TimmyDaddy: Preparing for the strangest school year ever

Elliott Sullivan goes fishing at Lake Nottely before starting virtual learning from home. 

Greetings from Blairsville, Georgia where we are swimming, kayaking and fishing away the final week of an otherwise pretty darn boring summer. We rented a cabin on Lake Nottely and it has been like a magic balm for the constant worries of 2020. It’s just less pandem-alyptic out here. Hopefully, this lifts the kids spirits because on Monday they will begin the strangest school year of their lives.

One night in June, Kristen and I hashed out the possible fall school scenarios. She said, “On one hand, it doesn’t even sound feasible to open and on the other hand, these kids HAAAVVVE to go back to school!” Her frustration stretched the one syllable word clear across the dining room table. But as COVID-19 cases in Georgia steadily rose throughout July and into August, we waved the white flag. Like thirsting for a chocolate milkshake and settling for a glass of Metamucil, virtual learning seemed the only way to go for the foreseeable future.

Margo and Elliott’s schools do seem well prepared for online classes but as of this writing others in our area are attempting in-person learning. The early results of those efforts suggest many of those schools could be partially or wholly closed by time I finish typing this sentence. It’s a bummer. Even kids who loathe school want to be back at school.

Sure, when I was young there was a sadness that summertime was coming to an end but getting to see school friends again balanced it out. My family always marked the change of season with a trip to the shoe store. It was primarily an olfactory experience, the distinct smell of the new, leather Buster Browns with the rubber sole bottoms meant it was go time. The goal was finding the best shoe for recess kickball and dodgeball while staying within the uniform guidelines.

My kids don’t wear uniforms so our preparedness ritual includes the purchase of a new backpack. Elliott has settled into the sporty Under Armour genre of school bags but Margo always finds ways to really express herself. There was the spiky, pink, Goth backpack, the Emoji one, the Slytherin and my favorite, the Chewbacca. But it occurred to me with something of a thud that this schoolyear doesn’t require a backpack at all. Or shoes, really. Ugh.

We’ll still trot the kids out to the front steps to take the First Day of School picture if for no other reason than to elicit the social media comments from friends up north: What!? School starts already? Typically, an exchange ensues about how we finish around Memorial Day because the temperatures in June are insufferable down here yada yada… but I imagine this year we’ll be answering: No, not in person, virtual to start… it’s not the heat so much as the Covidity! And that may be funny for about a split second and then, rather sad. Yeah, maybe I’ll refrain from that quip.

After the photo-op the kids will turn around, hike back up the steps and take their designated learning places. Thus far I have resisted any dorky dad impulses to name our home school but how about Sullivan Prep? Motto: Family, WIFI and Cheez-Its. Oh snap – did I just nail it or what? Can we charge tuition?

Suffice to say this isn’t an ideal scenario for anyone involved – parents, teachers, administrators or the students. For starters at least, I’ll be cutting liberal amounts of slack to all involved. Somewhat similarly, Elliott took a shine to fishing this summer. Now, I know as little about fishing as I recall about 8th grade Math. We relied on family and friends who do know their way around a rod and reel to teach him. I pitched in where I could – untangling a line, offering encouragement and preaching patience. It was frustrating at times but eventually, he got his fish. So, let’s just see how this goes.

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.

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