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Reevaluating What’s Important: 6 Moms from Around the Country Reflect on How the School Year Turned Out
Kaitlyn Collins

Ten months since we first checked in with a batch of moms from across the country (and eight months since we last heard from them) we’re reaching out one more time to find out how the school year shaped up. One mom quit her job. Another nearly lost it over a positive case. And all of them are tired, frustrated and grateful in their own right. Here, an update on how the academic year netted out.

1. The Tennessee Mom Who’s Resolved to Stop Overscheduling

The Kids: A second grader and a pre-k student

The School Status: “We are currently in-person for both kids. They went back to school in August and have been there for the whole year. We did receive some notifications along the way that a student or teacher tested positive, but our kids were not in close contact so they never had to come home to quarantine.”

The Pros: “We love seeing how much fun they have with their friends and teachers. We realized that the social aspect with kids is so important. We thought the whole mask thing was going to be hard, but kids are resilient.”

The Cons: “Our younger son has come home a few times with a wet/dirty mask, which makes me cringe and worry, but what can you do?”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “Honestly, it’s less about our kids and more about navigating a return to offices and, for my husband, work travel starting back up again.”

Lessons Learned: “I have learned to slow down. In the past, we were bouncing from birthday party to sporting event. Now, we spend more time taking walks, biking outside and just enjoying a nice day together.”

2. The Massachusetts Mom Who’s Proud of Her School District

The Kids: A first grader and a preschooler

The School Status: “My daughter’s pre-school is still in-person full-time. They had one quarantine for her class because of a teacher testing positive, but other than that they’ve been in-person. My son’s elementary school was hybrid until about three weeks ago. Now, they’re back in school in person full-time. Desks were moved from 6-feet spacing to 3-feet. They're still having lunch distanced at 6 feet apart.” 

The Pros: “The surprise win has been the way the school district and community have really worked together to try and make this work for everyone. Our teacher’s union and the school board have been working together every step of the way, and community organizations providing additional out-of-school care have been great.”

The Cons: “The emotional tax of school related quarantine. The waiting for test results has almost broken me on two occasions. Our afternoon babysitter/nanny tested positive, which sent us into a bit of a tailspin.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “What does next year look like, what does the summer look like? Those are all on my mind.”

Lessons Learned: “Kids are resilient, but they also internalize a lot of their stress. We’ve seen more outbursts and challenges with behavior. Also, you can get through anything as long as there is an end in sight. And it feels like the end is almost in sight.”

3. The Single L.A. Mom Who Is Working Hard Not to Micromanage

The Kid: A high school freshman

The School Status: Still virtual. “Sadly, my son doesn’t want to go to the partial in-person learning his high school began a week ago, even though I’m desperate to get him out into the world in order to improve his grades (he’s sleeping through class right now, even!) and just shake off the funk of a year of attending Zoom in bed.”

The Pros: “It kept my teenager away from possible bad influences he may have met out in the wide world. Also, he’s a high school freshman, but has somehow found his way to reading critical theory books by French intellectuals I didn't discover until I was a college junior, and I doubt he'd have done that if he hadn't been stuck inside.”

The Cons: “He's also not been exposed to the good stuff. Like a mentoring teacher at school. Or the immersive learning that occurs when you're actually sitting in Spanish class. Or discovering new friends. How to get along with people is more than just yelling at mom for being late with food.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I'm vacillating between a generalized anxiety that I need to be micromanaging his school attendance and grades (despite his fierce pushback) and a sort of ‘well, it’s his life’ philosophy. It's tough because as a widowed single mom, I can tell there’s lots of emotional baggage in our home, and I’m trying to be sensitive to his unique perspective while also prepping him for a rewarding, productive life.”

Lessons Learned: “I’ve learned to trust my son a little more. That when he says he doesn't want to return to in-person learning, I should trust his experience (he’s had a lot of immediate family illness in his life) and not just say ‘oh, you are using that as an excuse because you don’t want to get up early/deal with anxiety of attending high school.’ I’ve learned through reaching out to his high school guidance counselor that lots of parents and kids are just exhausted by the long year-plus of online learning, and that it’s more important, for now, to set aside any Tiger Mom impulses. Because, in the end, he will find his way.”

