Needless to say the first day of school was not how I pictured it…

What I pictured: My lipsticked self happily dropping off the kids at school. High-fiving the other moms at the playground while the kids frolicked in the grass. Then I’d go for a run, write a chapter, read a book with my coffee, and attend to some client work, before returning to school to pick the kids up, eager to see their smiling faces again.

The reality: A sea of masks at the school yard, where I could hardly recognize a friendly face. I stoically patted my kids on the back as they lined up according to socially distanced markers, telling them everything would be great. Then I promptly drove home and spent the rest of the day crying and grieving the first day of school we didn’t get.

How would my eldest son make friends at his new school when he couldn’t see people’s faces? How could my daughter, on her first day of Junior Kindergarten, feel safe and secure when she couldn’t even see her teacher’s smile? And thanks to the staggered re-entry, my twins too were missing the reunion with so many of their friends after months of social distancing.

I was crushed. And I said so, all over social media and in my various groups of friends and family on Whats App, text, Facebook and Instagram. I knew I wasn’t alone and we didn’t have to suffer in silence.

I received an outpour of support. Moms who sent me virtual hugs and agreed, “This totally sucks” and “Me too.”

Some non-parent friends had great advice. “Think of this as history in the making. Your kids are experiencing a first. They’re making history!” One friend shared.

“Masks show we love each other. It’s protecting ourselves and others. It’s an act of love,” another shared, reframing mask wearing for me.

At the same time, thanks to the staggered re-entry, the kids were still at home. Going to school one day while their friends went the next day. When would I finally get my me time?

I threw up my hands and chose to give myself grace. This is not the time to kill it at work, I decided. Me and my passion projects would just have to wait a little while longer.

And that goes for academics too, I decided, as I watched my distance learning parent friends go through their unique challenges. Kids have enough curve balls to deal with right now without having to stress over their lessons too.

So this year, I’m choosing to not get hung up on grades and what is learned this year in class. We are all—including teachers—just doing the best we can under the circumstances.

Maybe the real lessons this year don’t come from textbooks and software programs. Maybe the real lessons are staring right at us, crafted by a worldwide pandemic while protesters take to the streets and wildfires send people from their homes.

Maybe, this year, it’s Emotional Literacy we need to focus on.

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) is the ability to understand, use and manage your emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively, empathize with others and defuse conflict.

Emotional literacy refers to the ability to express one’s feelings. A person with well-developed emotional literacy is able to recognize and respond to the emotional states of others.

What if this is the year our kids master both, creating a whole new generation equipped with more EQ than any generation before it? What if this is the change the whole world has been waiting for, and it just took a pandemic for us to create the time and space to dedicate to it?

As far as subject matter goes, I can’t imagine a more useful skill set or knowledge base.


Cat Margulis is a Toronto writer and super (tired) mom of four. She's working on her first novel, launching her own podcast The Passion Project, and generally trying to do and have it all. You can see how she does it @catmargulis and @passionprojectpod on Instagram.

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