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Decisions about school are really decisions about so much more. And it’s hard for all of us.

A month ago, my daughter officially dropped out of preschool. Well, technically she doesn’t know she dropped out. My husband and I made the decision.

I was the one who ultimately sent the email with the news: We’re continuing to shelter in place and wouldn’t pay full tuition just to keep our spot, which is what our school requires.

Even though I was completely confident we made the right decision, I spent the next few weeks feeling really, really sad about it.

We have every reason to keep our daughter home indefinitely. I have a flexible job as a freelance writer that allows me to work during nap times and after bedtime.

My in-laws split time in the city we live in, so they’re somewhat available as free childcare for my daughter and our 1-year-old son who’s too young to attend his sister’s school. (Because said grandparents are high-risk, we wouldn’t be able to see them anymore if my daughter went back to school.)

Really, the decision was simple when we asked ourselves this question: What outcome could we live with, if the worst happened?

If we keep our daughter home, maybe she gets bored or spends a little too much time on her tablet. Perhaps I’m a little more tired or I take on fewer work assignments.

If we send her, maybe she gets the virus, gives it to us or to her brother and… that’s right about where my mind stops because I can’t bring myself to follow that situation to its worst possible conclusion.

So, we’ve kept her home.

But why withdraw her completely? Well, since we aren’t sure about sending her to school until she gets a COVID-19 vaccine — which our pediatrician says could be a year away — we may not be able to send her back to preschool at all.

She turned 4 in June and could technically start kindergarten before a vaccine is widely available. So, instead of paying $1,000 a month to keep a spot we may never use, we took her out.

The choice was easy. The choice was logical. My husband and I are completely on the same page.

And yet.

For days after sending that email, every time I pictured my daughter’s sweet school, with its pear trees and grapevines lining every pathway, I instantly began to tear up. But I knew that my sadness didn’t completely have to do with preschool. Rather, dropping out was a reality check for me about how the pandemic had changed so many aspects of our lives.

Thus far, it had been fairly easy for me to excuse away any nagging anxiety of pandemic life and focus on the ways it’s made my day-to-day with two little kids easier.

My husband now works in a corner of our bedroom and can step away from his desk when I need an extra hand.

I have an excuse to get our groceries delivered instead of schlepping the kids to Trader’s Joe’s every week.

They have curbside pickup at our Home Depot now, for goodness’ sake.

Plus, we are extremely lucky: We are healthy. We have jobs. We have a backyard. We have money saved. Surely having to withdraw from our (adorable, but definitely, bourgeois) preschool was no real hardship.

But writing that email was a wake-up call that things were not better, not easier, not any other positive adjective I’ve used to put a rosy spin on the current situation we’re all facing.

My sense of loss pales in comparison to the profound grief of many, many other people. Yet, I felt heartbroken.

I ached, watching my daughter twirling around to the “Frozen” soundtrack in our living room, pretending she’s dancing alongside her best friends as another week goes by without seeing them.

She’s taken all of this year’s changes in stride — if not cheerfully. She’s satisfied every time she asks when she can see her friends again and we respond vaguely with “soon.”

Slowly, the thoughts of school changed from feeling choked up to thinking back fondly of a place that was so special for us. I’ve had to let go of the dream of my kids overlapping in preschool, my daughter showing my son the ropes and helping him acclimate.

I’ve had to let go of my anticipation of my daughter’s preschool graduation, a milestone I took for granted. Heck, I’ve had to let go of having legitimate time for myself during the actual day, and the fact that there’s no end in sight.

That’s what this pandemic has taught me, more than anything: Let it go.

I suppose it’s fitting that Elsa’s voice so often fills our living room these days, since her words have become my 2020 mantra.

And yet. While this is certainly the season of let it go — routines, normalcy, expectations — I’ve reframed my thinking over the last few weeks regarding our school decision.

After having some distance from sending that fateful email, I’ve realized that the decision to drop out of preschool actually gave me back something I’ve lacked since March: a sense of control.

Seeing the case numbers rise over the past few weeks, and reading about outbreaks on college campuses and even other preschools in our town, has made me even more certain that our decision was the right one. And even more fearful about my kids going out in the world.

Protecting our family remains a privilege that I’m continually grateful for.

I know that, at home, with me, her dad, and her brother, I can keep my daughter safe. And, honestly, that’s more than I can hope for right now.


Natasha Burton is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Livestrong, Woman’s Day, and many other lifestyle publications. She’s the author of What’s My Type?: 100+ Quizzes to Help You Find Yourself―and Your Match!, 101 Quizzes for Couples, 101 Quizzes for BFFs, 101 Quizzes for Brides and Grooms, and the co-author of The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags. When she’s not writing, she’s fully immersed in #momlife with her toddler and preschooler.