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COLUMN: Reporter mom excited — and nervous — for back to school

'Once that bell rings, I know things are out of my hands and I have to have faith that everyone else is also doing their part to keep our schools a safe place,' says reporter

As I write this, my family is exactly 24 hours away from something I know we all desperately need: our two children to return to in-person learning.

We are all excited — my girls even made up a song about how much they want to go back to school in recent weeks  but for me, that excitement is also mixed with nervousness, anxiety and, yes, even some fear. 

A few nights ago, I was reading with my seven-year-old before bed and then while we were snuggling, I asked her how her online school was going. Her response broke my heart.

“Not good,” she answered me. Although, in her usual manner, she still managed to find some good in the situation.

“Mommy, I really miss seeing my friends in real life and I miss being at real school… but I guess this way at least we get to see everyone’s faces and their big smiles.”

She was happy that she got to see what her new teacher looked like “for real” and said now she can imagine her “beautiful smiling face” under her mask when they return.

My heart melted at how easily she is always able to find the good.

People who know me, know I am not often a “glass half full” kind of gal, despite my best efforts. When the province first said kids would only be out for an extra two days, I didn’t hold my breath.

When I watched the minister of education and chief medical officer of health Dr. Kiernan Moore announced last week that kids would in fact be heading back to school on Jan. 17, I once again took it with a grain of salt.

As a parent whose children thrive in the classroom, I desperately wanted it to be true.

With family and friends who work in schools across the province, I had to wonder  what had really changed to make our schools  and the people inside of it  safer?

When I dropped something off at our school last week, I did notice a table of N95 masks through the door, but I wonder  what about the kids? If “homemade cloth masks” won’t suffice, will the medical masks promised for them actually arrive?

I placed an order from Costco for several boxes “just in case,” but an alert on my phone a few minutes ago of a credit in the same amount now has me panicking that the order has been cancelled. We have plenty of homemade masks, and my girls have been  to the best of my knowledge  amazing from the beginning in wearing them. But we are ready and willing to do whatever we need to on our end to ensure that they  and the school staff  safe and healthy.

I know how lucky we are to be able to have the ability to  afford to purchase our own. Not every family has that ability and is depending on the province to come through with their promises and I hadn’t intended on telling my girls until we were literally on our way to school  or the bus. 

Typically, they would take the bus to school  and while they actually like taking the bus and I know their driver does everything he needs to ensure students are safe, as of right now, I am still unsure if we are going to put them on the bus  or if I will drive them for the time being.

I know how lucky I am to even have these choices when there are so many families out there that do not. Along with the ability to work from home, I also have a pretty understanding boss who, along with being in a similar boat, understands the importance of family and priorities. 

Once that bell rings, I know things are out of my hands and I have to have faith that everyone else is also doing their part to keep our schools a safe place. This constant ping-ponging between online and in-person is taking a serious toll on everyone’s mental health.

Nikki Cole is a staff reporter at BarrieToday.