When I was a much younger fellow, my friends and I used to pass the time playing a silly game called “Unholy Choice.” Also known as “Would You Rather…” the game basically consists of trying to stump each other by forcing each other to choose between two equally horrible scenarios.
Most of what we came up with is not suitable for publication. But I feel like a lot of the unholy choices would be some kind physical injury or having to eat something awful versus a more sublime psychological torture. Something like having to walk around for a month wearing an oversized foam #1 finger and having to hold it up and say “WOOOO!” to everyone you meet.
My favorite one was one my friend Tom came up with, which was to commit to dressing up like Grimace from the McDonaldland Gang for an entire year, and having to wear that to all family events, weddings, funerals…anything. And you can’t tell anyone why you’re wearing it.
That was a fun game in the old days. But then you get older, become a parent and realize that real unholy choices face us all the time. Especially in the age of COVID.
Every day at 2:15pm, I get a calendar reminder on my watch that says “Pick Amelia Up From School.”
And every day I sigh and think wistfully of that little afternoon break and fun walks we’d have coming home, Amelia telling me all about her day. Last August, it was an exciting time as Amelia got ready for first grade.
While there are no Grimace costumes or foam fingers involved, the issue of school this fall may be the unholiest of choices yet.
When quarantine began and I started this blog, our school district had just extended spring break for a week and there was this vague sense that the kids being out of school would be temporary. Looking back on it, I don’t know exactly why I thought that, but I did.
As I wrote that last sentence, something clicked in my head. I know why I thought that back then. Because I assumed people in charge would figure something out. Yes, that is pretty naive, I admit. But on some level, we are used to crises being handled and direction given. I had the idea that we have the tendency to pull together as a society when the chips are down and work something out, however messy that process might be.
I was wrong. It’s months later and things are not under control. A few weeks ago, the argument about the state of school this fall began and I’m sure parents all over the country had their thoughts begin to crystalize.
There was an excellent editorial in the Washington Post last week that summarized my feelings as a parent about as well as anything could. We all want our kids back in school. If you would have told us back in April that homeschooling could very well continue indefinitely, we would have gawked and/or rioted.
But our leaders and we as a society have failed to create a scenario where going back to school as normal is reasonable. We argued over and focused on the best ways to open bowling alleys, bars and tattoo parlors and spent enormous time and money figuring out how we can have professional sports, but schools? Ah, we’ll figure that out later. Kids are tough.
So as much as some want to frame this as a political issue of parents not wanting their kids to go back to school just to be contrary, I beg to differ. I assure you, I want my kids back in school. I’m sure almost all of us do. Both for the kids’ benefit and ours. But that isn’t the point. The reality now is school has become an unholy choice. We either re-enter the madness of home schooling and remote learning, or we send our kids into an incredibly dangerous and possibly deadly space every day.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I started to have a little freak out when I had a little bit of a scratchy throat after traveling. I immediately thought, “this is how every week would be with the kids in school.” Every time one of them would come back with a sniffle or one of their classmates would have a fever, which as any parent of young kids knows is about a daily occurrence, we’d all have to worry and wonder what to do.
I am not saying controlling this virus is easy. It’s hard. I knew that from the beginning. This is not me saying that any scenario would have had us somehow free of COVID entirely. Nature made the call and we were going to be fighting this fight on some level.
What bothers me is the lack of coherent direction and the lack of basic buy-in on what it takes to minimize this. There are other countries who are opening schools. And yes, they have different situations and there are risks there too. But what is different is that those nations have been able to bring the overall case load way, way down by all agreeing to take basic precautions.
Not wearing a mask or denying basic facts about COVID-19 don’t make you some kind of rugged individualist. It makes you part of the problem. And my wearing a mask and being careful doesn’t make me some kind of sheep. It means that I care enough about all of us to make a minor sacrifice in hopes that we can all live better.
We talk often about the Greatest Generation in World War II. That wasn’t just the soldiers out on the front lines. It was also all the people back home who lived with rations and sacrifice for years so the United States could fight that war.
I’m pretty sure our society today wouldn’t do super well with sugar rations when people explode at store workers who ask them to wear a mask. We have to do better if we are going to win this one.
I want my kids back in school. I work a job related to construction, and I want the economy to recover so my industry can thrive. And I know none of those things can happen until we all suck it up a little, and maybe agree to make small sacrifices and live at 60 or 70 percent speed until the case load goes way down and we can actually manage this outbreak.
People like to think of the American ideal as individual freedom. And yes, that is absolutely a component of it. But to use that as an excuse against the common good absoultely goes against everything our nation was founded on. Because that individual freedom is rooted in a larger sense of purpose. A dedication to wellbeing of our people and the betterment of society.
As I wrote this blog post, we just received an email from our school district about plans for this fall. I will say that the district has communicated well with parents and I have felt their approach to be well reasoned. I wrote them to make my thoughts heard a few weeks ago, and they were responsive and listened.
The plan for now is to open school a few weeks late, at the end of August, and to begin with remote learning. There are opportunities for some students, presumably ones with limited access to technology, to register for small, in-person learning pods that will be closely monitored. The situation will be reassessed by mid-September and a determination will be made whether the entire semester will be remote or whether we can phase to a hybrid model.
I think it is a wise plan, and I support it because I am absolutely nervous about the well being of my children. As many other parents can probably relate, I can at the same time hold feelings of anger, fear and pre-panic at the idea of juggling home learning once again.
But it is what it is, and all we can do is move forward. I don’t know the answers, but I do know we have to do better. If there can be a silver lining of all this, maybe we can redisover some sense of common purpose and actually work toward a real renewal of our society. I don’t just mean the economy. Yes, that too, but also maybe a society where we care about the betterment of all a little bit more. Might be a lot to ask, but what the heck, this is my blog, and I’ll ask what I like.
And yes…I would be willing to wear a Grimace costume for a year if it meant living in a more cohesive, caring world where my kids get to safely go to school.