“I’m going to do the bike, and then I’m going to shower. I am going to make a quick breakfast,” my husband said, out of breath, dashing around the room like the Energizer Bunny. He continued on. “After that, I’m going to fold the clothes on the bed and start my meetings!”
I stared at him and his newfound energy, as I sat in the corner of the couch, wrapped in a blanket, cuddling a pillow, my laptop beside me, staring at the wall.
“I miss them,” I said tearing up, looking around the empty room. “Don’t you?”
“The kids?” he looked at me incredulously. “Thank god they are out of the house!”
I don’t think I had seen my husband this happy in the last six months—other than when he was drinking scotch with his cousins during their virtual happy hours.
Week 27 of this pandemic, of working remotely, and parenting and now ending my time as a summer camp counselor. Last week, we decided to send our kids back to their school in Jersey City. For our kindergartener, this meant full-time, five days a week in person. For our third grader, this meant starting with a mix of virtual and in-person over the next few weeks, until finally going to five days a week in person.
The night before their first day back in person, the kids were buzzing around our home. Backpacks? Check. Lunch packed in new totes? Check. First day of school outfits? Check. Their favorite Pokémon and Beanie Baby keychains? Check. Pencils, erasers, notebooks and binders? Check, check, check.
And a new list of additional items for a very different start to this school year: a mask on the face and back-up masks in a plastic bag; indoor shoes; hand sanitizer; wipes, a laundry bag. We’re now taking temperatures in the evening and morning in our home and entering the results into the school app. Temperatures are to be taken again in the morning at classroom drop-off.
As I packed away extra sets of clothes in their backpacks and tucked the kids in, I felt anxious and sad. As I wrote their lunch notes, I felt happy for them for starting a new school year. As I laid out their outfits, I felt unsure. Did we do the right thing sending our kids back into the classroom? How would they learn and cope with having masks on all day? Are we putting our kids, our family and our community in danger?
I’ve been impressed with our children’s school and their teachers. Ms. Michelle and Ms. Grace, Ms. Mareme, Ms. Elle, Ms. Anangel, Ms. Vidya and Ms. Dayelin and all of the other teachers who are working so hard to help our kids adjust to their new normal. They are doing their best to keep our kids safe and trying to educate them, juggling those students who are in-person and those who are virtual, while also trying to be there for their own families. I am deeply grateful and thankful for each one of them.
I also acknowledge and recognize that our family has access to resources other families don’t. Some families don’t have the option of in-person schooling. Some families don’t have access to the same technology or quality of education for remote learning. Some families don’t have learning alternatives like learning pods, in-home tutors and teachers, or virtual classes. Some families are living in parts of the country where infection rates have gone down, while others are living where infection rates are still on the rise. Yet all families are adjusting to their new normal.
We’re not sure what’s next; if classes will shut down and students will get sick and have to quarantine. If we’ll all be back inside as the winter approaches. The only thing we do know is that we’ll have to take it day-by-day, as we have been doing for the majority of 2020.
The day both my kids went back to school, I waited. For someone to holler at me for more grapes. For someone to come and sing and dance to my coworkers on a Zoom call. For someone to have a tantrum and roll around on the floor for a solid five minutes. For a quick kiss, a shared lunch together, and a few cuddles. I waited until they ran through the door at 3 p.m., throwing off masks and shoes and running to wash their hands.
I hugged them and kissed them and hugged them some more. Washing their masks and helping to put away their backpacks and lunch totes—we had survived the first day.
That very same day, when I had been missing them and tearing up waiting for them to come home, I screamed my head off at them at the dinner table, unable to listen to my daughter’s endless whining and my son’s relentless teasing.
“STOP LOOKING AT YOUR SISTER IF SHE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO LOOK AT HER!”
And so, even in a pandemic, I was reminded that some parts of our lives had never changed after all.
Mita Mallick is the head of diversity and cross cultural marketing for Unilever North America and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young kiddos.