I have had visions in my head for my twins’ kindergarten year for as long as I can remember. Meet the teacher night, walking them in on their first day of public elementary school, eagerly waiting in the carpool line to hear about the new friend they made, the exciting things they learned and all of their adventures. Chaperoning their field trips, cheering them on at field day and having playdates with their classmates. I have struggled over the past week to come to terms with the fact that my dreams for them will not come to fruition in August.
COVID-19 has changed the trajectory of my twins’ public-school beginnings. My husband and I have made the difficult decision to enroll our five-year-olds in online learning. We will be returning to Zoom calls and the designated space in our living room free of clutter for online meetings. We will revisit our not too distant Zoom preschool calls from the spring in which one of us was constantly trying to break up a fight or re-direct our five-year olds’ to their teacher’s face through a screen while also haphazardly entertaining our three-year-old daughter. We will continue to work through our daughter’s breakdowns when her artwork isn’t “just right” and our son running up to his room and slamming the door when his teacher calls on another student raising their hand. We will be aiding our children with identifying their letter names, counting up to thirty and learning the days of the week.
This is not what we had planned for our children’s future following their three sweet, nurturing years of preschool. Yet, there isn’t a doubt in our mind that we are doing what is best for our family. Our son has an allergic disease and our daughters … well, their medical conditions are to be determined. They have a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease and food intolerances. Rare diseases including mast cell disease and eosinophilic esophagitis have been thrown into the mix by their allergist. Our children are much more susceptible to contracting bacterial and viral infections. Their bodies are so busy fighting food and environmental allergies that they go into overdrive with the common cold or a stomach bug. Our daughter and son have each been hit hard with severe infections.
Our daughter was a little over one year old when her cheek appeared abnormally swollen. Her pediatrician immediately sent her over to an ENT, who started her on an antibiotic. Our daughter’s ENT suspected a staph infection and she endured a needle biopsy for confirmation.
It was the longest summer of our lives as we spent three months going to an infectious disease doctor, her ENT, a radiologist for X-rays and her pediatrician. “How did she get this?” I found myself asking her infectious disease doctor. His response was that she could have gotten it from anywhere or anything. He had seen children contract it from public places or from drinking tap water. He noted a higher frequency within her age group as they put their hands in their mouth frequently.
This particular strain of staph infection was very resistant to antibiotics. Despite doing everything we were advised to do by her doctors’ and endless prayers, our daughter ultimately needed surgery to remove this bacteria that had taken over the right side of her face. I was a mess as the nurses took my innocent one year old from me for a surgery that no child deserves. She has a scar under her chin and on her hairline. We, as her parents, still have emotional scars from physically holding her down and cleaning out her wounds in the weeks following her surgery.
Roughly a year later, our almost four-year-old son developed a large mass on his neck. He said that it hurt to move his neck. It was deja-vu as our pediatrician quickly made an appointment for our son with our now beloved ENT. “This isn’t your fault,” our pediatrician said to me as I looked at him with tears in my eyes. “This is just bad luck.” He was admitted into the hospital that night and had an IV with an antibiotic drip put into his arms to combat the staph infection running wreaking havoc on his body.
My son spent the weekend in the hospital. My husband and I were gripped with fear as my son’s doctor said there was a possibility he would need surgery. He had already endured three endoscopies over the course of six months to achieve remission for his allergic disease, eosinophilic esophagitis. The doctor said there was a 50/50 chance that the antibiotics would effectively diminish this infection.
We were then tasked with giving our son antibiotics five times a day for a month. Have you ever tried giving a child with feeding aversions and multiple food allergies a horrible-tasting medicine? I canceled our twins’ fourth birthday party and we were advised to keep our son home from school throughout this time. We were thoroughly relieved when my son was finally cleared by his doctor. I will never forget the tears streaming down my husband’s face and hearing his shaking voice after my son’s final checkup. “Dr. R said that he’s okay. He said that he doesn’t need surgery.”
We have experienced the highs and lows and everything in between over the course of two staph infections. These infections are no joke. They can potentially have devastating and lasting effects on the pediatric population. We don’t ever want to go back to hospital rooms, frantic doctor’s appointments, and the ultimate torture of not knowing how this will play out for our children.
The emotional and physical toll that these bacterial infections took on our children, and us as parents, is unimaginable. Our pediatrician said it best when he commented that, “You all have been to hell and back,” following our daughter’s harrowing ordeal. I know that our children are lucky and that the potential aftermath of these sicknesses could have been much worse. However, these experiences taught us that our children’s health can change in the blink of an eye. One minute they are fine and the next they are extremely ill.
My husband and I will do whatever it takes to protect our children from the current widespread disease, COVID-19. Here in Texas, the public schools are planning to open back up in the fall. Despite the rising number of cases, our governor has not enforced wearing masks in the school system in addition to no screenings required for students’ pertaining to COVID-19.
For our children, kindergarten is not going to be what they anticipated. Our daughter’s requests to play on the school playground and meet her teacher in person will most likely not be met. Social distancing, wearing a mask and online learning are a small price to pay for our children’s health and happiness.