It was a Monday morning and as I got my kids ready for Spirit Week, the uber-cute five-day celebration leading up to Halloween, I found myself reflecting on one of my favourite times of year. I love the costumes, I love the candy, and I love the palpable sense of excitement that radiates from the kids. And of course, I really love watching horror movies. There’s nothing like settling in on the couch to take in a scary classic as the weather gets cooler and the food gets more indulgent. However, as I geared up for this annual ritual, my mind went back to a real-life terrifying experience, one that preceded Halloween by almost two months: the first day back in school.
The previous school year of on again/off again lockdown was an incredibly challenging and disorienting time for adults and children alike. Schedules changed at the drop of a hat (or perhaps it would be more apt to say at the swab of a nose,) and parents were forced into becoming part-time educators (an experience which demonstrated once again just how amazing and invaluable actual teachers are.)
And yet despite the craziness of it all, there was a certain comfort in having the kids close by at home, knowing that they were safe and secure (and it was super adorable hearing my daughter interact with her class on Zoom while her incredibly patient and ever-so-slightly exasperated teacher worked diligently to keep them all on track.) What’s more, my kids became quite used to the whole thing and loved the fact that they could transition immediately from online learning to online gaming by simply closing one browser window and opening another. Parents with young kids have no doubt become wearily familiar with the ‘charms’ of Minecraft and Roblox, that most un-free of free online games. Therefore, with the new normal firmly imprinted on my kids’ daily routine, it was no surprise that the return to in-class was met with no little trepidation, particularly in the case of my son, Santiago.
Somewhat shy and introverted by nature, Santi had the time of his life during the period of online learning. In addition to the aforementioned games, he also took up video editing and even created his own YouTube channel. He would regularly meet his buddies online and, through hours of chatting and playing, he became very attached to his PC. It really came as no surprise that he was dreading the return to school, treating it like his own personal Nightmare on High Park Avenue. Things only got worse when he got a preview of the class list and realized that his best buddy Theo wasn’t in the same class. With much kicking and screaming, we began the ominous walk to school, a sense of foreboding lying heavily in the air.
At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own fears about my kids returning to inclass learning. While the mostly successful vaccination program in Ontario has instilled a certain level of comfort and security back into our lives, the ominous, looming terror of the Delta variant (a name that seems purpose built for a horror franchise) cast a shadow over a time of year that had once been a source of much excitement and champagne-popping relief for exhausted parents who had spent their summer holidays curating their kids’ daily schedules (or paying a lot of money to have summer camps shoulder that burden.) But now, like any good horror flick, the sense of exhilaration had been replaced by fear and uncertainty over sending our little ones back into over-crowded, unvaccinated school rooms. Suddenly on that postLabour Day Thursday (because returning to school on a Thursday is so 2021), I wanted nothing more than to invent an excuse to keep them home, to go back to that lockdown cocoon of pyjama-based online learning, replete with parental room service at lunch and snack time.
Thankfully, the past few months have gone far better than I could have expected. My son has rediscovered his love of basketball and recently told me, with no little awe in his voice, that he is friends with ‘literally’ every other boy in his class. My daughter, who has always been the more extroverted of the two, has slotted seamlessly back into the social dynamic of her class, regaling me with my daily tales of how so-and-so has a crush on so-and-so. And I realize that however much I enjoyed having them home, school is where they belong, learning from their awesome teachers and hanging out with their friends. Of course, no one can predict what turns the winter may take and whether the rush to reopen may lead to a lockdown return (and what good horror movie doesn’t at least hint at the possibility of sequels?) But in the meantime, Halloween has come and gone and unlike last year, the kids were able to dress up and trick or treat. Despite the spookiness of the season, it actually felt a bit like a cheerful family show, with happy children and relieved parents. Here’s hoping that this spirit extends well into the more traditional Hallmark territory of the holiday season. As odd as it may sound, the scary returnto-school movie may yet become the feel-good movie of the year.