Finally! The last day of school, or as I like to call it “Alice Cooper Royalty Bump Day”, has come and gone. School’s out for summer and there are four citizens of this household that could not be happier. Ridiculous heatwave, notwithstanding.
This past school year was the worst ever. And I went through some tough ones back in the day. This one tops them all. It was a miserable grind for all of us. Me. My wife. And especially my kids.
Back in September, we made the decision to enroll our children in HUB for the 2020-2021 school year. HUB is, or was, the CBE’s continuation of online learning for those of us too afraid skeptical of returning to regular, in-class schooling in the face of a building second wave of Covid.
Our brief experience with HUB in the spring of 2020 had been admittedly underwhelming, but considering the circumstances, benefit of doubt was warranted. Going from 0 to 100% online in the midst of a pandemic scramble can’t be easy for even the most competent administration and workforce. That it managed to happen at all is commendable.
By September, however, all excuses were off the table. Surely the powers that be would have things all figured out and we’d hit the ground sprinting once the bell rang in the new school year. A summer to address the spring’s bloopers, not to mention a rested staff and overall better understanding of the situation, would surely make for smooth sailing into the new HUB school year.
Turns out that was wishful thinking. HUB would start late after unexplained delays. It wasn’t the confidence boost we were looking for. As a parenting team, my wife and I were far from convinced our decision had been the right one.
Somewhat surprisingly, to us, most of our friends and neighbours were shipping their kids back to regular school. We’d chosen HUB for our Grade 6 and Grade 8 children and the rough start immediately rocked our wavering self-confidence.
Granted, many of them had little choice in the matter. They had jobs and were far less able to double as teachers to two (or more) kids at home. Being unemployed gave my wife and I options. Flexibility, as it were. And we chose to have our kids sit out the coming catastrophe.
Sports were restarting. School was restarting. Summer had given a large portion of the population a boost of defiance, and vaccines remained months away. The sense of pending doom trumped any faltering faith in our decision. Then something funny happened … the catastrophe never came.
It never came in September. And it never came after Thanksgiving. It didn’t even come after Christmas. Like the Grinch listening to the Whos down in Whoville singing on Christmas morning, I sat here in my home thoroughly perplexed as to how the gong show I was so sure would happen, didn’t.
Which isn’t to say nothing at all happened. There was definitely a second wave. A big one. Eventually. The general population, riding high on the rhetoric of imbecilic freedom warriors, Trump disciples, and an assortment of blind contrarians didn’t disappoint. It just didn’t translate to massive outbreaks at public schools anywhere near as rampantly as I’d assumed it would. Certainly not at my kids’ school, at least.
There were a handful of cases throughout the year. Whole classes were quarantined, and students sent for Covid testing. For a few weeks this past spring, all upper grade students were granted a reminder of what the previous spring had been like when they were uniformly sent packing for a few weeks of home schooling as a precaution.
But by and large, I must admit we managed to get through the entire school year without the collapse into the chaos I’d envisioned. The inevitable crisis that was at the very core of our decision to our kids into HUB remained but a figure of our excitable imaginations.
With the school year now complete, looking back at the accumulated evidence, I’m resigned to admitting that I made a mistake. I made a mistake and I let my kids down.
After we’d decided on HUB, an unexpected, last-minute opportunity arose that radically changed my personal schedule. I was accepted into a retraining program that I’d forgotten I’d even applied to months before. Instead of being readily available to my kids as a poor man’s substitute teacher, I myself was in full-time school from October through April. Combined with my wife’s already planned and paid for return to school, I ended up leaving our children with only their devices and wits to survive a full school year.
They’re both intelligent, responsible kids, but a full school year of independent online learning and social isolation is not the best environment in which to thrust a 13/14 year old and an 11 year old. With little supervision, support, or guidance, they got an early taste of adulthood.
That they both passed with limited regression in marks is a testament to their innate ability, independence, and resilience. I could not be prouder of them, but make no mistake, it came at a cost.
Somewhat unexpectedly, my grade 6 kid endured a hellishly difficult school year. His lone teacher worked him hard. Like screaming curling player hard. HAAAAAAAARD! The poor kid pretty much had a full-time job, with overtime, all year long.
I’m all for challenging kids. A reasoned push to impart work ethic and organizational skills, is good for kids. I’m sure no role model! I’m absolutely not swooning for a return to 50s, but there are times when the current educational ethos feels a little too … soft. This, though, was over the top.
Conversely, my grade 8 kid was left with too little work much of the time. Not one to take on more than minimally required (what teen is?) and without a parent peering over the shoulder to demand more, the workload provided by teachers was very light.
This was disappointing and combined with my supervisory negligence, resulted in an awful online time-wasting habit that will require some unpleasant withdrawal in the coming months.
That I wasn’t available or fully engaged in ensuring their schoolwork was not only being completed, but being done so correctly, is entirely on me. As is the resulting engorged screen-time and other hiccups that revealed themselves throughout the schoolyear. I accept full responsibility for my role in this mess.
That said, I fully believe that if they’d been at regular school, a significant portion of this could have, and would have, been avoided. Fact is, kids at school aren’t left alone in bedrooms with free reign over their devices for eight plus hours a day while mom and dad, themselves, have faces buried in online classrooms.
More than that, though, kids in regular school have friends to play with and talk to and mature with. The absence of human interaction beyond the four of us (and the cats) really took its toll. Especially for the teenager, though for the longest time she was adamant it was no big deal.
The younger one admittedly handled it better but if memory serves me well, 11 is a bit easier go than 13/14. All the online “friends” in the world (literally) cannot replace the special bonds (and dramas) of being with and interacting with your peer group. Missing that almost entirely for 15 months has been difficult for all of us, but especially my eldest. I regret what I have potentially done to them this past year.
I don’t want to come across as one of these eye-rolling mental health bandwagon jumpers. The thinly veiled selfishness behind this sudden concern for the wellbeing of those with mental health issues in the midst of the pandemic was a tad nauseating. So much of it had a wailing Helen Lovejoy “won’t somebody please think of the children!” stench to it.
Mental health is most certainly a serious issue. One that, looking back, we’ll likely acknowledge wasn’t properly accounted for during this pandemic. But too often these same dimwits were more interested in their own ability to go to a restaurant than genuine concern for those suffering in isolation. You can’t wrap your own selfishness in faux concern for others and expect reasonable people to not see completely through such bullshit.
Nonetheless, as the months rolled by, the reality of the mental health impact in our household was undeniable. If I could do it over again, I’d gamble my own health vulnerability (pre-existing lung condition) and send my kids to “real” school.
I’d still say no to minor sports. That was a good decision considering how unrewarding (and eventually cancelled) the minor hockey season was. I don’t think my kids would quibble with this statement.
But for school? While they survived HUB, I wouldn’t do that to them ever again. There’s a lot to be said about going to school with your friends. It’s not perfect and definitely not pain free. There’s no Xanadu in youth; certainly not for teens. But 10 months alone, with only mom, dad, and siblings to personally interact with, is not a great space in which to imprison pubescent kids.
I’m very proud of mine for enduring the way they did. They’re superheroes in my book. I hope they accept my apology and will take comfort knowing that even Ebola raining from the skies won’t stop them from returning to regular school this September.
Bring on the endless head colds! I’ll stock up on tissue and eagerly await all the glorious grade 7 and grade 9 drama!