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Back to School in the Age of COVID-19

Heidi Dildine

We are a family of three: my husband, Scott (49), my daughter, Gillian (12), and me (48). My husband and I have both been working remotely since early March, after a superspreading event brought COVID-19 to Boston and its suburbs.

In early March, we were told that schools were going to close for disinfection and then reopen the following Monday. They didn’t.

Weeks passed with me sitting on the couch, reading obsessively about coronavirus and trying to find a grocery store that had delivery options that weren’t a month away, while my daughter watched videos on YouTube and TikTok. Finally our school superintendent informed us that schools would be closed for the remainder of the year and our kids would be finishing the year using Virtual Learning.

Educators scrambled to develop remote learning plans, schedules, and resources. Administrators scrambled to get Chromebooks to kids who didn’t have access to a computer at home, and the city worked with internet providers to ensure students had wifi. We were lucky enough to be able to dust off my daughter’s laptop, which she’d previously used to play Minecraft, and to augment her perch on the couch.

It was not ideal, by any means, and the difficulties were magnified by the challenges of ADHD for myself and Gillian. The remote learning schedules were distributed by email on Sundays, so I’d have to remember to check my email every Sunday evening and find the message with my daughter’s schedule without being distracted by all the other emails: Hot Deals! Congratulate So-and-So and Whosie-whatsit for starting new positions! HOPPY HOUR--Free Bunny and Shipping! Close Quarters with ADHD + Heightened Emotions. Click.

Where was I? ... My daughter’s schedule… So, the weekly email included a link to the district’s remote learning site, but every day there was a problem – a link wouldn’t work, login information would be forgotten and misplaced, her computer would freeze, an application would crash and she would lose her work, she would email a teacher about a question she didn’t understand and the teacher wouldn’t write back. Pre-Covid, I had always been happy to help her with her science lessons, but now, all of this was enough to cause my head to implode on a daily basis.

My ADHD gives me a very low frustration tolerance, especially if I’m not medicated. Technical difficulties, whining, and being pulled away from my work after I’ve finally been able to focus after doomscrolling, obsessively all morning leaves me with brain fog, the inability to analyze the situation and to problem solve which is most often followed by overwhelm.

Whenever I would respond to my daughter’s calls from the living room, and she looked up at me with those big blue eyes pleading for help, I choked. Luckily, I was able to recruit her father, who was in the next room, but I was always left with an unhealthy serving of guilt and a sense of inadequacy, both as a mom and as an employee. That sucked.

My daughter will begin 7th grade under a remote learning model, which will now include “live synchronous interactive instruction and some independent activities.” The school will provide the structure (many of us ADHDers have a hard time creating structure for ourselves or our kids), my daughter will be able to interact with her teachers and classmates on one single platform, and she’ll be held accountable for being present and on time every day. That’s the plan, anyway.

As the first day of school looms closer, I wonder how we’re going to get through this. How am I going to get through this? How am I going to get this kid up and ready to do math at 8:00 AM five days a week after she’s spent months staying up until 1:00 AM Facetiming with her BFF?

How am I going to be able to help her stick to her schedule? How am I going to be able to stick to mine? What if this is the year her ADHD gets the better of her and school gets to be too much? What if she gets depressed and shuts down? What if I can’t handle being mom and teacher’s assistant and employee and wife? What if we all get sick?

With all the uncertainty of the coming months, one thing’s for sure: COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We must learn how to live with it, so we can move forward.

We have lots of things going for us: space, hardware, internet access, employers that will allow my husband and me to work from home at least through the end of the calendar year, and we have only one child, who can shower and dress herself, work a Chromebook, and follow written directions. Also, I have my medication, my ADHD Facebook groups, and access to some cool ADHD coaches.

I’m trying to envision what our days will look like a few weeks from now: my husband is in his office talking on the phone with a client, I’m sitting at my desk (in my recently converted office) sipping a cup of tea while I review my schedule for the day, and my daughter is at her own desk laughing at one of her French teacher’s jokes. I still see us eating lunch, together, and going for family walks as we’ve been doing since March. I still see myself helping my daughter with her science lessons and bringing her snacks. I just wish I didn’t also see COVID.

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