New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

I’m a mom who’s not sure about school reopening

- By Laurie Salerno Laurie Rich Salerno lives in West Hartford. Her writing has appeared in CNN, Newsweek, Discover magazine and other publicatio­ns.

I went to a routine doctor’s appointmen­t a few months ago. On the way home, I spied the Quinnipiac River Linear Trail, and thought, “Why not sneak in a walk?”

I spotted a huge mulberry tree on the path. I plucked one and put it into my mouth, but then stopped, thinking, “What am I doing? What if this isn’t a mulberry tree?”

Now, I grew up picking mulberries with my grandfathe­r. We’d while away summer Sundays walking his dog, gathering berries.

Years later, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan, I tasted the white mulberry Uzbeks called “toot.” It was even sweeter and milder than the American kind.

All of which is to say: I know my way around a mulberry. Not just the berry, but the shape of the leaves, the color of the bark. But at that moment, I just couldn’t be certain I was right. I spat out the whole thing.

After a year and a half of living in this pandemic, I just don’t trust my gut anymore.

And unfortunat­ely, right now, it feels as though I could use some solid instincts. Next week, my unvaccinat­ed kids are set to start school — first and third grade — in person for the first time in more than year.

Half of me is desperate to send them to school with their new backpacks and their sweet best friends and their fabulous teachers, while the other half of me wants to pull them out of school, buy an Airstream trailer, drive to whichever swath on the COVID map isn’t an angry red, and homeschool them.

Last year, we were able to meld both worlds. Because I’m immunosupp­ressed — as are 100,000 other folks in the state — we were very cautious and signed up for our district’s remote school option. In it, we were part of a community with district teachers, and yet we could be physically away from the kids in classrooms and lunchrooms.

But this year, the remote option is not available. Of course, until the delta variant surfaced, we wanted to go back to on-theground school. Even though my vaccine might be less effective because of my immunosupp­ressed state, we trusted that the COVID rates would keep plummeting.

Yet, faced with a virus 1,000 times more communicab­le than the one schools battled last year, one that has been shown to attack kids in worrisome ways, I miss the safety of the remote option. It would be nice to have until this thing burns itself out.

As the first day of school gets closer, stressed-out friends have been texting about kids who started school earlier and got COVID or had to quarantine. One friend chronicled the ups and downs of a frightenin­g week at Connecticu­t Children’s with her COVID-positive 6year-old.

On Monday, I listened to the state’s Virtual House Call in which doctors noted the growing rate and seriousnes­s of COVID in children and the need for vigilant protection from the virus, but also highlighte­d the need for kids to be in school, citing a worrisome uptick in rates of mental health issues and obesity among those who weren’t in the classroom full time.

And then on Tuesday, my kiddos toured their school. They saw classrooms, administra­tors and friends, and it all felt encouragin­gly normal. They were happy. And challenged in a way they hadn’t been for a while. After hiding from this thing for a long time, it looks like we’ve made our decision.

Boy, I hope it’s the right one.

 ?? Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? The multi-use courts outside Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.
Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticu­t Media The multi-use courts outside Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

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