Back to School

by Ariela Paulsen
Mighty Well | Mighty Well Mask | reusable, everyday face mask | anti-microbial mask | mask with nose clip | anti-odor mask KIDS

Somehow, it’s already September.  Back-to-school ads have begun in earnest, but with less a laser-focused message; sure, it’s time to get supplies if you’re returning to the classroom, but don’t forget distance learning and homeschools too!  So whatever school situation you and your loved ones find yourselves in this fall, 


What you’re feeling is real.

I see you.

We have all spent a spring and summer marinating in uncertainty, and now we are trying to acclimate to drastic changes to our schools, an institution that has historically been a source of stability.  Without in-person schools, how will students progress and work towards their futures?  How will working parents be able to afford childcare?  What will give structure to our days and seasons?  How will our kids connect with peers and grow their curiosity?

Added to this uprooting of stability is real fear.  We do not know how opening schools right now will affect COVID-19 numbers.  We do know that children are more susceptible to catching COVID-19 — and transmitting it — than we originally thought.  We have seen outbreaks in schools already open.  We have also seen successes in some schools and in countries who have taken this step with care.

It is perfectly reasonable to be feeling scared or anxious.  It is also 100% understandable if you have kids and you can’t wait to get them out of the house.  If you’re a teacher, there’s no shame in feeling reluctant to get back to work, especially if you are at high-risk for COVID-19.  It is even okay to be feeling impatience with people whose stance on how much risk is ok right now differs from yours.  Everything you are feeling is valid.  Feelings are our body’s way of processing information.  If we allow ourselves to really feel and honor each one, we can come out the other side enlightened and more chemically balanced.  If we try to push aside or judge our feelings, we will only cause harm.

I joined the Mighty Well team because I love this company, our products, and the community we’ve created.  But my training is actually as a teacher!  I teach part time these days at three local schools.  One is fully remote, one is hybrid, and the other is fully in-person.  As someone who is immunocompromised and lives with a family member who underwent chemo this year, I feel vulnerable and afraid.  Trying to communicate my fears to coworkers can feel scary and sometimes results in feeling that my life isn’t valued by those around me.

The reality is that we are all just scared, confused, and so very tired.  But there is so much we can do to make it through this next leap!  Before rushing into the school year, take a minute for yourself, to really feel and process what this means for you and your family:

take stock

How are you really feeling?  Try grabbing a piece of paper, or calling a trusted friend, and listing every emotion you sense in yourself.  Don’t filter yourself, but notice which feelings feel complicated or tougher to admit.  Why do you think that’s the case?  Are there any beliefs you hold dear that are being challenged by what you feel?  Remember, having these feelings does not mean you are a bad parent, bad teacher, bad neighbor, bad citizen… you are simply a human, with a brain that craves things it can’t have right now.

remember that you do have choice

Last night I chatted with another teacher friend with chronic illness.  She and I are both choosing to teach remotely, even for programs that are in-person.  Her partner was not given the option of staying home, and they were trying to decide what comes next.  The choices seem impossible — he could go in to work and put her at high risk, refuse to go in and risk his income and job that he loves, or she could move out so that he could go to work without putting her at risk, but with a significant toll to their relationship and mental health.  None of these answers feels good.  But remembering that we do have some control over which option we choose can be helpful to remember!  Plus, these choices are not permanent.  You absolutely have the right to change your mind if cases in your area go up or if you simply find it was not the right choice for you.


You are not the only one experiencing tough choices or emotions.  Talk to family and friends, coworkers and bosses.  Ask your kids how they feel about their school situation and validate their feelings.  Tell your supervisors about your risk level and why you feel what you feel.  If we want to be our best, most supportive selves for kids this fall, we will need to make space for expressing concerns and supporting one another.

put on your oxygen mask

I truly believe that we will all make it through best if we lend our ears and support to those we love.  That said, we also need to have boundaries.  At an inservice session with teachers this week, a presenter said she thinks of it like Tom Brady.  So many people count on Tom Brady to be his best.  If a friend asked him to help paint their house close to a game, he would say no — his arm is too important to risk wearing it out.  If a friend called the night before a game needing to talk through some difficult things, he would be right to ask if they could wait a few days, or if they had anyone else to talk to.  Self-care and boundaries are not selfish.  In fact, they allow us to be more giving to others, to have our greatest impact.  If we forget our own oxygen mask, we will run out of air before helping others with theirs.

So, take that time for exercise, therapy, watching a sitcom, or simply resting.  Our brains are exhausted!  Take that nap when you need it.  And remember to breathe, slowly and deeply.

prepare what you can

One great way to feel a sense of control and stability is to prepare in whatever way you can.  Buying your kid a pencil pouch so that they don’t have to share supplies with other kids will not only keep them safe in the coming weeks, it could also help you all feel less stressed, give you a sense of purpose.  Make sure you have plenty of masks so that you don’t panic when one gets lost or damaged.  Read the school newsletter.  Have a back-up plan with your family about what happens if there’s an outbreak in your area, if one of you gets sick, or if the school switches to virtual learning.

dream up what’s next

This too shall pass.  We don’t know when or even how, but there will come a day when this virus has dissipated and schools are back to normal.  You can do this.  Look back at the last few months.  Odds are, there were some moments that felt better than others.  If you’re in a valley, remember that you will have a peak coming up.  One thing I’ve found helpful is letting myself dream.  What will I do with my life once this has passed?  What could schools and jobs do differently in the aftermath of this reckoning?  Humans have a way of turning adversity into amazing change.  The Renaissance came from the Plague.  Women’s rights and civil rights saw drastic change after world wars.  Already teachers and innovators are dreaming up ways to revolutionize our centuries-old public school system.  Think of something beautiful — whether systemic or in your own small circle — that you can create out of this moment.  In other words, don’t forget to hope!

Looking for solidarity and support? Join our Friends in the Fight Facebook group! Still on the hunt for school supplies and PPE? Buy masks here, or click here to donate masks to those who need them (XS for tweens and teens, and KIDS size for ages 2-7)!

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