‘I worry about my son returning to school and my other son at home’

Until now it has been flu, fever, stomach bugs and minor bruises that we have had to deal with when it comes to the health of our boys.

I am also raising a son living with autism so that also makes things adventurous in our household.

Enter Covid-19. This is new to us all. Scary. You cannot help but being anxious when you think about how deadly the virus can be.

But I have learnt that knowledge is the best defence in tackling everything.

My husband has been the researcher throughout this period, reassuring us as a family. And when sharing knowledge, we make sure the boys understand what we’re explaining to them.

When the announcement came that schools would be reopening I was surprised. I had thought, for some reason, that was something that wouldn’t happen anytime soon; that schools should be the last institutions to open.

This is partly because schooling for many families, like mine, is not as easy as a child waking up and going to school.

For example, my son Lwandle, who is in grade 7 uses public transport to get to school and back. I thought about the risk involved in this exercise, especially knowing that children will be children and they might not adhere to the physical distancing rules.

Children at his school can maintain distancing in the classroom and adhere to other regulations. But as a parent I couldn’t help wonder how I could be certain that he would be protected when he is out there and not at home.

My anxiety has not been about Lwandle alone. My biggest concern is about his brother, who has had lung infections in the past. Lwandle will come back to us as a family from school where he could have been exposed to the virus.

On Monday morning I woke up and I must say it was not the usual school day that we know in our household.

While preparing him for school I had to drum this message into his head over and over again: “Lwandle, please make sure you do not touch your face when you have the mask on, remember to wash your hands and your hand sanitiser is on the side of your bag.”

I did this even though in the days leading up to the reopening of schools we planned and prepared him as much as we could.

But I still think to myself that all of this is too much for a 12-year-old, even though he is positive and looks forward to seeing his friends.

The whole of Monday I kept reminding myself that I have prepared him the best way I could and that I must trust him.

I think everyone has been focusing on adults in terms of jobs, loss of income and everything else that has changed our lives because of Covid-19. But our children’s lives have also changed a lot — from being with friends daily to having to stay at home. Now they have returned to “a new school”.

But as a family, in consultation with the school, we have decided that we will not be sending Lwandle to school daily. He will be doing most of his school work at home. We have also decided that he will no longer use public transport and that his dad will take him to school.

These are the compromises we have had to take as a family to ensure our safety and his.

Life must at some point get back to normal and we can only pray for the best.

This week, Bongekile Macupe invited Chulayo Thapelo Mthembu to write her regular Education Matters column

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Chulayo Thapelo Mthembu
Chulayo Thapelo Mthembu is a mother who has championed autism awareness and disability inclusion in her community and online

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