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'We Really Had No Choice But to Send Him': A Mom Confronts the Anxiety of Preschool

Illustration for article titled We Really Had No Choice But to Send Him: A Mom Confronts the Anxiety of Preschool
Image: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)
Imbalancing ActImbalancing ActMothering during the covid-19 pandemic

“Mary,” 28, is a stay-at-home mom living in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and son, who just started pre-school.

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My son turned three in July. He’s a special needs student. He was in an early-intervention program and, prior to the pandemic, therapists would come into our home and work with him one-on-one, which actually gave me some free time to do what I needed to do around the house. When the pandemic hit, he started seeing therapists on Zoom, because there was no other way for him to get the services he needed. It was really a struggle. He wasn’t going to sit in front of a computer for two or three hours. I was in constant contact with his therapist and really discussing how he wasn’t making the same amount of progress as before when they were coming in person.

We struggled up until mid-August when the early intervention program started bringing therapists back into the home. We saw a huge boost in progress in terms of his behaviors, his education. But early intervention ended when he turned three, so we lost out on four months of in-person services. There were no systems in place for extensions, so he immediately went into the next level which is CPSE (the Committee on Preschool Special Education), a preschool program for special needs kids. After we saw what happened with Zoom over the summer, we realized that’s really not an option for him. We really had no choice but to send him in for in-person school if we wanted him to get the support that he needs.

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It’s OK for now. The school does seem to be following safety and health guidelines. His classroom is very small to begin with, he only has three other kids in his classroom. They really do prefer the kids to come in wearing masks, but with this population, since they are all special needs, sensory issues can be a problem with masks. They are working with the kids on tolerating the masks for extended periods of time, but they’re not super strict about it. They have a registered nurse who does temperature checks on each child. They try to break up the drop-off so that it’s less crowded. They limit how many people are in the elevator, how many people can stand in the lobby, and no parents are allowed past the reception desk.

I’m still really worried about a second wave. I’m still really worried about what happens if someone tests positive in school. That New York Times article came out where 100 schools had at least once case, so it’s kind of like bracing yourself. There have been a ton of reports that kids don’t get really sick, but if he comes home and I get sick, who is going to take care of my kids? My husband works two full-time jobs, he’s a resident manager. He’s home for about five hours a day during the week. During the weekends, he’s home all day and then goes to his second job in the evening. It’s difficult for him to stay home with the kids.

Since the pandemic, I’ve been with my son 24-7. He’s never really away from me, so I did cry a little on the first day of school. Ultimately, he needs support that I am not trained to give him, so it is for the best. That’s the whole reason we sent him and didn’t keep him remote. It’s a risk, but there really is no other option. It’s been a relief, too, to send him to school and have four or five hours to just do what I need to do. A nap is the dream. If the opportunity presented itself, I could take a nap while he’s in school and my 16-month-old daughter is sleeping. It’s a weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to keep my eyes on both kids while trying to do what I need to do.

Since I’m a stay-at-home mom, the pandemic didn’t change things in terms of having them home all the time. It was more of a shift in terms of I was suddenly limited in what I could entertain them with and the kinds of activities I could do with them. They love being outside, they love going to the park. Suddenly I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t really equipped to entertain these kids. At the beginning, I was like, “Oh my god, my kids just watch TV all day, their brains are turning to mush.” There’s only so many times you can paint or play with trains. We didn’t know how long we were gonna be stuck at home all the time.

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My daughter is very bubbly, she’s very friendly, she loves people talking to her, she loves other kids. Now that we’re going out more, she’s opening up more, she’s waving to people, saying “hi.” Maybe it’s a coincidence, it could just be her developmental age, but it does feel like she’s opening up more. She’s loving it. We’ve started to see a bit more people—my dad, my siblings. But meeting new people for a playgroup, I’m still not comfortable with that. And I still don’t really take the kids to the park.

I learned a lot about my own motherhood during this experience. It’s made me more patient with my kids, realizing how hard this is for them because they didn’t know what was going on. They just knew they couldn’t go outside, they couldn’t go see their friends, they couldn’t go see their family. I learned a lot about handling kids’ feelings when they don’t know how to express them. I realized that these things do impact them in big ways, even if they’re too small to understand. I try not to get too frustrated with them, because they are dealing with a lot.

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I think that’s why I didn’t have as much anxiety as my friends without friends did when the pandemic hit. It was like, “I really don’t have time to deal with that right now. I just don’t have the space for that.” My kids need to be fed, they need to be bathed, they need to be changed, they need to be entertained. I didn’t have time to panic. Now that we’re over the hump of this summer, I’m uneasy, obviously, because I’m waiting for that second wave—but I’m not full-blown panicking, because I can’t, I just don’t have the time for it.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

silencetheadvocate
silencetheadvocate

I feel like I’m in a unique position to somewhat understand your situation. I am literally in the process of developing a program for parents of children with disabilities. We work specifically with infants ranging up to 12 years of age. Currently, we are looking for funding specifically to help keep parents engaged with their children, both in person and remotely.

Obviously, we all share a fear of what COVID might do to us or our loved ones, but your experience is an excellent example for us who simply do not have the “luxury” of spending time or energy in a panic.

The parents I will be working with are low-income, often working multiple jobs. They are both in fear of having their children back in classrooms, and yet, relieved that they are finally receiving the services they require again. So one of the ideas we have decided to pursue is purchasing a special app for phones that will allow parents to engage with their children and the instructor in real-time, no matter where they are.

The other avenue is admittedly in-person, but still within social distancing guidelines. We will be holding special sessions designed to help parents better manage both their child’s anxieties as well as their own as things continue. A few other programs are being worked on as well, such as our parental support network so parents can well... support each other.

I’m not saying you need to find time to panic, but do make sure you are taking some time to help you cope. For me? That was literally meditation sessions during my lunch break. For my wife, a school teacher who technically has a 30 minute lunch, but is lucky to get 5 minutes... well, I just try to make sure I take care of everything for her once I’m home lol... She copes, I cook.