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“School at Home”: Parenting a Toddler through COVID Anxiety

by Alyssa Sinclair

One day in March, my daughter’s preschool closed for spring break, and didn’t reopen for the rest of the school year. Her teacher would post activities everyday on the app. We continued with the curriculum at at home.

“School at home,” Violet called it. Boats, gravity, plants. I cut an empty milk carton in half, filled it with water, froze it, and we put it in the bath. We made boats out of yogurt containers and popsicle sticks taped together. We learned all the parts of a sailboat. We made a parachute out of a plastic shopping bag and a paper cup. We counted all the spoons in the house.

We built train tracks, towers, tunnels, fleets of paper airplanes. We hopped in the driveway on two feet, then one foot. We planted seeds. We made a video of our garden and posted it to the app so the whole class would see. We went on bird watching walks and identified birds native to Texas. We saw a bluejay, a cardinal, and a hawk, all in ten minutes. There was a woodpecker that visited our backyard. The same squirrel sunbathed on our back fence at the same time everyday. We had a dance move for every sound of the alphabet. I taped the list to our fridge. Ah, ah, ah alligator hands, buh buh buh bouncing basketball, kuh kuh kuh clicking camera, duh duh duh dancing dinosaur!

Fine motor, gross motor, outdoor play.

Sensory play, literacy time, math time.

TV time?

Social time social time we’re missing the social time.

It swirled around and around. Was I checking all the boxes?

It was a tiny, giant world, this school at home.

“Mommy,” she kept asking me while we walked around our quiet, spread out Dallas neighborhood. “Where are the sick people?” Her brow furrowed. Over and over again I talked about all the ways we were trying to stay healthy. She missed her friends. She missed her teacher.

Then, in September, school reopened. I didn’t think it would. She went for the first day. I took her temperature five times before we left the house. They did it again at school. The head of school, behind her visor, and mask, just her gray hair and blue eyes emerging, held up a laminated sheet of paper. Have you experienced any symptoms in your family? Have you been around anyone that has tested positive? Have you been exposed? I wasn’t allowed to go in the building.

“My teacher wears a visor thing,” she told me later, on the drive home. She pronounced thing like “ting”. “Is that visor ‘ting’ to keep bugs out of her eyes?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“Mommy,” she said a month later, pretending to talk on her toy phone in the kitchen. “Did you know Bert and Ernie died from the virus? They got it and now they’re dead.”

I told her not everyone dies, that some people just get a cough and a fever.

“They’re dead,” she said.

“Their family must really miss them,” I said. Acknowledge their fears, the parenting books say.

“How are Bert and Ernie doing?” I asked a week later. “Did they get better?”

“No,” she said. “They can’t come back.”

We were playing baby dolls on her bedroom floor one afternoon. She had a pretend baby carrier I bought her when her younger sister was born, the kind that clips around your back and the baby goes in front.

“My baby is sick,” she told me.

“Oh no,” I said, “What are her symptoms? Should we get the doctor kit?”

“No,” she said. “Her doctor is sick too and can’t help her.”

“Let’s go to another doctor,” I said, “Surely there is another hospital that can help her.”

“All of the doctors are sick,” she said. “Nobody can help my baby.”

“Well, what do we do now?” I asked. “We could pray.” I liked to pray. It made me feel less depressed.

“What does that do?” she asked.

“It gives us hope.”

“No. Let me be myself.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Sometimes I am afraid of those things too.” I added. Validate her feelings, I told myself. “And its true, sometimes things happen where doctors can’t help us. But medicine is getting better and better everyday.” I was floundering. “You know, we will always find a doctor to take care of us,” I said. “We are doing lots of things to stay healthy. And our angels are keeping us safe.”

“Have you ever felt like a doctor wasn’t able to help you?” I asked, later, still thinking about it. I was thinking about my grandmother, at age four, her two year old sister dying. My daughters were two and four, best friends and best enemies. I was thinking about my great grandmother losing her husband at 33. He barely spoke again.

“No,” she said, but there was a question in her voice, like she wasn’t sure if she could remember.

Alyssa Sinclair is a mom of two girls in Dallas, Texas. She earned her master's in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews. Her writing has been published by Fiction Attic Press and BOMB Magazine. She is currently working on her first memoir, New Mom.


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