To the 2021-2022 school year:
farewell and good riddance

The last day of school! CELEBRATION EMOJIS ALL AROUND!!!!

Summer, we are ready for you even more than we’ve ever been before.

Mary – third grade; Thomas – Kindergarten; David – fourth grade; Anna – bus stop side kick.

On the last day of school, I arrived in the pickup line earlier than I have all year. I parked behind all the other very-early parents, and Anna and I watched as the pickup crowd slowly gathered.

From our van we had a perfect view of the double doors, and I stared at them, willing them to open. As I stared, I could feel my chest swelling with impatience. Open, open, open. I wanted my kids in the van. I wanted to shut the door and drive away from this fraught, sad, scary year.

When the doors did open, bright-faced kids exited with hands full of school supplies and end-of-year awards. The teachers walked the students to their caregivers with one last hug and smile. They bent down and looked kids in the eye to tell them how loved they are just one more time.

Thomas’s teacher, our beloved kindergarten teacher that David also had, is moving this summer, and she stuck her head in my window to tell me goodbye. I tried to tell her thank you, but how can you? How do you say thank you to this person who been a steady guide through all of the tumult of this year, AND also taught phonics? Where do I even begin?

I cried, I knew I would. I had worn my big sunglasses just for the occasion.

This year has been so so hard.

Has school always been like this? I’m still relatively new here, so I honestly don’t know.

We started the school year watching zoom meetings of parents screaming at each other about COVID precautions, and we ended with a horrifying school shooting. Lord, have mercy.

Looking back, I can’t even recall all of the controversy. There was masking/no masking, vaccine, contact tracing, staff shortages. I remember watching a Q&A as one of our administrators explained a new COVID protocol that I could tell she didn’t choose, but would be required to implement.

All year long that’s what I saw from the teachers — calm, patient, professionalism. They were dealing with so much stress behind the scenes, but none of it ever entered the classroom. The teachers and administrators were dealt a nearly impossible task and somehow they were able to rise above it all and create a positive, safe environment for learning. I’ve always thought that teachers were part magician, and now I know it for sure.

All four of my kids had wonderful years in school. Somehow, this awful year was salvaged by the dedication of the teachers and administrators. I have no idea how they did it. I suppose that’s what teachers do, though, right? They’re used to remaining calm in the storm, and remaining steady even when surrounded by shouting and bad behavior.

Parents weren’t allowed in any of my kids’ school for most of the year. We dropped Anna off outside instead of walking her to her classroom; we couldn’t volunteer for parties, or attend awards ceremonies. At the very end of the year, this finally changed. On the last Tuesday in May, we were invited to attend an assembly to see one of our kids receive an award. It was our very first time ever in the school, and the first time meeting the teacher in person.

After the ceremony, I took a picture of my kid holding their certificate and sought out their teacher. “Thank you for such an incredible year,” I said. “I’m so happy we can be in the school again! This is just wonderful.”

At that same exact time, Robb Elementary School was having an awards ceremony. Parents in Uvalde, Texas were meeting teachers and taking pictures of their beloved kids holding award certificates.

The parallel is gut-wrenching and awful, and one that I can’t let myself linger on too long. It’s too sad, and too hard. Here we are in June, the controversy over COVID is quieting, and we are arguing over gun control and mental health. It’s so heavy. Lord, have mercy.

Here on this blog, I don’t love talking about politics. There have been exceptions through the years, but for the most part I don’t feel qualified to wade into the waters of big issues. Plus, I don’t want my kids to be associated with controversial topics they don’t understand, or for them to be the faces of my political beliefs without their knowledge or consent.

This year, though, the kids were square in the middle of it all; the faces of controversy. But in the midst of all the fighting, it never really seemed like anyone was truly considering the kids.  I don’t pretend to have tidy solutions for COVID safety or for school shootings. I’m not an expert on education, virology, or policy, but I am an expert on my kids and I know we have to do better. We have to be able to listen and have conversations. We have to be willing to change our minds for the sake of these kids. We’ve got to look at these kids’ faces and understand that the issue isn’t about my side being right and your side being wrong — it’s these beautiful, precious kids.

This next school year? It’s going to be better. It has to be. We owe it to these kids.

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