Just Keep Swimming

Life After the Big Return to School


'Twas the day of schooling, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Okay, that is a lie. Both Frio and Piper just barked up a storm because they thought someone was walking near our house. I think, it was just the wind lightly blowing a tree branch. 

Dang wind daring to do stuff outside.

Okay, so it isn't dead silent, and the dogs like to have at least two random runs around the first floor, a one-sided game of tag with Mittens the cat and a floor shaking wrestling match where they slobber over each other's ears. 

But not kids.

A week ago, I confessed that I was a little sad about the kids heading back to school while also detailing how having them home this past year had its sheer moments of marvelousness. It is a rather big deal returning to an in-person school after online learning ruling the past year. 

The night before the first day of school, Everett even declared that this was a huge event in his life, and it felt like going to school again for the first time. He said it while bouncing up and down like a rabbit as he does when he is excited about something, which was way better than the tear-soaked meltdown he had a few weeks before when it dawned on him that he'd be returning to in-person school. So, I was thrilled that we have made some progress, while internally pleading that his transition would be as smooth as pouring maple syrup on hot pancakes. But like a tidy adult pouring them, so it'd be less sticky and messy. 

Everett was nervous about returning to school. I wasn't entirely shocked by that as it took him almost two months to adjust to Junior Kindergarten. about two weeks at the start of Senior Kindergarten and so, even though he is in Grade 4 now, big changes were never things he charged towards with glee.

Plus, he told me that he got picked on a lot last year. I was aware of some issues at the start of the year but didn't know it had occurred throughout his time in Grade 3. Though he claimed it was the entire class against him, and I think this was more of a case of transforming a fly into a tyrannosaurus rex that the reality. Absence made a small issue into a life-threatening catastrophe.

I shared with him that I had been picked on as a kid too. Like him I was one of the smallest and youngest in the class, and was also prone to sweeping away to fantasy worlds and pretending I had magical fictional friends. I know it is baffling how such a kid could be teased, because I just described the definition of cool.

But the talk seemed to calm him down and he never protested about returning to school after that conversation. There is a helplessness that haunts me when I know that my kid is being picked on, and I wrestle with my ingrained sense of protection but also know it is one of life's growing pains that one needs to endure. 

My history as a parent shows I may not quite be the world champion of letting go and stepping back as my kids enter the next big phases. I am the guy who has on at least three occasions talked about the emotional roller coaster that I was on when sending my kids off to school. It isn't an earth-shattering shock that I also want to wave a wand and magically fix any challenges my kids may have at school. While I felt for Everett, I was also aware that some of the emotional bubbling over was coming from the fact that he had spent eight months at home using a computer as his form of social interaction and schooling, and being a little tech wizard, this was a thing he felt in charge and in control.

I won the emotional lottery when picking up my kids from the first day back at school, and Everett was gushing about school and thrilled that everyone was excited to have him back. After a few days, he revealed to me that he was loving being back at school and everything he could have wanted has worked out. His favourite teacher ever was his teacher again, his friends were including him in all the reindeer games and the hands-on learning was way more exciting than doing it all on the computer.

The only thing that did seem to squeeze an ounce of excitement out of him was Covid era schooling wasn't as life-altering as he had imagined. He told me with a little hint of disappointment that it was pretty close to last year other than parents are not allowed on the property when dropping kids off and he must put a post-it note on the washroom door, so others know someone is in there.

As for Danika, she has been eagerly anticipating the glorious return to school for months and has been giddily singing about the moment for anyone who was within listening range. She was so over-the-moon pumped for the major event of actually being in-person with those that weren't her brother and sister that she may be the first kid ever that I know who cried and was heartbroken over a snow day because it happened to fall on what was supposed to be their first day back to school.

It just made the day she returned that much more of an iconic moment. She was thrilled to share that there were a few new students in her class, that everyone welcomed her back and of course, she has million more best friends. We always knew that in-person learning was best for Danika, but we felt it best to at least start the year online, and when she ended up with such amazing online teachers, we stuck with it a bit longer. Both my kids are in a much better emotional place now that they are at a physical school with their friends again.

As for me, I'd say there is a big difference having to get the kids up earlier because the twenty-minute walk through the snow to the school is a bit more work than the little jaunt from the kitchen counter to their laptops. I forgot how much of a mad scramble it was convincing kids to get out of their warm beds, pleading for them to get their clothes on, convince them a bowl of cold cereal was the food of champions but they needed to eat it quickly, be the voice of reason for all the early morning rumbles that break out while I try to throw healthy food together for their lunches and then the morning ritual of trying to get them to squeeze into their winter gear rather than everything else they are  trying to do that has nothing to do with getting ready for school. I didn't miss morning routine, and I was a bigger fan of wear whatever you want, scarf down last-minute breakfast and plop in front of the laptop style of morning ritual. 

It takes me about 15 minutes to get to their school, and if we're lucky, it takes me with the kids about double that time. Especially in the winter where they need to crunch every sheet of ice, are lured in by every snow pile and like to drag their feet especially when we're running very late, I've also been suckered into Danika riding my shoulders, which my body is screaming should have retired two years ago, but it gets us to school on time.

You wouldn't think there would be much of an adjustment period working from home with no distractions, but it is when my distractions were as adorable and heartwarming as my kids. I kind of miss Everett asking if we can play Pokémon when I am scrambling to get a piece of writing in before deadline or Danika doing one of her random hug attacks throughout the day. I am far more productive, but the house is a little less warm and bright.

Like every major milestone for my children, it transforms into a bigger learning experience for me. It is important to let your kids go. To trust your kids are more resilient and stronger than you give credit. To appreciate the moments and memories that you have with them but make dedicated time to make more. As I said in my previous piece, it was such a gift and blessing to have them home for an entire year, but this past week has proven that everyone's mental and emotional health needed for them to go back.

My kids are great and very happy to be back at school. I am going to be great and happy that I have the house to myself to work. My kids have adjusted perfectly. I will eventually adjust. Kids are going to continue to learn. I keep learning even more.