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Our now pandemic normal produced a very different first week of school than I could prepare for. Most of our challenges stem from being a family of five forced to maintain normalcy in an abnormal time. My spouse is a teacher, and his charter school requires him to teach from a makeshift classroom in our living room. Our son started middle school last week taking classes with a polydactyl cat that never shied from walking across his keyboards and baby sisters who never nap at the same time. We couldn’t prepare adequately because even with school starting two weeks later than normal, we didn’t know the learning modality until the end of July. It took some back-and-forth this summer with our school district and governing bodies to eventually decide children needed to be back in school. Except the “in school” part meant online in homes that already exist as a workplace, a never-used gym with equipment purchased at the beginning of quarantine, and a COVID 19 pre-assessment center. “Was that a sniffle or nasal drip? Any fever, cough, or chills?” I wouldn’t be surprised if realtors begin listing houses as “4 bedroom, 3-bath schoolhouse and home equipped with walk-in closet space perfect for dealing with post-Zoom exhaustion.”

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In a normal year, the first week of school is my Christmas Day. I wake early and celebrate with chocolate pancakes slathered with maple syrup, as everyone would be out of the house — to school and daycare — soon. For upwards of six hours, my house would be pristine and clean. My presents came in the form of back-to-school clothes bought for the boy. He grew to my shoe and clothes size two years ago, so I get his hand-me-downs. I steer him to desire sneakers that look fly on me. He resists. So I play '80s rap music extolling the virtues of shell-toed Adidas while he mime-raps “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. 

The first day of school for Clark County School District students and my husband’s charter school found me still asleep. My son woke me up by telling me the wi-fi was out, and he couldn’t log onto Canvas, the district’s distance-learning management platform.

“What do you mean ‘out’?”

“Like, I cannot connect to school, and I have class in a few minutes,” he replied.

“I give up,” I said, exasperated. “How about some pancakes?”

It was easier to admonish my son for not connecting to Canvas sooner as I asked him to. The week before we tried to figure out the school’s block schedule. I did a virtual color-coded calendar for my son with links to the classrooms, which only made him mortified. To ready families, the school offered an online orientation. I attended with my son but spent the time silently rating the interior decorations of the backgrounds behind the talking heads. I learned nothing. The numerous emails, texts, and robocalls with the same information from the district and school did not help. My only thoughts were cuss words and wondering why we couldn’t postpone the school year until things were a little better, pandemic-wise. 

A quick check of Twitter indicated that a surge in users caused Canvas to slow down. Then the district sent me a text, a phone call, and an email stating that other districts were experiencing the same problems with Canvas. My son’s math teacher was late getting set up and we waited for 20 minutes after the system was back online to start class. It was a reminder that we are all figuring it out and trying. The week progressed without any hiccups, and we were grateful that someone in the district recognized that students ought not to be sitting in front screens for hours on end, and let them have breaks. This is still an adjustment period as we find a way to make learning and teaching work by asking for patience and acknowledging that a screaming toddler, crying baby, or a cat’s tail may show up onscreen.