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Back to school: We went into a tailspin when our eldest had a temperature


The excitement on the first day back to school held a somewhat delirious and momentary spell over me. I was sucked into a false sense of security that this was normal. Real even. The smiles, the laughs, and the genuine enthusiasm for a routine, a uniform, a school bag with new, pointy pencils, was what we had all been waiting for.

My eldest raced through the gates as though the past six months never happened, waving her new visor to her teacher and friends with matching face shields as school policy suggests. My youngest skipped in on her first day at Montessori with absolutely zero tears or separation anxiety, completely unfazed by the masks and protocol of hand washing. The new norm. No questions asked. This is what we do now.

We quickly settled into a new pattern of taking temperatures with breakfast, masking up and social distancing at the school gates. For those first few days, it seemed like everything would be okay and we’d shift into a new routine as the pandemic raged on. Covid would simply become this new thing to work around and sure, it’ll be grand. Any worries I had were surely a mix of simply stepping into an unknown familiarity and breaking out of the comfort of our bubble which saw us safe, protected and somewhat naive as to the realities of what school life would be like this year.

We got through four days of school. We barely cracked half a week and suddenly the threat of everything we have been fearful of for the past six months lit up our lives like a neon warning sign.

Our eldest had a temperature. A cough. We were sent into a tailspin, on overdrive with policies, procedures, guidelines, and the realisation that our bubble was well and truly popped. All of sudden my parental instinct was shot.

But these are not ordinary times. We are cautious, safe, attempting to protect others, but we are still damn fearful

Getting to grips with navigating the new norm was supposed to be doable. We’ve lived through six months of this pandemic. We’ve made decisions, weighed up the options and questioned our choices plenty of times already. It should be simple. Call the GP. Be referred for a test. Wait. But it’s not really that easy at the heart of it when your six old tells you she’s afraid.

When she sadly poured into our bed on the Tuesday morning saying she didn’t feel well enough to go to school, I panicked. My anxiety crushed my chest as her temperature threatened to go above 38 degrees and I found myself questioning every parenting decision I had to make. Ordinarily, I would have kept her home from school until Calpol did its job and she felt well enough to go back again. Ordinarily, I would have only called the GP when her symptoms worsened to a point of needing attention. Ordinarily, it would mean hauling her duvet out to the sofa with 7up and toast.

But these are not ordinary times. We are cautious, safe, attempting to protect others, but we are still damn fearful. And angry. And unsure. And slightly sceptical. We are still parents with few answers and little faces looking at us to say, “It’ll be okay.”

We felt in an odd way as though we failed her, or we were failed in trying to navigate all of this

Nothing felt normal as I rang the GP instead of listening to my ordinary mothering instinct of waiting to see if her temperature lowered. I went by protocol despite it being September. The month of the sniffles, of temperatures, of a million and one things as kids mingle together again. She was referred for a Covid test and internally I screamed and cried because I knew deep down she did not have coronavirus. I knew by how she was behaving that it was the beginnings of a heavy cold, possibly a chest infection. But gut instinct is not enough during a pandemic.

Her test was scheduled, and I gently talked to her about what it would entail. She said she was scared. None of us, our extended family included, thought our six-year-old who barely stepped outside our garden for six whole months and was severely lacking in social contact, would be the first in our bubble to endure the ordeal. The test was uncomfortable. She cried. Her dad held her hand the whole time and I cried when he told me how upset she was.

We felt in an odd way as though we failed her, or we were failed in trying to navigate all of this. We’re sad she has this memory from an already frightening period in her young life. We’re angry she had to undergo what felt like an unnecessary test because the policies say so. We’re frustrated we felt the stigma of isolating as we waited the results. We’re relieved the test was negative. But gut instinct be damned. Four days in, we did our best.

We move on to a new week.

A full year left.

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