School is our home away from home. Our safety net. It's where our people are. (Illustration: Toby Morris)

Emily Writes: On coming ‘home’ to school and our community

In the fifth part of a new series that shares the stories of families learning from home during lockdown, Emily Writes puts faith in her community as her son returns to school. 

He knew school would be opening the following week and we’re not quite sure how. Maybe the excitement and anxiety of the neighbourhood’s children carried on the wind and onto our deck where he’d parked up to play Lego.

We were discussing school in the kitchen. My husband and I were not in agreement. He wanted to keep our eldest son at home until level one. I felt that it would be better to send him and then withdraw him if we didn’t feel he was safe. 

When our eldest son had his first surgery, he was so tiny that you could hold him in the crook of your arm. His second surgery was the result of a cold; his trachea nearing collapse resulted in emergency surgery. He’d become stronger over the years and then he was given a new diagnosis that wasn’t related to his respiratory system. 

We have lived in a hand-washing, physical-distancing world ever since. But he’s been lucky enough to be able to attend kindy and school. To say both places have become our village is an understatement. They’re our home away from home. Our safety net. They’re where our people are. 

He heard us discussing him in the kitchen and he walked straight in. 

“If you’re talking about school you have to include me.” 

He’s seven now and he’s right. He explained that he wanted to go to school. And then he said he promised he’d be good, he’d wash his hands, and he’d keep a close eye on his levels and he’d tell his teacher aide if he felt sick. He’d be really careful. 

He made the decision for us because sometimes your kids know best. We want to empower him to make decisions about his health and to take as much responsibility as he can for keeping safe. Because with his diagnosis, like so many kids with high health needs, he has to; we won’t always be here, he needs to be able to trust himself, to know himself.

By the time we’d agreed he’d go back to school, his teacher aide and Senco (special education needs coordinator) had already been in touch. The school had been proactive with ensuring children who had health challenges were equipped with everything they’d need ahead of time. 

On Sunday night he was almost shaking with excitement. He tried to sleep next to his backpack. He could barely contain himself. Remember the night before a concert when you were a teenager? When you planned your outfit, felt sure that the black eye liner from the $2 shop you bought would be just the shade to catch the attention of Brian Molko, who would somehow see you in the crowd and declare his love for you? OK, maybe too specific – but that’s what it reminded me of.

They were up so early (his younger brother had started school just one week before lockdown). Dressed without me even asking. We couldn’t find their damn book bags, of course. Of course. So I definitely got an earful for that, as if it’s my responsibility to look after their book bags. But anyway, not the point.

When we got to school the teachers had formed a guard of honour at the open gate. Their beloved principal was in a clown wig. How do principals always seem to know everyone’s name? They clapped as the kids skipped through their own parade. 

I felt myself tear up because I felt like I was home.

School or kindy isn’t just a place you leave your kids each day; it’s your community. It’s the place where you can get advice, support and love from those who are going through the same thing you are.

When my eldest was diagnosed last year, the school had all the kids write cards for him that were delivered to hospital. They watched a video in assembly that talked about his condition. His teachers had training on their day off with a clinic nurse. They hired a teacher aide straight away without needing any prompting. They organised meals for us and on most days I would find lovely letters in my letterbox, not just to our son, but to his little brother and us. 

Covid-19 is terrifying for our family. But more terrifying is losing the community that helps us parent, which is why I’m so immensely grateful to everyone who is making school a safe place for children – not just physically, but emotionally.

Teachers come every day and still provide all the support our little ones need, no matter what is going on in their bubble. Principals are working long hours to ensure their staff and kids are cared for. The Sencos are making sure nobody is left behind.

My husband is a teacher aide. During lockdown he read stories to “his” kids on their driveways. Now, he’s back at school teaching kids to read and feel confident.

We weren’t supposed to hug but some of us got weepy at how happy we were to see each other and we couldn’t help but reach out. Standing on the hopscotch with the sun shining down, it felt like everything was right. And it hasn’t felt like that for a long time.

That’s the beauty of a school. It’s the world in microform because it’s your world, their world, right now. It’s everything to your kid. What that relationship is like is as important as a marriage. Just as you want your child to feel safe, to be safe in a relationship, so they must be at school.

I was lucky enough to be raised by a lot of people and that’s why I feel that schools and kindergartens are a way for us to thrive as parents in a world that insists on individualism. I can’t parent alone – and I don’t want to. I want the skill, passion, support and love of people I trust. I want whaea, mātua, sisters, brothers and elders raising my little ones with me. I never wanted only two children, and now I have so many. 

This is what my school gives me. What it gave me growing up, and what it gives my children now. 

Do I have fears? Of course. Am I anxious? Yep. But I also have trust and faith in teachers and staff as they’re my people. And I trust my son. We work together. The time for being apart, for now, is over. 



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