Published on August 17th, 2021 | by Christina Yovovich1
I Am Afraid / I Am Not Afraid
“This year is like kindergarten all over again,” my son told me recently. And he’s right, it is. He’s starting fourth grade, so it shouldn’t be like kindergarten. It should be like fourth grade, old hat, almost to the end of his grade school years. But instead, it is the first time he’ll be away from me in seventeen months. For seventeen months it has been him and me at home all day every day. Me supporting him in the background while he navigated distance school on his computer. Seventeen months. It seems like a long time to me, but I know it is even longer to him with his child’s eye perspective. Second grade is a fuzzy memory. Last week we went to school for meet the teacher, and my son commented that the school campus seemed bigger than he’d remembered. It is new, like kindergarten was new to us four years ago.
I remember bringing him to the kindergarten building for the first time. It wasn’t for the first day of school, but for an evaluation. We were all asked to bring our children in a couple weeks before school started, and they were ushered into a classroom with all the teachers present and put through a series of tests to see where they were academically. Then the teachers would use this information to form their classrooms. I remember holding my son’s hand as we approached the building together, and I sang a phrase from A Year with Frog and Toad, a musical we loved: “I am not afraid! Well, I am but I’ll be brave.” Only, my voice broke on the word brave. My son looked up at me, “Don’t sing, Mommy.”
Four years later, I am afraid again, and I am trying to be brave again, my voice breaking on the word. Because now there is Covid, the Delta variant. As communicable as chicken pox, and he and all the other children are not vaccinated against it. I’m trying to be brave, but I’m terrified. Terrified of him getting sick, of him ending up on a ventilator. Of my husband and I getting sick despite our vaccines. I remind myself that if my son gets sick, the probability is he’ll be okay. When I picture a ventilator, I try to remind myself, “Probably not.” But it remains that taking my child to school isn’t supposed to mean I fear for his life.
Though this too is not entirely new. While the school was closed due to the pandemic, a metal fence was put up all around the large campus. People can no longer casually stroll through. You have to be buzzed in a locked gate. Not to protect against Covid, but to protect against men with guns. “I am not afraid. Well, I am but I’ll be brave.”
I am trying to learn how to be brave. But it isn’t easy because I fear that instead I’m being reckless. That I should have enrolled him in the eCademy, our district’s remote learning option. That I should have pulled him out and home schooled him. That I should have done anything but send him into that walled campus to spend his day around so many children and adults, any of whom could be on the cusp of getting sick.
It is my child who is brave. Because he understands about Covid and its risks, and he wants to go to school anyway. He wants to be around other children, and his teachers. “You said you couldn’t do that to me again,” he told me this summer. Meaning that I couldn’t make him spend yet another year alone in the den, seeing his teacher and peers only over a computer screen. I knew how he longed to make friends. Last year during distance learning I overheard the teacher ask a small group including my son to write something about their friends. One of the other kids said, “But it’s Covid! I don’t have any friends, because of Covid.” And my son agreed. Truthfully, I don’t care much about learning loss for my son. I have confidence that he’ll learn what he needs to learn eventually. But I worry about him stuck at home, isolated from his peers, convinced he has no friends. What kind of fourth grade would that be for him?
We all saw his classroom last week. The three of us, mother, father, child, filed into the portable where his 4th grade class shall meet all year. The portable itself is ugly on the outside, brown painted metal with a flat roof. But inside, it feels like school. Student desks lined up, posters on the wall. We found his desk right away, right at the front, with a special wiggle stool set up just for him, to help him with his fidgets. His school OT had brought it by for him already, along with a couple fidgets he can hold in his hand. Because his school knows him. There are so many adults there who care about him, and that number will include his 4th grade teacher soon, as she gets to know him. She is a quiet presence. It took us several minutes to identify which woman in the room was the teacher. But she seems kind, and I’m told she’s an expert teacher. I have hope for a good year.
But also, I’m trying to be brave.