Today I took Sebastian back to school in-person. It was weird to be having the “first day of school” in late April, with only maybe two months left in the semester. (Summer school is a vague possibility at this point, but as usual, three months in advance nobody knows anything.) But he popped out of bed early this morning plenty excited, got dressed, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, gathered all his school materials and made sure his forgetful parents didn’t leave anything behind. We made good time on our walk to school, arriving early for once, and although the blustery wind made it feel much colder than the mid-50s it would reach by afternoon, it was a beautiful bright day out with clear skies.
While we waited to be let in, I perused the school breakfast and lunch menus (no better than PS42 was, unfortunately), and Sebastian read the “Welcome to PS124” sign. He noted that he didn’t recognize any of the other kids waiting in line. Still, he seemed pretty chipper right up until they started letting his classmates in, separating them from their parents. Now, in my head I had this idea that I was going to go in with him, meet his teacher, and help him get settled like I always used to in Pre-K. I had planned on getting home a little late, as I figured he might need a little extra support this first time. And indeed, by the time the third kid or so had disappeared down the hallway he was turning to me with tears in his eyes.
Unfortunately, as I was informed by the temperature taker, I had forgotten that parents are no longer allowed inside the school. So, there was no time for an extended separation; I hugged Sebastian and told him to be brave, and let some stranger lead away my teary-eyed kid while I got to bask in my failure to prepare him for this. It wasn’t as brutal as the first four times I dropped him off at 2’s, with the existential screaming and reaching out with both arms (“DADDY!!! DON’T LEAVE ME!!!”), but, as is often the case these days, I once again had to sit with that uncomfortable feeling of societal brokenness on the walk home.
Fortunately he ended up having a wonderful time, came home chattering a mile a minute about how he actually already knew two kids in his class, he aced the reading assessment, had in person art class with the teacher he’s only seen on Zoom all this time, had weird oval pizza, and the like. Overall he decided he liked in person school more than online school, and he had far less homework, thank goodness. This may work out yet! And I am pretty sure he is not traumatized by the way we parted unexpectedly this morning. But I still feel it is important to document it, because as minor a grievance as it may seem, it is when small brutalities become a fixture of every day life that a society starts to look harsh and survivalist. And it is hard to accept that things have to be this way…for who knows how long. I just had this feeling, as a child of the 80’s, that this is the sort of thing I’d expect of Communist Russia. Not the USA I knew.
But that world is gone.