Covid-19: The fallout for families has been immeasurable

‘Are you excited to return to school?’ I asked the kids. Their reactions surprised me

‘My kids  certainly apply what they’ve experienced (during coronavirus pandemic) to life as they see it now.’

‘My kids certainly apply what they’ve experienced (during coronavirus pandemic) to life as they see it now.’

 

“Can we go back to the hotel in Galway when the coronavirus goes away?” the second youngest asked over breakfast this week. “And can we go by aeroplane?” his younger brother piped up. “Because driving in the car takes too long and it’s very boring,” he added.

“Yes” I replied. “Though we’ll see about the plane” I added, not in the mood to argue the point, but keen not to commit to anything in the process with the one who never forgets.

“Yeeessss” came the reply, and two excited boys ran off to the next room to update their older siblings.

The hotel they were referring to is a place we stayed for one night in late November last year. That one night was our holiday for the year – a night I insisted upon to try and appease my mum guilt. And yet the kids don’t dwell on the fact that it was just one night. They remember the trip as great fun, frequently referencing all the things we managed to squeeze in to a little over 24 hours. Even the torrential rain, which stayed the course of our short visit and soaked us to the skin as we sought to explore our surroundings, didn’t dampen their memory of the trip.

I’m hoping they’ll apply those same rose-tinted glasses to parts of the last few months. That the school and Montessori closures, the abrupt end to their activities and the sports they loved, the missing of friends and family, and the world filled with the yellow signs of Covid, masks, hand-sanitising stations and learning to keep your distance will be remembered somewhat differently.

They certainly apply what they’ve experienced to life as they see it now. As we drove home from a daytrip recently, the two youngest children spotted two muzzled greyhounds on a walk with their owner. “They have to wear them cos of Covid-19” the seven-year-old said to the four-year-old. “I know,” the four-year-old replied as if the obvious was being stated. Masks for dogs considered normal in abnormal times.

They’ve moved to elbow bumps instead of hugs when greeting grandparents and if anyone needs someone to police hand hygiene on their premises, my children are willing and able – so very able – to ensure correct protocol and procedures are followed. The unsuspecting woman who waltzed by the hand sanitiser at a local shop recently can vouch for that. As can all the other customers nearby who overheard the youngest express his horror.

A return to further normality is on the cards. As I waved goodbye to Homeschool Hub on RTÉ in June, emotional at the beautiful messages to our children and at the thoughts that one day, they’d talk about this programme and how the children of Ireland learned during the pandemic of 2020, a part of me feared it would be back on our TV screens come September.

It seems there’ll be no need. The schools are due to return and I’m delighted at the thoughts.  A “new normal’ we’ve been told. The roadmap has been laid out, but the exact details as to how individual schools, now under time pressure, will apply it, remains much of a mystery.

Will I be required to drop six of my children to school at six different starting times?

Will staggered starting and finishing times mean more congregation at school gates instead of less, as parents wait for the appropriate times to drop off and collect their other children?

How will the first day of school look for my youngest, due to start primary school for the first time?

Is there any point to transition year, this year?

Clarity has never left so many unanswered questions.

“Are you excited to return to school?” I asked the kids when the news broke. Their reactions surprised me. Those who seemed to miss it most, are the ones most cautious about the return. Those who were indifferent, are looking forward to it. And he who is yet to start, who was always content, relaxed and happy-go-lucky, has the most fears. It will be six months since his Montessori closed when September comes – that’s a huge portion of a four-year-old’s life.

We, as parents, are important stakeholders in the timely considerations needed in getting our children back to school. We’re the ones who need to prepare our children practically and emotionally for what lies ahead, allowing for the very different impact school closures and the pandemic have had on different families. We need to manage the uncertainties, anxieties and new expectations. We may need to adjust our working lives to accommodate the new normal. And we need as much notice as possible to do all this.

Because, rose-tinted glasses aside, the fallout for families has been immeasurable.

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