How Does This Actually Work?

Kindergarten classroom similar to that of son of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

I re-read the headline three times before I could really process it. “DC students could be in classrooms just 1 or 2 days per week this fall.” I knew this could be coming. I mean, of course there has to be a plan for alternative schooling for next school year.

But, um, how does this actually work?

Here’s the thing: under this possible plan, DC public school kids would only go to school a few days a week but would continue to learn online the other days. And if I’m following this logic right, that means that teachers would teach in the classroom five days a week and also teach online five days a week.

Well that seems easy.

As I read the article, I thought, “okay, there’s a solution here. I can’t let my kids come to school with me anymore (which is what I used to do when they had a day off and I had to teach) but Claire is 11 now, so she can babysit her brothers. It’s not great but it will be okay. This is what oldest siblings have to do.”

But then I got to the end of the article. The last line said this: “For families with more than one child, it may not be possible for siblings to go to school on the same day.”

Hmmm……

My school has been wonderfully accommodating and understanding about the challenges that many members of our teaching community face. I have faith that the administration won’t ask us to do the impossible. (As of now, we don’t have a set plan for the fall.) But this potential plan for my children’s schools has me worried.

I’m not talking about the idea that I might have to teach both in-person and online at the same time, which is insane and also physically impossible. I’m hopeful that my school will figure that part out.

I’m simply talking about how this scenario is impossible for many people like me – single moms with young kids and jobs that require an in-person presence. I get that it’s crazy for everyone, even families with a stay-at-home parent. Still, it’s at least possible to (somewhat) work it out if you have one or more parents at home.

But how does it work for families with just one parent who actually has to leave home for work?

I felt the panic rise in me, thinking about what I was going to do on those days when Claire and Austin were supposed to be in school but Tommy was home. Obviously, leaving a 6-year-old home alone is not a good idea. It’s also illegal, I’m pretty sure.

But what are the alternatives? Ask my dad to move back, and potentially expose him to the virus? Make Claire skip school some days to watch her brother? Tell my boss I can’t teach in person unless it’s a school day for Tommy? Hire a babysitter who might bring the virus into our house?

Listen, I’m not going to get into the debate over whether or not we should reopen schools. I don’t particularly like digital learning or teaching, but I know that it needs to happen right now, and that there will be a gradual process of reopening the country. I understand the arguments for and against reopening, and that there is a lot of controversy over these debates – and this blog is not the place to hash that all out.

But I think we can all agree that plans like the one above, where we demand that people (teachers, nurses, paramedics, construction workers etc.) return to work without an adequate childcare plan is not going to work.

And even if some people can cobble childcare together, it’s not going to work for everyone. My sister, who is an ER nurse, has been able to keep working because her husband, who is a teacher, can care for their baby while teaching remotely. But that’s the luxury of having two parents, isn’t it?

I get that I’m lucky because if things really went badly, I could pay a babysitter to come to my house. Not the best solution, but one I could do. (I mean, I’d also need to pay someone to be my body-double while I taught both in the classroom and online simultaneously, but that’s a separate issue.) But what if you can’t? What about for the thousands of single moms here in DC who are going to have to choose between paying the bills (and keeping their healthcare) and taking care of a young child?

I am not the first person to point out this problem. Maybe I’m only now ranting about it because it has become personal. I’m sitting here in my kitchen, typing this blog post and thinking, “um….how does this actually work for my life as a single mom?”

I mean, really, how does it work for anyone? Maybe what this pandemic is exposing is how vulnerable we all are.

For now, I’m just going to hope for the best, and pray that wherever these plans are being hashed out, there’s a single mom who is part of the discussion. One who has dealt with the difficulties of being a sole provider and sole parent. One who knows what it means to sacrifice. One who understands how to make impossible situations work.

Yes, I hope that single mom is a part of that discussion, so she can lean into the group of decision makers and say loudly, “so…..how does this actually work for everyone?”

3 Replies to “How Does This Actually Work?”

  1. Sharm Running says: Reply

    I pray too, that this dilemma gets solved, for EVERYONE! You’ve been a true warrior, but this is like asking the impossible!

    1. I know – it’s just so tough. I do love how much support I have received from the people around me. Together we can figure this out, I hope!

  2. […] But that’s the option. If you’re a single mom, these “choices” about school openings can feel not much like choices. The parent survey asks: “Do you want your kid to go to in-person school 1-2 days a week or full weeks every third week?” And every solo parent thinks, “how am I going to do this?” […]

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