Me: I can’t wait until this boy goes back to school!
Me: He needs to be in school, now.
Also Me: Should he even be going back to school…ever?
As a mother, I want nothing more than for my son to be safe. I want nothing more than for my son to be educated in an environment that is conducive to learning. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these two wants seem to be at odds with one another. Pre-COVID-19, it would have been unreasonable to believe that education and safety could be mutually exclusive. Even with the multitude of school shootings in this country, we’ve still been able to view a lack of safety in schools as an outlier, not the norm. But as 2020 has shown us, what we used to know no longer applies. The way things used to be may never again be the way things are. The “new normal” we consider ourselves living under may very well become our “normal normal” for the rest of our days.
So where does that leave parents, especially mothers, especially women of color and single moms — who likely also wear the hats of employee, employer, or entrepreneur?
As someone who works from home full-time, that particular pandemic transition was not an adjustment I had to make. However, having my five-year-old at home full-time since March? That has been a challenge. His preschool was open, but I didn’t feel comfortable sending him. Yes, they did temperature checks at the door. Parents were restricted to the lobby. The center was cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day. But the risks, for me, still outweighed the precautions when there were still so many unknowns. So, I took my son’s education into my own hands.
My husband and I were privileged enough to be able to enroll our son into the Kumon tutoring program; he started March 6, 2020 as an additional component to his pre-school curriculum. My city recorded its first coronavirus case on March 12. Since then, what was supposed to be an extra academic enrichment program has become my son’s only form of education.
I have been at the helm of my son’s education using Kumon, Hooked on Phonics, worksheets emailed by his preschool, flash cards, and books I’ve ordered — and leaning heavily on the suggestions of a good friend who is a teacher and who also has a young son. Since March, I’ve been able to provide my son up to two hours of solid instruction daily, so that he is prepared to re-enter school — whenever that may occur. Me stepping into and now firmly standing in the gap of what school has not been able to provide because of the virus has been a privileged challenge, one that many parents do not have the luxury of.
Working from home and working entirely for myself as a writer and publisher means I can tweak my day to fit the changing needs of myself and my child. I adjusted my son’s schedule, keeping him up until midnight or 1 a.m. so that I can wake up at 6 a.m. and get work done before my day is consumed by him. Many working mothers do not have this privilege. Because of that, countless mothers have had to make hard and antiquated sacrifices, such as choosing caring for children over their career. The reason this is affecting mothers most, of course, is that despite progressive perspectives on household parity, in reality mothers still do the majority of child-rearing among other household tasks.
I keep my son up until midnight or 1 a.m. so I can wake up at 6 a.m. and get work done before my day is consumed by him.
When the outbreak began, the purported goal was to “flatten the curve,” “stop the spread,” and be “safer at home.” The logic supported temporary discomfort and “abnormal” living in the spring and summer in hopes that, come Fall, the virus would be eradicated and businesses and schools could reopen. And while that was certainly true in New Zealand, here in the United States — you know, a country founded on the notion of liberty — has been an abject failure when it comes to kicking coronavirus. The desperation to reopen the economy has led to a surge in cases and now deaths, including where I live in Florida, which is quickly becoming the next epicenter of the virus.
This rush to reopen and get people back to work, followed by a new surge in cases, has only made the role of working mothers — as caregivers as well as breadwinners — that much more difficult. The question of “When will this be over?” is showing no end in sight. There is no firm deadline for when it will finally be safe to reopen schools or businesses, or begin job searches.
The burden is even harder to bear among single mothers, Black mothers, and low-income mothers. While the primary role of school is the education of our children, its secondary function is childcare. Free childcare that can began as early as 6 a.m. and extend as late as 6 p.m. through extended programs — which allows parents of a variety of socio-economic backgrounds the ability to work and make a living to support their children.
The pandemic has taken away that ability, further revealing that our society simply does not value women, especially not in the workplace. This is evidenced by the archaic and impossible work-from-home policy my own alma mater tried to institute — a ruling that would have barred faculty and staff from caring for their children while working remotely mid-pandemic. The policy was quickly walked back after a proper social media dragging.
For women who have been able to strike some semblance of balance between working and child-rearing from home these past few months, the probability of maintaining this precarious position has become even more stressful as schools are beginning to reopen. The question is not only whether schools will reopen, but how — and will there even be teachers there to teach? Talks of teachers going on strike are ongoing.
At the onset of the pandemic, there was concern that this generation of students would become another “lost generation” — one that may never recover from the upending of their education for the three months schools transitioned from an in-person to a virtual setting. But now, we may be looking at an entire year, or more, of virtual learning. Learning that has access-to-entry barriers built into its very nature. If families don’t have internet in the home, a computer in the home, or if they live in a rural area that is not wired for online service, those children are barred from a basic right — and they’re condemned to ignorance. And what of their mothers? What are their sentences? Hard choices between which bills get paid, which jobs to take, when to stand in the gap as educator-in-chief, and when to let the child founder because Mom simply has to work.
Despite the lack of leadership in this country and the government’s unfathomably homogenous plan to decrease the infection rate and death rate and put every sector of the country on a track to reopen, it is evident that cities, counties, states, school districts, and most of all working mothers are being left to fend for themselves.
This pandemic, and the government’s failure to address it, stands to erode decades of equality gains of the feminist movement. And a by-proxy product of this erosion is an entire generation of children who are likely to get left behind intellectually when their mothers are faced with the impossible choice: educate, or eat?
Keep kids safe this fall with these kids face masks by Black-owned brands.