Back to School? Maybe Not.

Hello ladies, it's that dreaded time again…back to school. The question is: are you ready? With the pandemic slowing but showing no signs of leaving, I am sure we all have our reservations about the children returning to school. I am no different. I was not even sure I wanted to register my children for school this year. My biggest concern was COVID-19. Would I be putting my children at risk by sending them back to school in October? Another worry was if I am capable of teaching my children through distance learning until school opens. Last but not least, I was concerned about Jon. Is he going to adjust to his new routine, his new teacher, and his new classmates? I had a lot to think about.

Teachers are working harder than ever to make sure our children receive a high-quality education even though they are learning from home. They are working longer hours. They now have the added stress of dealing with technology. With this comes a different kind of safety threat, like people hacking zoom classes and posting porn (yes, this was totally a thing I witnessed this firsthand.) They are also having to navigate how they can still give that quality one-on-one attention to each student without physically being there.

The school itself has the daunting task of paying for and executing the school’s disinfection in preparation for the children's anticipated return in October. Because parents are anxious about their little ones' safety, more and more parents opt to homeschool. As a result, schools, both public and private, are on the verge of closing their doors. Breathe, ladies, we are going to get through it. We are in this together, so let's help them make it safe and support our schools in any way we can. We need to educate ourselves and do our part. Don't allow fear to close the doors to our schools. The pandemic is temporary if we react out of fear, what are we going to do when there are no schools to go back to.

My son, Jon, keeps asking if he will go back to his regular school and has been very agitated lately. He is always asking will he see his friends? When will he see Ms. Venti? It's tough because he will not be going back to school in the traditional sense. He will be distance learning with a completely different teacher. His new teacher is one tough lady too. I fondly remember how she set my oldest son David straight. He really tried to mess around, act up in class, and get by with not doing his work, and she was having exactly none of his nonsense. She was exactly what David needed. However, I was not entirely convinced that her tough as nails no-nonsense teaching approach would work on Jonathan.

When the school reopens in October, many of his friends will be gone. He will be starting Junior High with many unfamiliar faces. I was on the fence about whether my children should go back to school at all. I would weigh the pros and cons in my head. For every advantage, there was a disadvantage. I just could not shake the anxiety. What if I send them to school and something happens? COVID-19 deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. What if, by sending them to school, I am part of the problem?

On the other hand, we have to learn how to live our life around COVID-19 safely. Before antibiotics and vaccines, TB, smallpox, chickenpox, and polio were a death sentence. When the first HIV and AIDS cases appeared, we did not know how it was transmitted or where it came from. There is still no cure for AIDS and HIV, but we learned to live and love safely with prophylactics and PrEP. Maybe COVID-19 will always exist, and we just have to learn to live our lives safely around it. I started creating the leave no trace principles pandemic edition. Wear your masks, wash your hands, and give your friends some space. If we take safety precautions, we can move through the pandemic world without contracting it.

When you are camping, you disappear and become one with the environment around you. You follow the seven leave no trace principles, which means you camp and hike without disturbing the ecosystem of the area that you are camping and hiking in. You research all the dangers of the trail, and you equip yourself properly to be safe. The world is the trail, the pandemic is a bear on the trail, and I just needed to find my pandemic equivalent to bear spray. I prepared to leave the house the same way I would prepare for any camping and hiking trip. I researched the virus. I made a checklist of what I would need to recreate safely and avoid getting sick. I made notes of things to remember like "droplet precautions up to six feet" "N95 masks are the most efficient." "hand sanitizer effective up to four uses, then we must wash our hands for maximum efficiency." "Ask about hotel and restaurant disinfecting practices." I started donning a mask and chemistry goggles to go to the grocery store because you can catch COVID-19 through contact with your eyes and mouth. I did not stop until I felt I was adequately equipped to leave. My back procedure was fast approaching. It felt like June 30th could not get here fast enough. I was ready, and quarantine was driving me crazy.

The children and I were stuck in the house until the end of June. By the end of June, I had had enough of being quarantined in the house. It was triggering my PTSD. When most people think of veterans with PTSD, they think of a person who does not know where they are, who is having flashbacks and paranoia. What they do not realize is that PTSD does not always look like that. It can come in the form of extreme irritability, hypervigilance, and repetitive behavior. Claustrophobia is also common amongst sailors because of the tiny living space on the ship. As the months wore on, I was not only disabled but not even able to escape the clutter that was slowly building up around my work area. The children's added clutter made a mess faster than I could clean; it was adding to my anxiety. There were days where I felt like I could not breathe. It was as if the walls of our three-bedroom apartment were closing in on me.

I was unreasonably irritable. With a herculean effort, I reserved every ounce of patience I had for my children and my fiancé. Even with that, there were days when I fell short and was surlier than I would have liked to be. One day, I was in the bathroom, screaming, "LET ME POOP IN PEACE! NO, YOU MAY NOT HAVE ICE CREAM!" (Don't act as if you've never done it, I'm sure every mom on the planet has done that and if you haven't, oh… your day is coming honey.) It was this moment that I realized; I need to get the heck out of here. I was no longer like Robinson Crusoe, the master of all I surveyed. I was more like the Count of Monte Cristo plotting my escape.

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