When the three school systems in Madison County decide to have an all-virtual start to their school year and it causes a crisis for thousands of families, we’ve got a problem – the problem’s not that the schools have had to go virtual because of a pandemic.

As parents saw their hope of a reprieve from having to take care of their kids 24/7 evaporate, they realized they couldn’t, in fact, take care of their kids 24/7.

My kneejerk, child-free reaction to this problem was that maybe they should’ve thought about that before they had kids. But, there’s always a but, that’s not fair.

Immediately before them stood a choice between taking care of their offspring and putting food on the table to feed them.

If you shut down the schools, then parents can’t work because there’s no one to take care of their kids while they’re at work.

And that’s not really the parent’s fault.

We live in a society that exalts workaholics, or at least we live in a society where we derive a lot of our self-worth by measuring how many hours we put in at the office. It’s the story we’ve been told by every TV show and Lifetime movie we’ve ever watched.

If you only work 40 hours a week then you’re probably not that important, and let’s not even talk about those people who work less than that.

But you have to wonder if that workaholicism is just a disease or a symptom of something much nastier.

My vote is for symptom.

Here’s another symptom that was caused by the parents’ fear of not being able to stay with their kids during the day: people were more upset that no one would be available to babysit their kids than they were that their kids might not be getting top-notch educational instruction.

Even though, when a buddy of mine won a teacher of the year award in her system and I told her that I didn’t know they gave out awards for babysitting, I knew deep down that teachers did more than just babysit.

There’s a policy conversation to be had about what teachers are and are not allowed to do that goes above and beyond babysitting, but when the school systems were thought into being it was never intended for teachers to be babysitters.

I’m happy to argue about what should be taught and how teachers should have more control in their classrooms, but regardless of the what and how, education is the currency we’re going to use to pay for our future and if we don’t get beyond babysitting them, we’re going to come up a few dollars short.

But again, it’s hard to get past that when you’re choosing between a place to live or teaching your children.

So as parents wrestled with this problem their first thought was “well, if the schools won’t watch my kids, then the daycares we already use should?”

Here’s the problem with that.

First, more kids go to school than go to daycare. If you flood the local childcare providers with all the extra kids that not going to school produces, then you’re going to just overrun them.

Second, if it’s not safe for the schools, the large institutions which were built to house hundreds of kids at once, to host the area’s children then how is a smaller operation supposed to?

If COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that we’re suffering from a few more diseases than we thought, and maybe the big nasty one I referenced above is just the lack of time we all have in our day-to-day lives to take care of the things we really need to do.

The answer to the problem is, of course, more manpower and higher pay. That way people don’t have to work as long or you don’t have to have dual incomes to survive.

But that won’t happen because we’ve still got a few more illnesses to cure before employers could even consider doing that. I get it. I’ve been on both sides.

The immediate answer is that everyone is just going to have to compromise a little, help one another and get creative. Maybe the silver lining to this pandemic is it will force us to fix the other things that ail us.

I know that’s not much of an answer, but you do get this column for free, so…

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