It’s been all of two days since we officially started homeschooling our son, “M,” after a tornado and Covid-19 teamed up to knock us on our collective asses like the Legion of Doom giving us all a bit of the ‘ol “Doomsday Device.”
Although it’s been a mere two days, I’ve officially already broken down and cried, so here we are. Not because juggling work and homeschooling broke me down—it’s only been two days, c’mon. It’s because today we learned school will be closed in Nashville until at least April 24th. That’s a month away as I write this. The consensus among parents I know is that school is very unlikely to resume at all before the end of the year.
The sinking feeling that came over me wasn’t altogether concerning how we will fill the days for our son for that long (we are getting good at this, I think…I hope. More on that later.) It’s because M is in Kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN! That precious first year of school where friendships and experiences provide a foundation and sense of community. Where parents get to snap the cutest pics of their kids performing in school productions and completing their first faux marathon. As spring shoots begin to bloom, M can’t see friends in person or even play at playgrounds after a long, wet winter. I think he’s doing amazingly well so far, but MAN, how is this going to feel in one or two weeks without some other kids to connect with? How will he feel knowing he won’t be going back to the same class and teacher when he gets back? I hope the school has a social-emotional process in place for these kids who left school amidst such disruption.
For now, we’re on our own.
This might be a good time to mention that I’ve never regretted having an only child. Matt and I went from being DINKs (double income, no kids) to DISKs (double income, solo kid) six years ago. That was already more than I expected to do in my lifetime. We have been musicians and creative professionals for a long time. Starting a family wasn’t a big focus for us until it was. One day, Matt gave me a nudge that he was ready. He was also wholly certain he only wanted one kid. This news was followed by an unknowable force that impressed upon me the urgent need to get my act together and have said kid before I turned 35. This is a little weird to share, but I felt the presence of someone hovering around me as if they were waiting for me to stop eating bowls of soy ice cream in front of Netflix all the time and have a baby already. I haven’t felt that urgency since, and our little trio (plus the cat and snake) is my foundation. Watching M grow, and the experience of being his parent, has been the source of most of my personal growth in the last six years.
All that said, this sure would be an excellent time for him to have a sibling, and I recognize now how much our personal life choices were built around the structure of modern society. We don’t have a jungle gym in the back yard because we chose to live by the most expansive and beautiful park and greenway. We live in a populated, hipster chic part of a city near other like-minded folks because we felt community, diversity, and socialization were important for M and for us. We have lived the life of busy social people much of the time.
The pandemic parent experience amid Coronavirus stay-home orders feels rather like being isolated in the middle of nowhere with a small child.
If you live in the middle of nowhere, maybe you have a jungle gym in the backyard, and perhaps some horses, sheep, or barn cats to take care of. Maybe you have a stack of kids lined up in the wings to play with (and take care of) each other. My dad had this life. He was the oldest of seven on a farm in rural Illinois in the 1950s. I think I just peeked over the generational divide and FELT my grandparents’ perspective and context for the first time. Having a lot of kids was a necessity. It may have made you insane at times to have seven kids to clothe, feed, and educate, but rural living would have been lonely and difficult to manage without them, too.
This current phenomenon of parenting during a global pandemic (and post-tornado) is our little slice of life—in this city and this time—and my eyes are itchy after weeping about M’s remaining kindergarten year being flattened with the curve. Yes, I’m super lucky and grateful we’re here, safe, and (hopefully) not vectors for illness. But I can still go cry in the bathroom if I want and/or need to (and I will, probably often).
Otherwise, homeschooling is going surprisingly well so far, but let me say this—for parents without access to the internet—WTF??? I do not know what we would do if we had no internet. I realize how privileged we are and am significantly humbled. Broadband should be free and accessible to all, much like paved streets and traffic lights. The “summer slump” kids from lower incomes often experience will be doubled come fall, which is twice the hurdle for kids and educators to overcome. For us, personally, I am glad Covid-19, unlike a tornado, doesn’t seem to have any effect on power and internet cables thus far. I grew up with a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas. There is no such thing in our home, so thank the Universe there’s a goddamn WiFi signal.
