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Back to School ... Sort Of

By Jase Graves

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it more times than my math skills will allow, “This school year is going to be like no other.” No kidding!

Don’t we spend every year wondering if our children are going to be attacked by gigantic murder hornets that are high from feasting on Chinese mystery seeds and using their enormous wings to waft a deadly virus up the students’ unsuspecting nostrils — l­eft unprotected because we can’t afford to buy face coverings due to the national coin shortage?

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. Nobody uses coins anymore — other than to operate the claw machine at the entrance to Walmart. But those other worries are legit, especially the mystery seeds thing. What could be more terrifying than receiving a small packet of seeds in the mail? A teen auto insurance statement, maybe?

No, really, what we all are worried about is whether the school year will survive the COVID-19 pandemic. After carefully assessing the risks and rewards, my wife and I chose to send our three teenage daughters to in-person learning at our local school district — mainly because our pets and Wi-Fi router threatened to boycott us if we didn’t start leaving the house on a regular basis again. Also, our daughters desperately missed the excitement of dragging out of bed each morning to get ready, complaining about how tired they are and asking how long it is until their next holiday.

In an attempt at some normalcy, we even made our annual school-shopping trip to the mall this year. Well, actually several malls — because one mall simply doesn’t have enough stores with big-ticket clothing items and accessories that I’ll be paying for until I’m excavated by paleontologists.

Due to COVID-19 store capacity limits, I stood in line for half an hour with my eldest and most expensive daughter for the privilege of entering a Lululemon store for a pair of plain black leggings that cost more than my last electric bill. (And my mom thought my totally rad 1980s threads from Chess King were expensive!) My middle daughter’s school supplies included enough designer bracelets, designer earrings and designer necklaces to match each pair of her designer jeans and designer tennis shoes. Luckily, my youngest daughter’s requirements were simpler. She just needed one oversized hoodie for each day of the week. Apparently, her fashion goal is to look like a Benedictine monk from the Middle Ages.

As usual, we had to place online orders with trendy outdoor sporting goods retailers for the girls’ backpacks, each large enough for an extended hiking expedition in the Himalayas. And I won’t even get into the matching water canisters and lunch totes. (Whatever happened to a brown paper sack and a can of Coke wrapped in tinfoil?)

The most obvious difference to this year’s back to school experience has been the face masks. Students at our daughters’ school are required to wear face masks at all times, except when eating, exercising, or when nobody’s looking. Face masks do offer at least one ancillary advantage for teachers–they aren’t able to smell their students. This is especially beneficial in the junior high setting. A consolation for students is that the mask can double as a sort of secret feed bag for snacks like Cheez-Its (or those mystery seeds their parents got in the mail).

Occasionally, students at my daughters’ school are allowed to socially distance outside for a brief mask break. This is the one time in the day when the students can escape their own Cheez-It breath, and the teachers can sit in their classrooms and scream bloody-murder in peace.

Seriously, though, I do want to thank all of the teachers out there on the front lines providing a quality education for our students in these difficult circumstances. Without them, I’d be reliving the horror of homeschooling my daughters like I did back in the Dark Ages of last spring.

If that happens again, I might be tempted to eat some of those mystery seeds myself — if our pets don’t get to them first.

— Jason Graves

Jason (Jase) Graves is a married father of three daughters, a lifelong resident of Longview, Texas, and a Texas A&M Aggie. He writes about home and family issues from a humorous perspective for the Cagle Cartoons syndicate and his blog. Other than writing, his primary hobby is sleeping as late as possible. His piece, “Victoria’s Worst-Kept Secret,” is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family.

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