Our mostly normal back-to-school day

Our girls — Nayvie, Emerie and Parlie — on Wednesday returned to school for the first time in nearly six months.

Our first week of school is in the bag — all one day of it.

Like some other Idaho school districts, ours pushed the first full week of in-person learning back two weeks, compliments of COVID-19. Our three daughters went Wednesday. They’ll return Monday and Wednesday this week before a full reopening next week.

If that’s possible.

Our superintendent announced Thursday that a district staffer tested positive for COVID-19. The individual quarantined before schools reopened, we were assured. Still, the news reinforced the relentless uncertainty of back-to-school 2020-21. How long before others test positive? What happens then?

Nonetheless, shutdown avoided. For now, it’s one week down, 35 to go.

And despite all the disruptions and uncertainty of recent months, their first day back wasn’t as unusual as we anticipated.

In many ways, the “soft” reopening’s been nice. The girls got some last-minute back-to-school shopping in with Grandma Monday and scored manicures with a cousin who’s home from college Tuesday.

But the slow start has complicated our already crazed schedule augmented by two jobs, recently selling our home and moving our stuff piecemeal into a rental while we peruise a seller’s market and prep for a baby in December. Having the girls back at school learning full-time after a nearly six-month break would be nice.

Things got a little crazy Tuesday night, when the girls learned their 10:30 p.m. bedtime (conservative estimate) had suddenly changed to 8:30 p.m.

Emerie, our first-grader who’s already tough to wrangle at bedtime, was beside herself with excitement about school — despite the first-day “jitter glitter” her teacher gave her to put under her pillow. (Sorry, Mrs. Hunt, the stuff didn’t work that well for us. I half-jokingly floated cough syrup as an alternative. My wife, Nicki, wasn’t having it.)

Jitters were only part of the struggle. Here’s a timeline of our night:

  • 7:30: Brush teeth.
  • 7:45: Read “The Night Before First Grade” to Emerie and “The Bearnstine Bears” to Nayvie, our kindergartener. Our third grader, Parlie, can read on her own, thankfully.
  • 8:20: Nicki walks the two little ones through a short breathing exercise to calm them down.
  • 8:30: Lights out.
  • 8:32: Lights on. Emerie’s thirsty (for the second time in 15 minutes) and Nayvie’s foot’s asleep.
  • 8:40 Nayvie wants Mom, who’s helping Parlie pack a backpack in the next room. Nayvie gets Dad. “I like Mom more,” she reminds me. I bark at Emerie to stop doing handstands on the bed.
  • 9:15: Two night owls down, one to go.
  • 9:30: Parlie “can’t sleep.” Try harder, we say.
  • 10:30: I’m asleep.

The big morning brought the usual pandemonium: three tired girls and their mother scrambling to get ready in the bathroom, watching the clock to ensure we’re not late, arriving at school with minutes to spare.

And we’re expecting a baby in three months. What happens then?

One unusual part of the morning: the drop-off zone, where parents, teachers and children walked around in face masks. Nayvie froze and clutched Nicki’s hand when a masked teacher offered to show her to class.

Parlie and Emerie were off with their friends after barely saying goodbye, so Nicki walked Nayvie to class. I walked to the car and waited.

And waited.

Nicki eventually returned. She’d been crying — another normal occurrence when we send one off to kindergarten. Would Nayvie make friends? Nicki wondered on the ride home. How can you make friends while social distancing? Will her teacher do a good job?

The girls survived the day — even Nayvie, who reported making two friends. (She forgot their names.)

Other disruptions were minimal, Parlie and Emerie reported. They only had to wear face shields once, when learning in groups on the floor. At times, it was difficult to hear their teachers, who did mask up throughout the day.

Who knows what next week will bring.

Your situations may be more daunting. How are you adjusting? Has the uncertainty impacted your job or other major facets of life? How do you cope? I’d love to hear your stories at [email protected]

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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