4. The Pennsylvania Mom Who’s Navigating Burnout

The Kids: A high school junior, a sixth grader and a third grader

The School Status: “Our district went back to full in-person school back in March as soon as teachers were eligible to be vaccinated. It was honestly a huge relief! They have had a few closure days here and there, but they have been mostly operating as normal while in session.”

The Pros: “I think the change back to in-person was excellent for my two younger kids. They had about had it with online classes and the crappy internet at my rural house. Towards the end, I’m not even sure my son was doing much at all—although they kept up generally good attitudes. They seem much happier, other than having to wake up earlier and not having as much time to play videogames, ha!”

The Cons: “My oldest had a few bumps—some anxiety about the risks of going back and then some anxiety about the social things common in high school.” 

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I think we are all kind of burnt out. I know I am with work, so getting through the last bit of this school year is the only thing I can focus on at the moment.”

Lessons Learned: “I think I've learned how resilient kids are—and how dedicated. They navigated online days where there was nobody there to help them or remind them. I’m insanely proud of them for that. Sure, they got tired and there were some times we all struggled to stay in the game, but they pushed on. Going forward, I also feel more comfortable relying on them to do some of the ‘social upkeep’ and administrative things related to school. Sure, I helped remind them to fill out their screening forms, but at this point, it’s: ‘Can you fill out your screening form?" rather than me doing it, which is a good thing for their autonomy, too.”

5. The NYC Mom Who’s Worried About the Greater Impact

The Kids: A kindergartner and a pre-k student

The School Status: “We currently have both kids attending in-person school five days a week! My daughter was five days all year, but my son just went back full-time at the end of April. It feels like such a blessing.”

The Pros: “Despite all the uncertainty, my kids have been thriving. My son has learned to read, my daughter has become so much more confident and independent and everybody has settled into an actual routine. I think I've also developed stronger friendships with my fellow parents. Having to navigate Google Classroom together can really be a bonding experience!”

The Cons: “In-person school and highly trained teachers exist for a reason, and it’s absurd to expect parents (particularly working parents) to absorb this. The past nine months have been a constant roller coaster of unexpected school closures, childcare puzzles and me yelling at my six-year-old to remember to cross his t’s "on the plane line," while hovering just out of frame on his Zoom call.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I'm honestly not too worried about my own kids. But I am worried about how this year has affected millions of other kids around the country and globe, who have had their education, socialization and lives upended. I'm worried about the staggering cases of childhood depression. I'm worried about the BIPOC families who are (rightfully) hesitant to put their children back into in-person school in the fall. I'm worried about a generation that has been taught to fear, distance and move into a virtual world, at such a young age.”

Lessons Learned: “I’ve learned that I am a raging lunatic who cannot operate without a plan and cannot just sit back and ‘see what happens’. I’ve also learned that my kids are smart, funny, resilient and curious. I’ve loved seeing them learn--from puzzling out how to subtract 20 from 60, to exploring everything there is to know about Komodo dragons. But also, we should pay teachers more, and invest financially and emotionally in public education.”

6. The Ohio Mom Who Quit Her Job

The Kids: A kindergartner and a preschooler

The School Status: “We feel so lucky that our school has been in-person since September. It's been really great for our kids, who are both at the same school.”

The Pros: “COVID led me to re-evaluate my priorities—and our family priorities—and I realized we had the flexibility/privilege to make some changes. I quit my job a couple months ago in order to spend more time with my kids in the afternoons and be more available for the inevitable quarantine weeks.”

The Cons: “Our school opened in-person in September, but did not offer before or after care until more recently. This created scheduling and logistical challenges for us, but now it’s hard to imagine going back to our long days.”

What’s Keeping Her Up at Night: “I am sleeping much better since quitting my job, to be honest. It was all too much. I suppose I'm now anxious about how I'll get back into the workforce eventually and find a job with more flexibility than my previous career.”

Lessons Learned: “My kids are so much more adaptable than I expected. They have done so well with masks and restrictions and have enjoyed the simplicity of being home and playing outside. They don't miss the rush of play dates, lessons and scheduled activities, and neither do I. I have learned that I was not living out my core values around career and family and have made some adjustments that feel right for the present. We do a lot of things because we feel like we need to— whether it’s signing kids up for lessons and activities, or choosing lifestyles that are crazy busy. Although this year has been heartbreaking and anxiety-filled, and many of us have lost loved ones, the silver lining for me has been the opportunity to reevaluate what is the most important.”

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