back to school pandemic

Back to School: My Pandemic Purgatory

“I’m Just Saying” is a column by Suburbs 101 Contributor, Alexis Gold. A funny and brutally honest take on what life is like for a working mom in New York City/turned unexpected stay at home suburban mom. Here is a peek into Alexis’ Back to School pandemic experience. 

I forgot how much I hate September. It’s the busiest month of bullshit. Whether you are remote or lucky enough to be at school in person, it’s still the same (aside from the virtual aspect in 2020): back to school nights, welcome cocktails, council meetings, board of education updates, sports protocol planning, and driving…so much driving again. This year feels like zero to sixty in three seconds. And, it seems even more draining, since most of us have been moving at a pace slower than my minivan. But, this is what life looks like in this pandemic purgatory. We are trying to maximize life and time.

Right now, most of us are cramming in all we can, waiting for the other shoe to drop. This week, my calendar is so blocked it looks like something my daughter built in Minecraft. I’ll spare you most of the trivial details that would make Linda Blair’s head spin look like (Chuckie’s) child’s play, but after a week filled with various doctor appointments, teeth cleanings, and welcome breakfasts, I am going to spend my Friday night with the clear cherry on top: colonoscopy prep for my Saturday afternoon torture. Do I have anyone to pick me up from said procedure? No. Because heaven forbid I let my kids skip a single activity we’ve stuffed into the weekend. But we are all doing these things, because who knows how much longer non-essential medical procedures will be allowed. Do you think an Uber driver will take me and wait for me? Should I actually even take an Uber, yet?

As we begin to come out of our stay-at-home ordered life, all of us who vowed that we wouldn’t over-schedule, over-book and over-promise, are right back where we started, times a gazillion…plus six feet on all sides. With a mask. While we are waiting for school to be canceled and sports to come to a screeching halt, we have jammed in every socially distanced lesson we can. Anything we’ve deemed “safe” — we’re in. Because, who knows how long it will last? Probably right until they shut down TikTok. Byte(Dance) me. What will kids possibly do during quarantine 2.0 if this happens?

All around me, people are feeling out which people and activities are “safe” and which are not. All the bubbles that worked in the lovely outdoors of summer (pool reservations and all) have been squashed like Fortnite on iOS, as people evaluate what will lead to a doomsday school scenario. Because the ultimate goal is to keep our kids in school. This, in fact, is the equivalent of a NASA shuttle mission. School is now the “greatest show on earth”, and keeping everyone healthy – for learning, for the small amount of social access kids have right now, for the access to outdoors and organized sports – is the only mission. And it feels like Mission Impossible.

So, we make our own rules and find our comfort pods. Soccer coach in the yard? Works. Tennis? Totally. Golf? 100%. Gymnastics? Nope. Unless you’re us. It’s my daughter’s happy place and they go in a four at a time with masks. Does it mean someone might not have a playdate with us? Probably. And should we have playdates anyway? Who knows. We are all making the best choices we can for our families. Some will turn out to be good and some will be stupid.

Little things, like sitting in the car pick-up line — my reinstated though possibly short-lived mecca of solace — are making life feel seemingly normal, before we are snapped back to the reality of the pandemic all around us. One minute, we are packing backpacks, and the next minute, the alarm is sounding to fill-out the Daily COVID Screening (a form that makes last year’s Dismissal Manager app look JV). The stress is real — fever checks, partitions, mask breaks, birthday celebrations at school that require bringing your own treat.

And it’s not just that. Since it feels like school could disappear as quickly as it started, learning has taken an on-steroids feel. Our kids must absorb every word of every lesson between now and whenever quarantine hits again. We need to take advantage of any in-person school time, or remote-time with healthy teachers, before things potentially shut down again.

So, imagine my surprise when my second graders came home this week and said, “I learned my name in sign language.”


I’m not the anti-Christ. Learning American sign language is wonderful — and back in the good old days of 2019, I might’ve thought this was a truly special thing about our curriculum. But. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. F**K. My kids are spread over two classrooms, divided by plexiglass, listening to lessons muffled by masks, and are part of a class that is part remote/part in class. They missed months of school last year with me attempting to be a teacher, and, now, with no sense for how many days-weeks-hours-months they will get to be there with an actual, legitimate teacher, they used valuable time — an unknown future commodity — to teach kids that can hardly spell at this point, let alone do math, SIGN LANGUAGE!?

If we are going to keep dodging and weaving every potential threat to our children’s health to keep them in school for as long as possible, I expect them to prioritize teaching the basics. Sign language is a post-vaccine-world luxury. Like chorus. And woodwinds.

I know I should stop complaining and just be grateful. At least my kids are in school part-time learning something. And, in the middle of this thought, I see “School Office” ring on my phone and my world comes crashing down. I am going to have to pick my children up, and get all of their brains scraped to ensure they don’t have COVID, and become the town pariah.

Me: “Hello?”

School Nurse: “Your younger daughter fell, and scraped her face.”

Me: “You mean she doesn’t have COVID?”

School Nurse: “It’s not deep, but she’s pretty scraped up, so you may want to have a doctor look at it.”

Me: “You mean she doesn’t have COVID?”

School Nurse: “She wasn’t crying and seemed ok.”

Me: “You mean she can stay at school?!”

Just let this child stay at school. She is tough. She’s a gymnast. Broken bones are her future –she can sit for a while with blood pouring out of her head. She missed six months of math last year and now we need to pack it into what may amount to two weeks? Three weeks? Three months? It’s anyone’s guess. Only Fauci may know better than the rest of us, and even there I’m not sure anymore.

And, with that bullet dodged, everyone has made it successfully through one more day. We are almost to October. I feel lucky to have this moment emptying backpacks. A glorious act, that six months ago was as monotonous as this mask-wearing pandemic life has become. We need the normal, the quiet moments in the madness.

I pull out a picture from my son’s “Home” folder of “Jimmbo Pinkeye”. The picture is on a crumbled-up piece of paper and sort of resembles a creepy alien. It wouldn’t be a bad mascot for 2020. In fact, it also seems sort of genius, because I’m thinking pink eye may also be the one get-out-of jail-free-card for a day off from school this year without a COVID test. Smart kid. Given my attempts to beat this race against time at all costs, he’ll probably need a day off. We all will. I think he found it. Just promise me we won’t all have pink eye on the same day or it will look suspicious.

Back to School: My Pandemic Purgatory

About Alexis Gold

Alexis Gold holds a BS from Cornell University. She spent more than two decades on Wall Street, where she was a top ranked analyst by Institutional Investor. While on the buy side her creative writing was used to analyze companies, primarily in the retail space. Following the recent closing of her last fund, she decided to stay at home with her three small children. Her writing has been featured in Read650 and offers a funny and brutally honest take on what life is like for a working mom in NYC/turned unexpected stay at home suburban mom. 

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