At the hot (front) gates

Mark Lyndersay -
Mark Lyndersay -

NEWSDAY · BitDepth1360 Narration 27 - 06 - 2022



DURING APRIL and May, the sun was merciless, beating down on schoolyards most brutally at their front gates during afternoon pickup.

That point of intersection, orderly in the morning, is transformed into a fierce buzz of activity as security officers try to keep anxious, often impatient parents waiting as their children mill and wheel a few feet away.

This is always an untidy space, particularly in a primary school, where the population runs from recently arrived infants to soon-gone tweens, all of them dancing a ballet of school intrigue and social interplay.

It all began innocently enough for me, agreeing to recreate an old, preschool ritual on the first day of primary school pickup.

Just outside the gate, I dutifully bend to one knee to receive the rush of the girl child's eagerness to get home. But I miscalculate badly.

Instead of the bustle of a four-year-old cherub, I face the thunder of an 11-year-old tween and from the moment of contact I know it's all going wrong.

My centre of balance tilts wildly out of control and as we go down in a flurry of skirts and school bag, my only thought is to separate myself from the child and ease her fall as I collapse in a too-old-for-this-ish heap on the cracked pavement.

I stand, trailing the far brisker recovery of the girl child, and make a show of dusting myself off while gathering strewn schoolbag and lunch kit, leaving adult poise behind where it's clattered off to rest.

Tomorrow is, inexorably, another day.

It's been ten weeks since that afternoon.

Waiting at those gates, the interplay of primary schoolchildren under covid19 is instructive.

It's here, in this schoolyard, that the battle with covid19 is joined. Where the bronze shields of mask and sanitiser seek to form a phalanx against virus transmission.

The air vibrates with screams of recent release from the classroom, the bellowing of parents trying to draw the attention of children churning giddily in varying states of unmasking.

There are faces with masks around their chins shouting excitedly. There are hugs.

Mine is a hugger, and despite my admonitions, I count the embraces, held entirely too long, as friends and unfriends engage and separate.

Can I just fog the child with a disinfectant cloud on the way to the car without looking paranoid?

I look at the teachers, completely done in after a full day of the madness I only glimpse at the gates after dismissal.

Some walk briskly through the gate, offering little waves and nods.

Others inch past the gates in cars with the windows firmly wound up, smiling wanly through the tinted glass.

They've had enough. I've seen barely five minutes of their seven-hour day.

In the girl child's current class, two children have been kept home, one with a positive diagnosis, the other in pre-emptive isolation.

The count is the same in her former teacher's class. Two at home with positive diagnoses, and one found at school with a roasting temperature.

The child ends up at home for five days, cough and fever eventually resolving into a cold, the antigen test repeatedly showing negative.

During the enforced downtime, she frets about a class nemesis who coughed repeatedly in her face, illness weaponised.

The orderly filtering in of students during the cool, bright mornings as teachers marshal their charges is bookended by the social maelstrom at the end of the day, closure for all the friendships professed and shattered, offence given and taken, cultivated daily during recess and lunchtime.

For at least 15 months, parents and caregivers participated in the classroom, but that was an engagement filtered through the keyhole of remote connections, the class assembled as neat rectangles barely an inch across.

With the collapse of physical distancing, primary schools became a covid19 Thermopylae. A tiny force of teachers, relying on discipline instilled by parents and institutional strength facing a corps of children armed with an intuitive skill for transmitting germs.

And let's not forget what happened to the 300. Shields interlocked against the Persian force, they were flanked by a smaller force coming from an unexpected direction.

The masks are slipping in the schoolyard. Teachers are distracted by intrusive health restrictions that are layered over the existing challenges of densely populated classrooms and an education system designed on principles of brinksmanship.

For two months now the battle has been joined and covid19, less lethal, remains relentless.

People are still dying from covid19.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there


"At the hot (front) gates"

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