The gates are open again for many schools across the country and the school yards are slowly filling with laughter again. Homeschooling every day has come to an end and lots of our young children are returning to school. Sending your kids back to school is a complete emotional roller coaster, if my experience is anything to go by. Here, you can read about how it went for me on that first day back.
At the start of May, amid beautiful weather in the Netherlands, I was playing outside with my 5-year-old daughter and it hit me that my children would be returning to school very soon.
A bittersweet end
Our 2-month homeschooling experiment was coming to an end and that felt bittersweet. I was going to miss having nothing on the calendar yet craved a routine. I was going to miss having my children home with me but yearned for a few hours of solitude.
At times, I struggled with guilt and frustration that I wasn’t doing ‘enough’ to educate my children during this time. When I asked my son how his learning was going, he told me that he is learning 5% of what he did in school. That certainly made me lose some of my confidence and made me realise that I wasn’t going to win the ‘teacher of the year’ contest within my home. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to work and teach full-time. I didn’t need to find ways to play ‘hide and seek’ with the kids so I could quietly take Zoom calls. Nevertheless, it was difficult for the family and after over 8 weeks home, I was excited for my children to return to school.
My husband warned me that my excitement might be overshadowed by anxiety when the kids actually went back when the schools partly reopened on 11 May. With half classes, designated pick-up and drop-off times and no socialising, it was going to be different.
Would I treat them like my groceries and disinfect them when they got home? How would it be to drop them off in a ‘drive-through’ manner on the school’s playground? Did they lose some of their skills while being home for the last 2 months? From a practical perspective – and considering now that I would actually still need to do some homeschooling (now it will be every other day) – how in the world was I going to bring their books back and forth from home to school for the rotating days of homeschooling?
One friend told me: ‘It is going to be nice for them, but still hard for us.’
Well, the time has arrived. Today, my children returned to school.
Our new normal
Consciously, I know things are different but for a moment, as I prepared their school lunches, it felt like I stepped out of a weird dream that we have been living for the last 2 months. An experience that, earlier this year, was unfathomable.
While technically longer than their summer break, going ‘back to school’ this time did not have the same excitement. There were no shiny new shoes and backpacks. Instead, their tattered backpacks they carried through the Dutch winter were filled with the books they had used during their 2-month homeschool period.
Back at school, with new rules
On that first day back, the energy of the school was subdued. No longer was there a rush of parents running into the school before the 8:30 alarm with their child in tow, casually saying hello as we brushed past each other. Instead, we arrived to a roped-off playground serving as a drop-off spot for our children. Teachers patiently and cautiously awaiting the arrival of the children. Parents maintaining their distance.
In some ways, there was an aura of hope. It felt like we were one step closer to our normal lives. No longer did we have to attempt to work and school our children. Our children were excited to see their friends, we were excited to see other parents. We would have to settle for short social encounters. We had a task at hand. Safely drop off our kids, following all the new rules in place.
Sense of apprehension
However, there was also a sense of apprehension. We are starting to live again and, as such, we must deal with the emotions and reality of our ‘new normal’. No longer could we keep our children safe in the ‘bubble’ of our homes. No longer can I pretend that life will be the same as it was, the reality of a 1.5-m society is apparent.
Having such a focus on preparing the kids, I underestimated how I would feel. As I dropped my daughter off, I was overcome with sadness, a similar feeling to when I dropped her off for her first day of school. It was a realisation that I would not have her around all the time. Yes, these times have been hard, but I will always cherish the time we had together and the sweet moments. I was going to miss our baking sessions and dance parties. I was going to miss being outside in the park and enjoying what turned out to be the sunniest and warmest April on record in the Netherlands.
Some things I know
Time will tell how all of this will work out. We may never know if this was the right time to send our kids back. However, there are a few things that I do know.
I know the schools are doing everything they can for our children.
I also know that our kids are resilient. After their first day of school, my children shared how happy they were to be back to school. They were most concerned that they couldn’t hug their teacher goodbye and that one of their friends attended school on the alternate day.
Finally, I know that while the interactions were different, the things that matter have remained the same. Parents smiled at one another, bonded by a shared knowledge that we have made it through, kids laughed with their friends and teachers lovingly welcomed their students back to school.