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It's OK To Mourn School Closings & The Normalcy That Is Gone With Them

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If I had known that March 12 would be my daughter's last day of kindergarten, I would've done something different. I would've told her then. I would've gone in to see her teacher and hug her. I would've made snacks for the class — I was the room mom, and this is one of the things I'm most sad about, not planning an end-of-the-year party. But above all, I would've just soaked in the day. I would've felt the heaviness of it all, of her first official year of school finished, just like I had planned on feeling in May.

Instead, I learned it was her last day of kindergarten through a text message. While watching Georgian Governor Brian Kemp deliver a press conference, my husband sent me a message: "Bad news, schools closed through the end of the year."

It wasn't surprising, but the finality of it caught my breath in my throat. Along with Georgia, California joined the list of states closing their schools for the remainder of the 2019 to 2020 academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic. And more are expected to follow.

Of course it makes sense. It's the safe, sensible thing to do as experts estimate that our current social distancing parameters are working to a degree. Stay at home works. It has become a rally cry, a thing we can all do, a way to save thousands and thousands of lives. It's easy enough — just keep in your own home and stay away from others — and of course ending the school year nearly three months early isn't a hardship in the way going to war or being on the front lines as a healthcare worker is.

I struggle with my own sadness and grief over the loss of Alice's kindergarten year.

But these school closures are hard to swallow with a broken heart. I am devastated for my 5-year-old. I'm devastated for her teacher and her classmates. I'm devastated for her school, which has become our second home as I involve myself in the PTA and volunteer often and go to nearly every planned event.

I think about what an accomplishment this first year of kindergarten is — what it means to move into first grade. I think about how sick I felt the last few weeks of summer 2019, dreading that first day and wishing I could just pause time and have one more day of just the two of us at home.

And now I'm wishing the opposite.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Darby

"It’s hard to talk about these silent losses because we fear that other people will find them insignificant and either dismiss them or expect us to 'get over them' relatively quickly," wrote therapist Lori Gottlieb in a recent article for The New York Times. And it's true. I struggle with my own sadness and grief over the loss of Alice's kindergarten year. How can I feel so sad, so devastated, when I still have my job? When my husband is working from home, too? When all four of us are together, all day every day, happy and healthy and safe?

I still haven't told Alice that she won't be going back to her kindergarten class this year.

Because it is sad. And it is devastating. It's a huge chunk of normalcy taken out of our lives. All the things we were looking forward to — spring pictures and PTA bingo night and end-of-the-year parties and nine more weeks of being in her bright, happy kindergarten classroom — are now gone. Gottlieb says it's more than OK to be sad about these things. It's human, and we should acknowledge that grief and then focus on the present. On what's happening now.

I still haven't told Alice that she won't be going back to her kindergarten class this year. The thought still makes my eyes immediately tear up and I feel sick to my stomach. It's just another thing I can't reassure her on — I don't know if we can go to the beach in June, I don't know if we can see family on Mother's Day, I don't know when this will all be over — but eventually she'll find out. And it will probably be a blip of a memory when she's older, something we'll talk about when she's an adult. "Remember when there was that huge pandemic and your school was closed early?" I'll write about it tonight, jotting down all the details so I can remember how scary and devastating all of this was. Like the letters our grandparents wrote about the war and JFK and Vietnam. The things they talk about now without as much anxiety.

But for right now — I'm just sad.

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