First day back at school... so how did it go?

As her children returned to school today, Elaine Duggan reflects on the past few months and asks what the new school year ahead will hold for us all
First day back at school... so how did it go?
Saoirse and Sadhbh Kane getting ready to go back to school. Picture: Darragh Kane

IN many ways it was a school morning as usual. The alarm went off at 7am and everyone was up and down to breakfast in a matter of minutes. There was the slight distraction of the tooth fairy having arrived last night. The mood was good and the extra few euro in the piggy bank helped.

Uniforms had been laid out the night before. Lunch boxes were waiting to be filled and school bags were all packed… The only real tell-tale signs that anything was different this year, were the bottle of hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes and tissues that were popped into each school basket.

There was a real sense of excitement… a giddiness of sorts. Chatter about friends they hadn’t seen in months was the general theme.

I took the opportunity as they munched on their breakfast to remind them both of the sneezing and coughing etiquette — something I am sure their teachers will also do.

I also stressed how it was very important today to listen to their teachers carefully, because they would be telling them all about any new rules in place, things that they would need to know about the school year ahead.

I looked at their little serious faces staring back at me and hoped they were listening… but soon enough they were back to chattering about something silly. However, I was glad. I want them to retain that innocence. I don’t want them to be afraid.

I also reminded them to try and not lose anything — at least for a few weeks — trips to the lost and found can be a regular occurrence!

It was strange to see them back in their uniforms. But it was also comforting in a way, that some kind of normality is returning, for now at least.

In some ways it feels like the summer months flew by and it’s hard to believe that they haven’t been in school since March. The days felt long, but the weeks were short.

There were ups and there were downs during this time. The extra family time together was a positive… but there were tough days to, like the extra time together as a family! When we were bored, or got on each others’ nerves, or just wanted a change of scenery, or missed our friends, it was tough. For adults as well as the children!

Thankfully, the rain stopped in time for us to walk to school — each family has been given a time slot during which to drop their children to the school yard, so there were no crowds. These types of measures, as well as others introduced by our school, have been reassuring.

As we approached the school our lollipop lady was at hand — but this year there are to be no high fives or fist bumps… It is the little things like this that can make you feel sad.

But in general it was smiles all around — my husband even quipped that he hadn’t seen so many parents smiling in months, as they brought their offspring to the school gates.

That’s not to downplay the seriousness of all this. I realise that Covid is far from over. Cases are rising. The return to school brings with it so many challenges, so many fears, so many unknowns. I worry for our children, their teachers, the entire school community. I really hope they all stay safe and well.

But the reality is that we don’t know what the weeks and months ahead will bring.

One thing I do know, though, is that I really don’t want to have to bring either of my children for another Covid test. Have you been there? I have. Sniffles, a cough, a sore throat, headache and a fever meant a GP visit, followed by a referral and days of isolation for the whole family, until a negative result came back. I remember driving into the test centre and her little voice from the back seat saying ‘This is kinda scary’. They were my thoughts too, having brought someone else for a test a few months ago — a surreal world, like something out of a movie, lines of medics masked up and ready to test.

I climbed into the back seat of my car, to be near my child, as she gripped my hand and the nurse told her what she would be doing. The swab of the mouth was straightforward. But the tears and distress came when swabbing her little nose. Every mother knows her child’s tears — there are the temper tantrum ones, the tired ones… even the happy ones… but there are also the ‘hurt’ tears. These were true ‘hurt’ tears. My heart broke for her.

I asked myself, how did this happen? We’d stuck by the guidelines and rules — could she really have Covid-19? Thankfully, in 24 hours we knew she was clear, her temperature had dissipated too by then, there was huge relief.

As schools return, with coughs and colds and whatever other germs circulating, I worry we will be back there again… and this time she will know what is coming. I know there will be other parents having to go through this too.

All we can do is try our very best — keep up the handwashing, limit our contacts, social distance, wear masks and also keep up to date with the ever-changing regulations being announced by our government.

I hope our girls get to enjoy the weeks and months ahead, back with their classrooms, learning, laughing, living their lives, carefree and innocent. I fear it won’t be straight-forward and that we may find ourselves with outbreaks that may see classes sent home, or schools closed temporarily, or, worst case scenario, a national lockdown again.

My eldest asked if schools could close again due to Covid — I wanted to be honest, so I told her that they might have to, for a little bit… “They said that the last time,” she replied.

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