We’re here again. Back to school. Again. Melody and Amos have gone in today, Joe is back tomorrow and Peta, lateral flow test permitting, is back on Wednesday. I have heard all the arguments for sending the children back to school, and I am sure they will pan out for the majority of families. But some families will suffer from COVID-19 brought into the home from school and I find that hard to come to terms with. School is now mandatory; parents are expected to put their health on the line for their children. When your child holds out their arms for a cuddle, you can’t take steps to ensure your own safety, can’t choose to keep two metres apart and wear PPE. Statistically, the risk to any individual family is quite low – but for those families that are affected, will it feel like the rush back to school before everyone is vaccinated was worth it? It wouldn’t to me, having spent a year protecting everyone and following all the rules. And on an altruistic note, don’t we owe it to the world to keep the number of infections as low as we can whilst we vaccinate the population in order to minimise the chance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus ‘learning’ to sidestep the vaccine?
So, it is with much apprehension that I send my children back to school. But what about the children? The younger three are not worried about actually catching COVID-19 because they know they are very unlikely to become ill if they catch the virus. However, Joe, now seventeen, is worried about keeping safe in a workshop when lateral flow tests are not compulsory and masks cannot be worn for safety reasons (masks cause safely glasses to steam up which is considered (I think rightly) a more immediate risk than catching COVID-19). Peta is worried about having to wear a mask all day and getting wet eating lunch standing in the rain. Melody just doesn’t want to be in school – nothing new there, but she worries about the confusing covid-rules that she sees as quite arbitrary such has having to be socially distanced at the sinks, but then all sitting together and next to each other in class, and having her own writing pencil while sharing coloured pencils. Amos is probably the least worried – he is bothered that his hands get sore with all the handwashing (he’s gone in today equipped with a bottle of hand cream) and he’s anxious because he gets teased about being different. But he was the one with the bounce in his step as he walked out this morning, partly I suspect because he is not bottom rank at school, a position he tends to end up in during the children’s interactions at home.
Fortunately, there are upsides about going back to school for the children, though Melody is hiding them well. Amos is looking forward to seeing his teachers, he has lots to tell them and I think is desperate to talk to someone outside our family. Melody has struggled with video lessons – seeing herself on screen makes her feel self-conscious and it is somehow uncomfortable having the teachers watch you in your own home, no matter how nice they may be – so whether or not she admits it, she will find some positives to going back to the classroom. Peta is looking forward to seeing friends and teachers face to face. She finds messaging tedious; the time lag in conversations and in having questions answered and explained by teachers frustrates her. Joe also is looking forward to being able to speak directly, ask questions about his assignments and is itching to get back some of the practical aspects of the course that he has lost. I think, the main benefit for all of the children will be to give them some space. They have done well living on top of each other, studying in makeshift workplaces and arguing over band width, but the last two weeks particularly have seen frayed tempers and endless grumbles about noise and who is taking up more room. I wonder if the kinds of houses we choose and design after lockdown will be affected by our experience of this pandemic. I was reading about the architect Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) last week, and about his argument that the kind of building you live in affects the type of life you live; it seems obvious when you think about it, but whether the pandemic is just a blip in our lives or has greater implications remains to be seen. Those too are the words I think of in relation to the wisdom of sending our children back to school at the moment; it feels like one big experiment. Hopefully, luck will be on our side, but whether or not it is the wise thing to do remains to be seen.