​Real Stories from a Disabled Mom: Decisions, Decisions How to Go to School

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on September 03, 2020 # Lifestyle

True Confession: this is blog version 2.0 about how my daughter will be attending school this year. Like any good parent, I have spent a decade researching. I have followed data, assessed it, compared it to what I already had, and applied it to every possible scenario I could imagine. For those readers who haven’t been disabled since birth or they were very young, it’s ingrained in you to have a contingency plan for everything.

September looms mostly in my mind. Masks, temperature checks, infection rates, backsliding, and staggered schedules reel through my mind. Top that with all my own concrete safety strategies. I leaned into learning as much as I could to figure out what the best course of action for my family and child’s health, education, and psyche.Kern family pumpkin picking

With the infection rates creeping higher in neighboring states, there is a small part of me that wants to hunker down with a large bottle of Airborne and an even larger bottle of bleach-like it was the second week of March all over again. However, before I evoke extreme lockdown, I called the school to see what her school day would look like. I was told there would be no soft furnishings in the classrooms as they are difficult to sanitize, and masks will be worn all day. Both rules are fair, and I care as much about keeping the staff and teachers safe as I do my child. Specials will come to the classroom, and your child will not be able to leave their seat except to go to the bathroom. That last tidbit of information made my decision for me. My daughter has a lot of energy, and for her to sit still in her seat for four hours would be difficult at best. Last year her teachers recognized her enthusiasm and love of helping. They put it to good use by giving her tasks in class to move, burn off energy, and go back to her seat, ready to learn. Being unable to move from her seat, won’t give her anywhere to channel her energy. Remote learning would give her the freedom to move when she needed it.

I would need to change my approach to remote learning based on what we learned from the Spring of remote learning. 1. She needs a designated learning space other than the kitchen. At the time, it made sense. I am without daycare and managing both of my daughters’ care, my eldest’s education, my job, and at least 84 meals can be difficult. Learning in the heart of the home was great initially but led to longer brain breaks and days that should have been three hours stretched to six. 2. Learning without structure was problematic. Foremost I want to applaud my daughter’s teachers who were thrown into remote learning without warning. Initially, the remote learning duration was unknown. The structure was slow, and my daughter had grown accustomed to sleeping in until 9 am. Motivating her to learn outside the classroom setting became extremely difficult. The battle cry of “I want to play!” became a regular occurrence. 3. She missed seeing people her age and getting to play. As much as she loves her sister, dad, and me, we’re not her peers. Virtual playdates were not the same as getting to run and bike and play with friends. I can’t take her and her little sister outside to play without back up and if there is a spike, back up will be hard to come by.

As luck would have it, one of my dear friends was having a similar thought process and proposed we have a learning pod. It’s a group of families with an agreed-upon set of quarantine rules and code of conduct for the kids who come together, so there is a support network, and their children can learn and play with peers. We had a safe play date so the girls could get to know each other, and the parents could hash out details from quarantine to drop off times. My natural ability to forecast every possibility (thank you, CP!) came in handy. Whether sitting in a classroom or at a kitchen table, this school year will present challenges and solutions that we never had to face as students, and we never thought we’d have to.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.lease check out Kieran's Instagram @kierieo.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.