My son started kindergarten this year; here's what that's been like for us

The pandemic has made so many little things about my boy's experience feel less than ideal to me, but I don’t let on about that to him. He doesn’t know what he’s missing, and I’m not going to be the one to tell him.

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It's an unusual time to be a kindergartner. Fortunately, my son doesn't seem to mind. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

“What a weird start to school this will be,” I’d thought to myself a hundred times over the past several weeks.

I was thinking it again on Thursday morning as my husband and I pulled up to Roosevelt Elementary in our minivan, ready to drop off our son for his first day of school.

Our firstborn was about to start kindergarten. Smack in the middle of a pandemic.

We hugged our boy goodbye outside the main entrance and then watched him disappear into the school. He was all smiles on this morning of his Big Day -- happy and excited. And why not? To him, it was a perfectly great first day of school. It’s the only one he’s ever had, so he has nothing to compare it to. No reason to think that anything about it was weird.

It may have disappointed me that I couldn’t walk him to his classroom, the way I always envisioned I would, but he doesn’t even know that parents used to do that before COVID-19.


It may seem strange to me that he can’t slurp a quick drink from the water fountains in the hallways, but he’s never been able to do that before so it doesn't bother him that he can't do it now.

I may worry that he’ll get tired of wearing his mask or that it will make it harder for him to be heard and hear others, but that's a nonissue for him.

The pandemic has made so many little things about my son’s kindergarten experience feel less than ideal to me, but I don’t let on about that to him. He doesn’t know what he’s missing, and I’m not going to be the one to tell him.

Like all parents right now, I’m having to learn, adjust, and adapt. The ever-present possibility of rapid change is the new norm. That hit home for Laker families this past weekend, with the surprise announcement that the high school was switching to distance learning after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19.

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Sidewalk chalk artwork on the ground outside Roosevelt Elementary on Thursday welcomed students back to school. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

At times, it all feels a little overwhelming. My first child’s first steps into the world of public education would be an emotional and worrisome time for me even in a good year, and here we are in 2020, having to deal with all the extra unknowns and what-ifs that come along with the coronavirus: What if someone at the school gets sick? What if my kid gets sick? What if we have to switch to distance learning? Does my kid really have to wear a mask all day? And the questions go on and on.

One question that parents of kindergartners in particular may have asked themselves in the midst of all this is: Should I even enroll my child in school this year, or wait until next year to avoid this whole situation? My husband and I contemplated that ourselves at one point.


Around midsummer, when it became obvious to us that the coronavirus was still long from gone, we started talking about what the pandemic might mean for our son’s schooling, and for our family as a whole.

Already, COVID-19 had made a mark on our lives. Like everyone else, we missed out on the usual summer parades, festivals and county fairs we normally love to go to. We didn’t take any trips. Didn’t visit any relatives. We were working from home, instead of the office. We rarely went out.

One aspect of our lives that didn’t change much was our kids’ daily routine. At 5 and 3 years old, they weren’t old enough to be affected when the schools closed last spring. We were one of the lucky families that didn’t have to worry about distance learning then. Apart from a blurry several week stint during the state’s stay-at-home order, our kids’ preschool remained open, and we continued to bring them there.

Early on, I had hoped the pandemic would peak over the summer and be in our rearview mirrors by the time school started this fall. My husband, who works in health care and did COVID-19 surge planning for the local hospital, had a more realistic window into the pandemic’s projected timeline, and he was not as hopeful. He knew this thing wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

It was while that reality was still sinking in with me that reports started to come out about the possible health impacts of the virus on children, such as long-term lung damage, even in those who are asymptomatic. Our son has an upper respiratory disease; it’s mild, but if he gets COVID-19, the virus could potentially make a mountain out of a molehill. Did we really want to put our son in school, where he’d have a greater chance of being exposed?

So we considered keeping him in preschool for another year. But that brief idea never materialized. Our son was ready to start kindergarten, and we knew that without a doubt. He was eager to read more, to learn more, and to meet more kids his own age.

I know of other families who considered homeschooling, or distance learning from home through the school district’s online program (even when in-person or hybrid classes are going on). For a number of reasons, those options were never really on the table for us.

So, kindergarten it was. We decided to move forward with it. Whatever may come, we said, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Our son is ready, so we’ll ready ourselves -- as much as we can, at least.


Walking with my boy outside the school Thursday, holding his hand (and holding back the sobs of an emotional Mama), COVID-19 wasn't even in the picture. I was feeling all the things I wanted to be feeling in that moment: proud, excited, hopeful, and terrified in the best way possible.

All around us, other parents were doing, saying, and I can only assume feeling the same things I was, with their own kids. And those kids were just like my son -- full of anticipation.

Nothing about that moment had anything to do with a pandemic. It was parents and kids, saying goodbye to each other on the morning of the first day of school. A simple, beautiful, familiar, perfectly normal back-to-school scene.

Maybe this isn't such a weird start to school, after all.

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