THE CALCULUS OF KINDERGARTEN IN 2020
($$+ / $$ -) + (#of children x their ages)2 x (what the district is doing / your family limitations) lim (childcare availability) – Professional obligations + at risk family members x R0 5.7 = 6H solve for H, the risk your family is comfortable taking.
Actual way my brain processed how we chose our path through the pandemic. And once we solved for H, so began the epic cross country saga ending in kindergarten in the suburbs of Chicago.
Since March we’ve been largely confined to our homes in the Los Angeles area. With one of the largest outbreaks in the country LA and adjacent counties have remained on strict lock downs for over six months. During this time, #TheHandful and I took walks, went on local adventures and generally tried to make the best of our time together. Week by week the schools kept promising to open and then each week we’d be met with “oh it’ll be another week” and those weeks turned into 6 months. Parents have been left scrambling, do we form a pod, do we hope the schools open? Can we afford to have one parent stay home to help with the virtual schooling? The issues plagued us. Then the first of the fires hit and the air in LA smelled of ash and soot and burnt homes. Our sky became gray and our sun became a hazy orange color, like a weird dystopian movie. Our backyard games came to a halt, our swimming was no more, opening a window came with risk and the heat was oppressive.
Virtual Kinder was a non-starter; she could neither master the basics of the technology (nor should she be expected to) without my constant aid and she HATED getting on zoom calls with kids she never met and a teacher she never met. A few days into our toxic air quarantine I finally snapped and said to #BabyDaddy “Why are we here?” We aren’t in school. We can’t go outside. We’re trapped and sweating and there is absolutely nothing holding us here. In that moment we decided to flee to Chicago and hope for cleaner air and the companionship of family.
That decision was easy, the next one was harder: how do we plan on getting there during a global pandemic with a child who has specific immune system considerations. I had to weigh where I was comfortable taking risk and where I wasn’t and arrived on traveling by train to Chicago as it gave us a private train car and bathroom and allowed us to take our meals away from other travelers. The parenting mantra “We’re all doing the best we can” echoing in my thoughts as I am making LIFE altering decisions in real time. So we pack what we can manage and schlep to the train station to begin our cross country adventure together, me and #TheHandful on a girls trip! #BabyDaddy had to stay behind for work for now so he dropped us off at the station and gave us a last squeeze before heading back to the toxic air.
Woooooooo let me pause here and tell you, the train is an ENTIRE experience. AN.EXPERIENCE. I’ll summarize it to say, we liked it until we didn’t and when we were ready to get off, it was SUPER annoying to be plodding along making what felt like 100 more stops. On the positive, we had our own train car with beds, a “shower” and a private bathroom and sink. I liked that we could keep completely to ourselves and we had amazing views of the country. That was awesome. I did not know that the train would pitch back and forth worse than a boat and was extremely motion sick the ENTIRE train ride which went from Tuesday night in LA, landing Thursday night in Chicago. We met and made friends with an Amish family traveling back to NY from visiting their mom who was in SoCal for breast cancer treatment. If there wasn’t a pandemic I think the kids would have definitely played more but we had to kinda keep them apart. That was a bummer because if they could’ve played I think the trip would have been MUCH more fun for #TheHandful. Anyway I puked my way through the trip and was beyond happy for the clean air of Chicago when we arrived.
When we got to Chicago I started GULPING the air like President Skroob. I’ll describe it like this, pretend you’ve been drinking gross water for a while and then get a sip of purified, cold, crisp water … that is what the clean air felt like but for my nose. My nose throbbing was gone finally.
Masked up, windows down, Gaga arrived to squire us to the hotel to begin our quarantine. She explained that the local elementary was happy to accept #TheHandful into kindergarten and informed us that she set a meeting for us at the school the following morning.
The next morning the school blew me away. They are leasing a rec center with a ton of outdoor space for kinder and first grade. Each class has a one way external entrance and a sep exit so they only walk one way down the corridor. Each child is temperature scanned at the door, hands sanitized and then escorted by staff (no parents allowed in the building at all) to their class room. During class there are outdoor mask breaks every 45 minutes, with extra PE and extra outdoor time built into the day. Each child has to bring a water bottle with a straw so they can sip under the mask and not take the entire mask off. Every kid has to have their own personal bag of toys for recess so they don’t share toys. When they walk around they have to use “airplane arms” basically their arms out to the side and front to make sure they’re staying away from each other. Then the admins met with Mickey and turned to me and said she could start Monday. To remind you this is Friday, fresh off the train Friday, got in last night Friday. I’m sorry we got here yesterday she starts MONDAY?! We went from warped speed, skipped ludicrous speed and went straight to plaid!
MONDAY. KINDER?! I’M NOT READY!!!!!!!!!!!
“Oh I can’t wait!” Came a tiny mask-muffled voice with big brown eyes. And as I follow her gaze towards where the other kids are playing I can see she’s glowing. Ok, Monday it is. Monday my baby flies the coop. Monday. Monday …
Thankfully it was Rosh Hashanah so we had a full family packed outdoor agenda because Monday, Monday, Monday kept haunting me … Monday she’s in kinder. We just spent the last 6 months together, going on adventures, making jokes together, getting that last special time together and now it’s here and it’s MONDAY. The last five years it was just us on our daily adventures, going to classes, going to the zoo, driving to the beach doing what we wanted when we wanted. If it sounded cool we went and did it when we wanted to. We had our own language for silly morning games we played every morning as we took our time getting out of bed. Monday Monday Monday …
The night before kinder masks up windows down, Gaga drove us around town getting supplies. We laid out her outfit, packed her backpack, put her lunch in the fridge and for the first time in five years I set an alarm for the morning.
What felt like five minutes later said alarm was going off and she was bounding out of bed shouting “I START SCHOOL TODAY!” We ate some breakfast, got dressed, took some first day pictures and that was it. We got to the school, they came out to get her for her temperature scan and she never looked back just shouted over her shoulder “I love you!” That’s it. The door closed and I was on the outside, she was disappearing from sight through the narrow window and I was outside frozen. That’s it, that’s all, no kiss, no big hug just a waive and a door slam.
It’s very weird to drop your child off to school having never met the teacher. Our cousin had her a few years ago and loved her so that was reassuring but it’s weird to be like have fun with teacher stranger lady. I trudged off to Gaga, grateful she had a brunch for us to go to to escape my thoughts.
I was going to end this post after drop off because I thought that was it, but then there was pick up. My zombified exhausted child emerged from the building barely able to keep her eyes open. She said she had a great day and that she made three new friends, including playing with the girl who invited us to her birthday party coming up. Then she dropped into tears about having to leave her Barbie in the classroom. Exhaustion gives everyone a short fuse. This is going to be one big adjustment that’s clear. We stop for a snack in Gaga’s backyard and I rifle through her backpack and learn she has HOMEWORK. Oh wow we definitely went to plaid. She told me her teacher is amazing and that she can’t wait to go back tomorrow. I can feel my shoulders relaxing, I think we made the right move after all. Family, stability, fresh air and a happy kid.
I know I speak for everyone when I say 2020 has been crazy but for once in our 2020 things seem to be looking up for now …