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Letting Go: Starting Kindergarten during a Pandemic

First, let me preface all of this by saying I know I’m blessed that this is the struggle I am having. I know that these issues are nowhere near as dire as the life and death decisions and grief that others are dealing with. I know I’m one of the lucky ones to still have a job, still have a family that is healthy and that despite the challenges that we will face with virtual learning, I know we’re lucky that we are not worrying about the potential risk of in-person learning, not yet anyways. That being said. This is not easy. None of this is easy.

I'm a planner. Typical type A gal who loves things to be organized and have everything in its place, to know, in detail, how things are going to go, and to plan for the unexpected as best I can. As such, I’ve been planning and visualizing what my first born son, Maddox’s, first day of Kindergarten was going to look like for years. In 2016, we bought our home on the Old West Side of Ann Arbor directly across the street from Bach Elementary School, and after about 5 months of renovations, we moved in. Over the years, we enjoyed the school playground across the street and began telling Maddox that someday he would go to school there! In 2017, my husband, Ryan, and I welcomed our second son, Weston, and I loved the idea of Maddox and Weston attending school together, being able to run across the street to school, and look out the school windows and see the comfort of home. (

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As Kindergarten approached for Maddox, we started making plans. Discussing how we would shift work schedules around to accommodate school day hours vs. work hours, as my husband and I both work full time. I started looking at first day of school chalkboard signs to highlight Maddox’s personality and capture those first day of school pictures. I reached out to a friend whose children were currently attending as Kindergartener’s to see how their experience was going and ask about the various teachers. We did a soccer camp in the Bach Elementary gym not only because Maddox loves soccer, but also so he could get to know the building. We began talking to Maddox about how Kindergarten might be different from “The Y” (YMCA Childcare), where he was currently attending. We read books about going to school like “Billy and the Mini Monsters, Monsters go to School” and “What Should Danny Do? School Day”.

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In March, we eagerly attended Bach Elementary’s Kindergarten round-up. Because Maddox can be shy and get nervous when trying new things, we were anxious to see how he would respond. In the end, I honestly think we were more nervous than he was. He had a blast, and it reassured us that he was going to thrive in Kindergarten. Then two weeks later...everything closed, and we went into quarantine. As the weeks grew into months, the reality that Maddox may be starting his first year of school virtually began to set in. I avoided thinking about it. Over the years, I’ve taught myself to try and not worry about things outside of my control. The planner in me hates this. I carried on with my planning as best I could. I ordered him a Tiger “stuffy” (stuffed animal) since the Bach mascot is a Bengal. I ordered the first day of school chalkboard I’d been eyeing, and a new lunch box, all in hopes of making that first day of school special.

The Kindergarten playdates and ultimately his Kindergarten assessment appointment were both canceled and then AAPS formally announced they were beginning the year virtually. Although this ultimately wasn't a surprise and I wholeheartedly agree with and trust their decision to be the right one, this definitely came as a blow. We’d been slowly edging back towards what felt like a “normal” routine with the boys back at daycare, working in the office some, and restaurants reopening. Of course, all of this was modified with masks, loads of hand sanitizer, and social distancing, but it felt like progress and this news, in some ways, felt like a step backwards.

Since Kindergarten round-up, I began visualizing the first day. We’d pick out a first day of school outfit and take first day pictures on our front porch as we had for daycare over the years. He’d be geared with a new backpack and school supplies that we’d made a special trip to buy so that he’d have some exciting new things to comfort him on his first day. Together, Ryan, Maddox and I would walk across the street and find his classroom where we’d find his name on his new desk and help him put his backpack in his cubby space. Together, we’d explore all the different toys, the reading nook, and meet his new teacher. We’d help him meet a few new friends, make sure he was settled in, and then say our goodbyes while holding back tears until we got outside. Now, I was filled with sadness that this day, as I had imagined it would be, was never going to happen

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Even though the school has put out more information about a potential school schedule for the various virtual options, and we’ve chosen which of the three options he will be enrolled in for the school year (A2 Connect), I still can’t quite visualize what the day will actually look like. This makes it seem impossible for me to plan and prepare myself, let alone Maddox, for what is to come, making the loss of the imagined reality all that much harder for me. That being said, I know I need to let those dreams go in order to make way for the new reality and fully embrace what is to come so that I can frame it in a positive and exciting way.

The reality is, Maddox never knew a first day of school as I’ve described and imagined it. In this instance, his not knowing any better in some ways is a blessing. He goes into this school year with no expectations, other than those that we give him. We’ve laid the foundation for a virtual start, telling him he will likely meet his teacher and new friends on the computer. As far as my plans, I’ve begun to choose which ones I don’t have to scrap and what new ideas I can come up with to make the best of things. We can still do first day of school pictures with the chalkboard sign. We can even do pictures in front of the school if we want to (made easy by it being so conveniently located). We will still give him a new backpack, and I’ve bought lots of books and supplies (this year online) that will hopefully make the first day special even if the first day is spent at home.

We still don’t know if he will be spending his school days at home with us or potentially at the YMCA. We don’t know if we will once again be balancing work and childcare with the additional pressure of teaching, but regardless of the unknowns, it will be a year filled with firsts that I hope he will remember fondly. He will meet his first “real” teacher, make his first elementary school friends (friends who he may know for a lifetime). I hope when he and his friends reminisce about that first year of school, that he remembers how special and exciting it was and how it was filled with love and hope and positivity, despite the fear and sadness of the unexpected and unknown that wants to consume me. After all, isn’t that what motherhood is all about? Squashing our doubts and fears, putting on a big smile and facing each day head-on with love, compassion and confidence that's hopefully contagious and convincing enough that our children can be somewhat sheltered from the craziness of the world?! I think being real with our kids, but also trying to show them our best selves as much as we can helps shape their lives in the greatest way possible. So, I’m letting go of my old plans to make way for new great possibilities!