Carlson girls

Micah Carlson is the mother of two daughters who attend school in Denton ISD, first grader Charlie and kindergartner Sophie. “They’re the best thing I’ve ever done,” Carlson says.

An open letter to my daughters:

Dear Charlie and Sophie,

I’m sorry.

Tomorrow I have to send you back to school. I know that, as a first grader and kindergartner, you are not protected and cannot get the “shots” I promised would end “COVIDteen” yet. We are so close — I hear you might get your first shot in six weeks or so — but it seems so far. We have almost made it.

I know I am sending you into a school where you will work, learn and play with friends whose parents did not send them in masks. I know some of the teachers and officials at your school won’t be wearing masks either. They’ll want to know why you’re wearing a mask, and it will feel unfair. They’ll even ask you to take off your mask indoors so you can “breathe” in P.E. or because everyone else takes theirs off at Extended School Day. I know in those moments it will be so hard to say “no” and keep those masks on your faces. No one likes masks, and everyone hates COVID — just like you.

I am going to ask you to wear your mask anyway because I think we should try not to catch COVID — even if it feels futile. I know other people won’t get their shots or social distance. I know your desks are already arranged in group-workstations, and you’re just a foot away from five other friends, two of whom aren’t wearing masks. I know your school won’t tell us if someone in your “specials group” has COVID or if you sat next to them at lunch, and they certainly won’t tell us if the cafeteria workers or your PE teachers have it, either.

This has been a really hard year. Remember last December, when Nana was diagnosed with COVID-19, and we had to quarantine at home for a whole week? That was also my finals week. Oh, and remember when you — Sophie — had to quarantine in February because a friend in your class caught COVID? You stayed home with me. We had a special at-home Valentine’s Day party so you didn’t feel forgotten.

Then, the “snowpocalypse” happened, and we were out of power for four days and without drinkable water for five. It was so cold. Sophie, your pre-K never reopened after that, so you stayed home with me for the rest of the semester.

We have had an entire decade of crises in the past year, but tomorrow I have to go back to school (in person) so that I can finish the last year of classwork for my doctorate. Just like you, I’ll wear a mask, even though the other students might not. I have tried so hard to explain to your school (and mine) that we need COVID protections so that our family can safely come back to learn, but no one is listening.

Remember when we went to the school board, Charlie, and you gave a speech to the entire room asking for your classmates to wear masks? I was — and am — so proud of you for that. I’m sorry that the school board can’t hear us, either. I promise, I have sent a ton of emails to everyone I can think of, trying to find anyone who can help.

We have quarantined and masked and social-distanced for 17 months. We have changed our way of life to protect our family and community. Tonight, I am scared because there aren’t always hospital beds if we need them. I am scared because, no matter how many phone calls made, meetings attended and emails written, no one seems to hear us.

So, girls, I’m left with only one choice: to send you into an unsafe school and continue my career or to keep you home and let go of my nearly finished degree. The governor of Texas has pushed us into a corner, our allies have evaporated, and it is just us — once again — figuring out this crisis alone. Just like the snowpocalypse.

On days like this, it feels like COVID has ended for everyone but us.

I am sorry that I have to send you to school tomorrow. I don’t know what will happen, but I know that I love you more than anything in this world, and I am so proud of you that my heart bursts when I think of it. I hope it will be OK and we will be safe; but if not, I hope that one day you will forgive me for this choice.

With all of my heart,

Momma

MICAH CARLSON is a doctoral student in U.S. history and an Ernie Kuehne Research Fellow at the University of North Texas as well as the mother to two daughters in Denton ISD.

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