After nearly three months of home learning and lockdown in New South Wales, my 11-year-old son returned to school this week.
The balloons and 'Welcome Back' signs were up at the school's front entrance and I felt emotional watching him walk through the gate, knowing how happy he was to get back to see his friends and teacher.
In less than a few hours of our first official parental 'freedom day', I was aware that some of my mum friends had taken to social media, alarmed that their school had already closed.
Within a few more days, dozens of schools in NSW and now Victoria have had to close and hundreds of kids are facing 14-days in isolation, creating chaos and uncertainty for many.
The things we never say in 2021. Post continues below.
We spoke to a number of parents about what the return to school has been like. Here's what they had to say.
'Just 90 minutes of freedom.'
Mum Christina knows exactly how uncertain school life is, as after just 90 minutes of freedom, she received an email from her school.
"After finally getting rid of both kids who were back at school, I was looking forward to my first day of freedom after 11 weeks of juggling home schooling and working from home. After just 90 minutes, I got an email from their school to say there had been an outbreak and we had to pick them up.
"We went straight from school to get a COVID test and then it was back to juggling home schooling and work. Thankfully, by 7pm that night we were informed the kids weren’t close contacts and that they could return to school the next day."
However, just one day later, Christina received another email about another outbreak.
"We got an email late on Thursday night saying there was another confirmed COVID case at school so the school was closed again yesterday and we had to isolate.
"This was after I had coached my daughter's basketball team and gone out for dinner! So here we are again waiting to see if the kids are close contacts or not and wondering if we’ll be able to go on our planned weekend away, which isn’t looking likely!
"It was so hard for the kids too - they’d only just gotten used to being back at school before being told they had to stay at home again. One poor little kindergartener was in tears asking why she couldn’t stay at school."
'Worse than lockdown.'
Mum-of-two Hannah can relate to the uncertainty. Her entire family is currently in isolation for 14 days.
"On Monday morning, we found out that my daughter's school had to close," Hannah says.
"We found out from other parents and students walking the opposite direction from the school.
"The positive case was still unconfirmed at that stage, but by lunchtime, the school had completely closed for deep cleaning. We then waited nervously for over 24 hours to find out whether we would be considered close contacts.
"Fortunately, we were given the all clear. But fast forward to Wednesday night, and we received the dreaded phone call from the principal, notifying us that unfortunately another case had been identified, this time in our daughter's class. She was now considered a close contact.
"We were quite devastated. We'd been given that small taste of normal life, only to be forced into 14 days of isolation with rules far stricter than lockdown."