Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

schools reopening

Back to school? Let the games end and showering begin!

One parent's take on how dropping rules and hygiene directives kind of, sort of worked out.

Schools reopening: School will be starting again in Seattle, in some form, in an actual building near actual people.

Since our family was lucky enough to have two parents able to work at home throughout the pandemic, unlike so many others, we’ve been personally dealing with lighter stuff — how to make lockdown livable and make our kids feel connected to the world (and other kids) as they stayed home and remote-schooled for a year. 

And the start of in-person school will mean a lot of different things to different families across Puget Sound.

For us, it will mean, um, not playing video games 22 hours a day. OK, that hasn’t really been happening, but there are certainly days when my two kids, ages 11 and 14, have not set foot outside the house. OK, for weeks. And have not been seen outside their rooms except for lunch, dinner and an obligatory 50-minute “Dr. Who,” starting at the obscenely late hour of 10:30 p.m., even on school nights. 

Once upon a time, I forbade devices in rooms. That’s now hysterically funny, as each child’s room has become a deluxe boy cave with interesting LED mood lighting (yay, holiday presents!) and busy little humans on headsets 15 hours a day. 

Now, there will have to be a change in hygiene habits with schools reopening. I underplayed that: There WILL be, there MUST be, SIGNIFICANT, MEANINGFUL changes in hygiene habits.

One child has been comparatively meticulous about cleanliness, while another now seems to view changes of clothes as optional, even, perhaps, as rarely needed —  let’s not even discuss showering — and is certainly going to need a crash course in how to use his new standard Seattle-issue Tom’s of Maine unscented deodorant (without anti-perspirant), though I fear we might need a much bigger weapon at this point.  

When COVID-19 lockdowns and puberty coincide, the results are not always pretty. Or pleasant-smelling. 

The same child — never a fan of the barber — very much needs a haircut since if I added glasses to his face and a hat now, he could surely be mistaken for the “Addams Family” character Cousin Itt.

Both boys will likely both need new shoes for schools reopening, since, um, they haven’t been wearing shoes. (Can we say these children have become indoorsy?) What would a pair of happy gaming shut-ins want with shoes? We had a moment recently when we realized the only shoes that still fit our 14-year-old were a pair of Crocs, and this was right before we were heading off to our one snowy day in the mountains. (True story. Luckily, we know a local larger-footed boy who lent him a pair of too-big snow boots.) 

Minecraft and Fortnite were so pervasive at the start of remote schooling that I did believe their creators, Mojang and Epic Games, deserved medals of honor. (They have since moved on to many other games.) Not only did they keep my kids busy, but they kept them incredibly, impossibly social during a time when many kids have been suffering. Yes, this went against all my previous publicly stated beliefs about video game time and its effects on eyes and sociability and posture and whether kids will grown horns at the bases of their necks, but they have been HAPPY. Happy through the benign neglect of me letting them do whatever it was they wanted, with the exception of limiting the number of Nutella sandwiches that would be accepted as meals in a week (even on 100 percent whole wheat bread).

Writer’s note: As I revise this essay, I see that my teen son just helped himself to a giant bowl of Froot Loops (formerly a forbidden food in our house) for LUNCH.

The gamer app Discord previously had a bad reputation as a fiasco of weirdo boys who sometimes got into even weirder (and even dangerous and extreme) politics, but for my kids, it’s been an ongoing social hour … and I hear nonstop excited chatter from my formerly much more reserved sixth-grader. It’s worked out for him in a way I never would have imagined, and he’s actually rekindled friendships with other boys whom he hasn’t seen much since second grade. (Consequently, with all this social time online with friends, my kids actually have loved their experience of COVID lockdowns, and told me so frequently.) 

They didn’t love that there was a deadly disease ravaging people and communities across the U.S. and the world, and they were sad, sympathetic and very scared by that. They knew this was serious stuff and required some serious changes to everything. 

But they did love that their mom lightened up and let them indulge in absurd amounts of time indoors, all-day chats with friends on computers, and the reimagining of each of their rooms into boy palaces where they could have the nonnutritive lunches they now know how to make themselves — while they reacquainted themselves with Minecraft and YouTube. One kid always loved staying at home, anyway, and the other has learned to love it. (No pressure to get ready! Endless voice chats! Infinite screen time!)

Schools reopening

We had two family graduations last spring, from fifth and eighth grades, and we now are looking ahead to two kids heading off to middle school and high school, which they both started in fall. But did they really? Is it your school yet if you haven’t been there? What will April hold? What is it like to start a new school you already started but … did you really start? Is it your school if you’ve never set foot inside as a student?

In closing, Daylight Saving Time just started, but that change will be nothing compared to the daylight return of these kids who used to be in bed by 10, but during COVID, learned (happily) that a midnight bedtime was merely a friendly suggestion. 

This story was originally published on March 13, 2021.

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About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.