Weary Chicago Parents, I Salute Us

Weary Chicago parents, I see us. I feel us. Some of your kids went back to school today, for the first time since break. Yesterday, my kiddo went remote, so she’s downstairs doing school as I write this. Did Jesse Sharkey’s son stay home today because there were too many Covid cases in his class? Maybe. Did Stacy Davis Gates’ kids stay home because the teacher was sick and there was no sub? Totally possible.

Wherever our kids attend school, whether they are in or out could change at any moment.

No one seems very happy with the agreement now before the Chicago Teachers Union membership. The CDC says it’s OK for Lori Lightfoot’s daughter to go to school as long as she’s vaccinated, even though her mom has Covid, but is that what her school’s policy says? I don’t know. The teachers at my daughter’s private school are at the breaking point trying to keep up with the changing science and policy related to Covid. Suburban school districts are going remote due to substitute teacher shortages.

Meanwhile, parents are holding it together, somehow. We’re rolling with the punches. We’re getting the text at 6:57 a.m. or 7:10 a.m. or 7:24 a.m. that flips our whole day around. Our kids are in. Nope, they’re out. We need to find a test. There are no tests within a 20-mile radius. We need a PCR test–how long will it take to come back? In November, my own kid missed a week of school because a lab took a week to return PCR results. Our family’s response? OK, fine, stay home at your dad’s.

Parents Run All Kinds of Risks

Some of us parents ourselves are at higher risk from Covid. Some of us live with our aging parents, who need extra protection from Covid. Some of us have kids who could get really, really sick from Covid. I heard on the radio the other day yet another doctor offering the side note, “Kids who are hospitalized with Covid likely have co-morbidites.” Co-morbidities. Underlying conditions. The words are used to dismiss our reality. Don’t our kids have a right to be safely educated, too?

Some of us work in classrooms. People ask about the state of Chicago Public Schools parents who are also teachers in CPS, but there are also parents who teach in the suburbs and send their kids to CPS schools. They really had it rough last week. I also see my friend the SECA who is back today, watching high school students with masks below their noses. Every day at lunchtime, she worries about getting sick or bringing Covid home to her young daughter.

Some of us work 12 hour shifts. Our older kids watch our younger kids. We worry we will get Covid at our jobs in places like meatpacking plants, Amazon warehouses, restaurants.

Some of us, like me, are lucky. We can work from home. But that comes with its own host of challenges. When are we working? When are we not? How is anything getting done when we’re constantly whipsawed between dealing with our kids and dealing with our jobs?

Maybe some of us roll better with the punches. Personally, I don’t think I’m one of them. My waistline, my blood pressure and the state of disarray in my home can tell you that.

A Challenge to All of Us, Weary Parents or No

Sure, it’s Omicron. Many of us have retreated to our bunkers. But friends, check in on your friends who are weary Chicago parents, especially if you are not a weary Chicago parent yourself. Ask what they need. Help them out if you can.

Here in Chicago, mutual aid organizations have done tremendous work to provide cash assistance, food and support for people leaving jail, just for starters. I’d like to take a moment to give a special shout-out to the Chicago Childcare Collective for caring for children while their parents attend grassroots organizing meetings.

Maybe now is a good time to start thinking about more kinds of child care and community building to give weary Chicago parents some much-needed respite.

Photo by Antonia Figueroa.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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