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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pearce

Return, or Not to Return; That is the Question

"We will be back in the classroom soon..." When I read those words yesterday in an email from my son's school, my heart skipped a beat. Thanks to covid, it's been 54 weeks of no school. No programs, no services, nothing. Special education students have suffered mightily. To have my boy back in his beloved school is what we've been waiting for! The IEP will be back in action! At last!

So why is my heart sinking?

Why is there a dark cloud hovering over this fabulous ray of light? Why am I suddenly apprehensive? What's wrong with me?

It's not that I don't deeply desire to have my son return to his life-beyond-home. He needs the routine, the independence, the friendships. He will be overjoyed to step into his classroom and see the faces of the people he hasn't seen in 12 long months. Well, masked faces, anyway.

I know without a doubt that the staff will be thrilled to see the students come back. Everyone wants (and needs) a return to normalcy, whatever that looks like now. A return to school will be one big happy (socially-distanced) party!

But apprehensions are swirling in my head. Is the timing right? What precautions will they take? Will masks be worn? What will happen if cases surge as everyone returns and we are thrown back into lockdown mode? How would our son handle that after a taste of normal life?

Those questions and more filled my mind like tiny tornadoes. We had to tell the school whether we'd want our son attending now when they reopen, or wait til the "regular fall opening." Giving him his independence seems like the obvious choice.

Go back to school within a few weeks. Stay home until September. Everything will be fine in April! Everything will be better in the fall! How is a parent to decide?

It seems so easy on the surface. Get back to normal life. But, the getting-back means a pretty big transition after five seasons of being cooped up at home. Sure, being in this monotonous lockdown was tiring for everyone, everywhere. Yet, it provided unexpected comfort in our special needs world: we knew where our son was all the time, what he was doing, and what he needed. Being home together all the time has advantages.

Despite the occasional tear-your-hair-out moments that every parent has with their kids, staying home has gone better than we thought. If there's a late-night, sleeping in is perfectly acceptable. If we linger over breakfast, so be it. There's been no beating the clock in perpetual morning rushes.

Want to take a two-hour bike ride or poke around the garden together? Done. Snuggle up and watch an old DVD on a rainy Wednesday? Yes! To see him and be with him everyday brings my heart joy. To know he is safe in his home brings my mind peace.

There's ease and certain relief that comes in having a mostly-open schedule and being home. In special education, online learning generally falls flat. So when covid lockdowns kept us home, we devised our own routines and found other ways to learn. I suppose looking back, it hasn't been easy, but it's become familiar. Comfortable.

It's like a child's first day of kindergarten. Parents are usually apprehensive and feeling some sense of loss as this milestone comes around. Sending our child back to school after all this time carries the same feelings for me. I will miss him.

So, this dark cloud isn't necessarily dark. It's just the appropriate shade of bittersweet. And there's a silver lining. He is going to be happy (albeit tired) to return to school. That early morning wake-up call is bound to be difficult at first. (For me, too.) Covid turned us into non-morning people.

I respond to the survey with yes - we will attend when school reopens. Honestly, I'd still have doubts flying around my head if I checked we will wait until the new school year. For all the concerns of one decision, there are just as many positives.

Staying positive and remembering how to set the alarm clock are my priorities. Right behind figuring out how not to become a puddle of (happy and sad) tears on that first day back to school.


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