Sheltered Diaries: ‘You Don’t Even Have To Wear Pants’

We’ve done several Q&As over the summer, and I appreciate every single one of our participants. And we have some really great ones coming up, too – a hair salon owner, a podcaster, and more.

But I thought, with all the talk about back-to-school in the middle of a pandemic, that this week’s interview would be with someone a little closer to home – Tiny.

For those of you who are new to the diaries, Tiny is my soon-to-be fourth-grader, who attends a Dallas ISD school that specializes in personalized learning. He also is on the autism spectrum, which makes some of our decisions about this fall a little more uh, intricate.

“But this would be a really interesting time to try to go back to school, and by interesting I mean a word I’m not allowed to say. The D-word. (whispers) DUMB.”

As clues began to emerge about the district’s plans and what the state would require, we talked to Tiny about what school would look like. This is a child that asks me every day “how the pandemic is going,” so we wanted his input about what he wanted. We kind of mostly knew what we wanted, but as every parent knows – getting a kid’s cooperation for anything after they hit about 3-years-old involves a certain amount of letting them think they have some degree of autonomy.

When we outlined what was likely to happen, Tiny thought for a few minutes, and then said, “I think I would like to keep learning at home this year, because thinking about wearing a mask all day makes me anxious.”

Now, Tiny is no mask denier. In fact, he’s the first person to grab his mask and the hand sanitizer when we leave the house. But he also knew his sensory challenges would make mask-wearing (or even face-shield wearing) all day difficult.

So instead, he will learn at home, and we will bring in some help part-time so that his parents can continue to work. It’s a situation almost every parent in Dallas-Fort Worth is dealing with, but I also know that there’s an immense amount of privilege involved in even having a choice – so many parents are essential workers, including teachers.

So as the Texas Education Agency, Dallas County, and Dallas ISD hammered out what would happen this fall, I sat down for a quick interview with Tiny.

Me: Did I tell you that yesterday there were 400-something new cases of COVID, instead of 1,000?

Tiny: “That’s interesting. It’s probably because everyone is wearing masks. Everybody should wear masks.”

Me: What do you think about the plan to start school later?

Tiny: “I’m fine with it. It is a good idea because of COVID-19.”

Me: You do realize it means you’re going to have to go to school two weeks longer in the summer instead of ending in May, right?

Tiny: (long pause) “I guess that’s OK.”

Me: I showed you those pictures of what school would look like this fall – what do you think?

Tiny: “I thought it was pretty interesting. But I’m probably going to still stay at home and do my work here so I don’t have to look like an astronaut at school. But this would be a really interesting time to try to go back to school, and by interesting I mean a word I’m not allowed to say. The D-word. (whispers) DUMB.”

Me: Why is it a bad idea?

Tiny: “Everybody could get sick. I don’t need some kind of cootie in my life. I stayed home too much this summer to go back to school and get the ‘rona. This was hard work. If I went back to school right now, I’d be so worried about catching it I wouldn’t concentrate, so I might even leave (whispers again) dumber than I was when I got there.”

Me: What do you miss?

Tiny: “I miss seeing my friends. I miss vacations. Like, for months I haven’t even really been out of Dallas. I’m getting tired of it, honestly.”

Me: What do you think people should do so we can go back to normal?

Tiny: “Stay home. Shop online. Try eBay or something because you don’t have to go out. There is a whole Internet out there, and you don’t even have to wear pants.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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