yes. After all, if the past year has taught me anything, it's that a harmonious work environment and good relationships with your co-workers (no matter how young) are key to surviving a pandemic.

Lana Shovlin is a Springfield mother of three who has been at home with her family since March 2020.