Homeschooling + Working During a Global Pandemic
Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
- Having a schedule and a plan is critical. I’d like to think we could free play all day, but M will inevitably get bored and beg for mindless screen time when he gleans that we’ve lost steam. With a plan, boredom and brain fog are less likely for all of us, and he seems to enjoy the focus and attention we’re giving him when we’re on teaching duty.
- The schedule also ensures that work time is work time! We have a dedicated office (the art shed) and it’s a kid-free zone. We switch off and on from work, homeschooling, and general parenting from 6:30 am until we can all sit down together for dinner in the eve. Sometimes work continues after bedtime.
- Dad is a more fun teacher than Mom. Mom is “too serious” (M’s feedback thus far on our efforts).
- Our six-year-old is actually pretty good at listening when we turn ourselves into “teachers,” so I guess all the non-listening we usually experience is just good old-fashioned rebellion. You do you, M. Just not between the hours of 8:30 am and 3 pm.
- Some of the homeschooling resources are somewhat janky. Especially the free ones.
- Scholastic’s learn-at-home program is fantastic. Just can’t say enough nice things about it and am grateful they are offering it to parents like us during this time. M happily watches the read-aloud book and completes the second e-book and projects provided.
- Education.com is really helpful and offering some free materials during Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders. It’s a crash course in teaching but easy for a total newb to follow because you can download materials based on grade and subject and BOOM—you have a class planned!
- National Geographic Kids is a visual gift, if you’re good with giving your kid EVEN MORE SCREEN TIME. It’s not structured for class, but you can piece in a lot of visuals from here to support topics you’re covering.
- Google Arts & Culture app is an enjoyable way to explore art, museums, and monuments as well, but the temptation to click and browse can be strong and take you off topic pretty quickly.
- GOOD GOD, we love #Drawtogether with Wendy McNaughton on Instagram Live. This is the only e-class my son is taking in real-time. E-learning hasn’t been offered by the school district, so it’s just Mom, Dad, and Wendy, God bless ‘er. M hasn’t figured out that Wendy can’t hear him when he talks to her yet, but I think he’s going to by the end of the week. Until then, it makes my heart crush to see him making art with her and chatting along. *sigh*
Finding, and Tackling Your Walls
On a personal level, I am discovering my own walls and weirdness to the nth degree. Seeing how fun and cool Matt is (not to mention, Wendy from #DrawTogether), I can see M is right about me. I am too damn serious and have forgotten how to play. Internally, I think of myself as silly. Honestly, I feel like I’m barely a grownup sometimes. But, to my family, I appear impatient and can be all business at times. My mind drifts to thoughts of the next meal, the piles of things to put away, the sock laying innocently under the table. Most of what they see is a version of me repeating mundane tasks while I’m mentally elsewhere—off in space thinking of macrocosmic connections or working out a song in my head. I’m an Aquarius, for crying out loud!! It only appears that I am on Earth because you can see my feet on the ground as I remove dishes from the dishwasher. I am probably somewhere else mentally 99% of the time, and all this translates into “Mom is too serious.” I tend to check out on things when they get too routine as a means of creative survival. I also recognize that my lack of patience is my Achilles heel. It’s also the thing I dislike most in other people, and I suppose I am wise enough to recognize that what you dislike in others is more of a reflective guidepost for something inside you that needs exercising.
If I am going to survive as a professional, a parent, AND a teacher for another month (or more), I need to ground myself and lighten up. Today, M gonged the singing bowl I keep on my desk to make us both take a meditative break. He’s also building his own quiet temple for spiritual reflection in Minecraft. No joke! It’s basically a Tibetan looking structure complete with a meditation space and flowing water. Why is the six-year-old more able to chill more than his mom? Why am I crying about him not being able to see his friends while he seems kinda fine?
I aim to grow through this, and I hope you will, too. When I feel like my mental capacity is breaking down, you may find me weeping in the bathroom. But I’ll be back in time for P.E. so we can do more rump shaking to Kids Bop before my next work shift. ♥