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Life with Liz: No easy decisions

It’s August. We should be back to school shopping. The boys should be heading into the grueling hot days of band camp. A should be starting his first year as a high school athlete. E should be getting pumped up about her last year as an elementary school student. G should be getting that strut that all seventh-graders have, now that they’re no longer the low men on the middle school totem pole.

But, we’re not. Nope, here in 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Central, we are just in some kind of never-ending circle of thinking that someone “with more authority” is going to make a decision, scouring school websites for any nugget of information, and still not being sure what the “right” thing to do is.

We’ve ventured back into a few “normal” activities, at least the ones where the kids are outside and they can make some attempt to stay socially distant. As we pull up next to each other, the parents shout through open car window, “did you decide yet?” “What are you doing?” “Did you see so-and-so district’s plan?” No one seems like they have any concrete answers, and school plans are full of vague language like “if feasible” and “where possible” and “as needed.”

Most of our family’s decisions are made “easier” by the fact that we always have to consider A’s heart condition and consider our entire family high risk because of it. However, that also places quite a burden on his shoulders, and we don’t want to foster resentment among the kids.

We also don’t want to panic our kids, but the Wonderful Husband and I aren’t exactly spring chickens, and while we are relatively healthy, it’s really just preferable that none of us take chances.

There just aren’t any easy decisions right now, or right ones for that matter. Every option has a pro column and a con column and they’re both equally full. One day I convince myself that a virtual option is definitely the way to go, the next day, I’m sure we can handle and navigate some sort of hybrid option, and then on other days, I’m just so exhausted by it all, I want things to be as normal as possible, and I say, “the heck with it, just go back to school.”

The Wonderful Husband and I are beyond lucky in that we have the resources to help our kids succeed no matter how they’re schooled, even, God forbid, should we have to consider home-schooling them ourselves. I know that route would be the most painful, but for everyone’s safety, we could do it if we had to.

I know that if we choose to keep them home, they’ll be well provided for as far as internet access, electronic devices, and willing and able tutors, if needed. And, I know if they do go back into the school buildings, we will make sure they have an ample supply of masks and hand sanitizer and every amenity we can provide them with to make sure they stay safe.

A sent me a link to a hazmat suit the other day and titled it “back to school shopping this year?” He’s not far from wrong. If that’s what it took, that’s what we would do for them.

We are beyond lucky. We know this. However, there are many, many families in our communities that don’t have this luck. Too many families rely on schools for some child-care. We all wish it weren’t so, but in this day and age where many families need two, or even three, incomes to survive, it is a sad fact.

Even my kids, who are older, and relatively self-sufficient, could not be counted on to be left home alone to get themselves online at the right times. We’ve been doing online seminars all summer long for Boy Scouts, and invariably, someone’s link isn’t working, someone’s battery is dead or someone forgot their password.

And that’s with a mom who’s relatively tech savvy, and with an extra laptop or two, and a few extra tablets or phones to throw into the mix when needed. There have been weeks this summer when I’ve taken vacation days just to make sure I was available to navigate everyone between their online webinars.

I emerged from those days more exhausted than I did from a typical 8-hour day working on my own computer. Virtual schooling, or any hybrid option, is not one to be taken lightly.

Then we have our teachers and other school staff. It’s beyond ironic that so many of the meetings to decide their fate are being held virtually, and yet the decisions to send them back into schools seem to be getting made regularly.

I see my own friends who are teachers, and parents themselves, struggling with all the same decisions, and then some. I see teacher friends who are close to retirement age calculating whether they can afford to retire early. I see still others who care for aging parents or other family members considering taking leaves of absence.

As the demand for cyberschool is increasing, I see many thinking about jumping ship to an all-virtual environment. Suffice it to say, even if our schools try to “return to normal,” I think they will face a lot of challenges trying to staff a “normal” school.

What bothers me the most is that we are only a few short weeks away from when things are supposed to start. The denial of what’s been going on in our world and the hoping that this virus was just going to disappear didn’t work. Now, we are faced with decisions that are being forced to be made hastily, and that are being second-guessed and changed on a day-to-day basis. Tempers are flaring. Patience is running short. The deadline is approaching quickly. Is there a right or a wrong answer? I guess time will tell. For me, if my kids do fall behind academically, I want them to have a lifetime to spend catching up.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.