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This September Won't Be Ideal. It's Our Job As Parents To Make The Best Of It03:32
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Students walk into Liberty Elementary School during the first day of class Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Murray, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Students walk into Liberty Elementary School during the first day of class Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Murray, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

OK September, you’re really letting us down.

September is supposed to be the new January. A fresh start, a time when order is restored to the family universe. A chance to buy a new notebook and turn over a blank page.

Not this year.

Were we wrong to hope that fall would bring with it a return to normal? Probably, but that doesn’t stop this back-to-school season from feeling like a real sucker punch. Our challenge is to make it a sucker punch from a silver-lined glove, because the thing that every working parent has known to be true for years has finally become crystal clear to even the most out-of-touch among us: our economy depends on our school system. Without it, no one, not doctors or bus drivers or senators, can get our jobs done. For millions of American workers, every hour of every day has to be arranged around childcare and schooling, and when it falters, we do too.

So, as we head into another season of changing days and unpredictable weeks, what do we do, as parents, to try to hang in there until the cavalry arrives?

First off, we vote, remembering that we need governments who will support our schools and our families during and after the pandemic.

Were we wrong to hope that fall would bring with it a return to normal? Probably, but that doesn’t stop this back-to-school season from feeling like a real sucker punch.

Next? We go ahead and grieve the school year we were hoping for, for our kids and for ourselves. There may be greater losses, but the loss of kids holding hands outside their kindergartens, of soccer players practicing after school, of the orchestra flailing its way through a misguided version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" — that’s real, and it’s OK to regret it.

Then, wipe away that tear, and start DIY-ing your back-to-school. What was the worst thing about online school last year? Find a way to make that better. What was the best of that spring lockdown? Bring that back, only bigger.

September usually brings with it a feeling of optimism, of progress and purpose and hope. But this year is different. We’re going to have to find those things on our own.

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This segment aired on August 31, 2020.

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KJ Dell’Antonia Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
KJ Dell’Antonia is the author of "How to Be a Happier Parent (Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving (Almost) Every Minute," the former editor of the New York Times’ Motherlode blog and the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast. 

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