It’s been one month since our schools closed and 3 1/2 weeks since our Shelter in Place order went in place here in California. We recently got the official word that our public schools won’t open again this semester and I can’t even go down the rabbit hole of wondering if they will be open again in the fall.
In my blog last week I put in the numbers of those infected and/or have died from coronavirus. I’m not doing that this week because it’s too depressing but you can check out the numbers at https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus and check out www.theordinarymom.com if you want to see my prior coronavirus blogs. I’m so sad for anyone who has been affected and it’s finally hitting close to home. I have some friends and friends of friends who have it, whether confirmed or presumed, but no one I know personally has died. Once again thank you to all of those who are putting their lives on the line to help others.
In our little bubble, we are doing ok. To be totally honest, we are even more than ok. I’m not saying it’s easy or perfect but we are surviving. Some days are great and fun but not all days are filled with rainbows and unicorns. Some days there is laughter and some days there are tears. Parents, including us, have shorter tempers. Before coronavirus, we would yell at our kids things like, “Don’t fight with your sister!”, “Clean your room!” or “Put down the sharp knives!”. Now we yell things like, “Don’t touch your face!”, “Wash your hands!” or “Remember to stay 6 feet away from strangers!”. Things that were so important like getting to school on time or what to wear to work today are no longer relevant or important and uncertainty is the new normal. We are trying to focus on the new normal and just take it one day at a time.
One thing that I know for certain after talking to a lot of friends, work associates and family members recently about school closures and the new world of distance learning starting to ramp up is that parents everywhere are feeling stressed about it. I have talked to many other parents and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has had at least one freak out now that their kids have started or are starting distance learning. Some schools are just trying to get kids to do the basics like reading and math while others are trying to replicate a full school day online from home. Schools are dealing with how to get technology to every child as there are many equity and digital divide issues. Everyone I talked to appreciates that the schools and teachers are trying to do their best to be nimble to adjust to this new reality but it’s now hitting home that a lot of the learning is going to fall on us, the parents.
People are telling me that their kids are crying multiple times a day and often the grown ups are crying with them. My sister-in-law said they were overwhelmed with the expectations from their schools when their kids started distance learning last week and they were doing school work until 6pm some days. So stressful. A friend told me that for the first time ever she yelled the F bomb to her 10 year-old son because he wasn’t focusing enough on his schoolwork. No judgements here. I haven’t dropped the F bomb yet but I’ve certainly thought it. A lot. I do say “crap” under my breath often…but I’ve been doing that for years so I can’t blame the coronavirus for that one.
My wife, Lori, and I have been talking a lot about all of the ways we are trying to keep this ship from sinking. Our ship is the two of us, our 3 kids and our dog. Part of not sinking is trying to hold down two jobs from home during this time. I’m in the educational publishing industry and am grateful to still be employed. Lori does training and consulting with organizations on integrating a trauma-informed approach; most of her work has shifted online. But it’s still hard. We are trying to focus on our careers while having our three kids at home all of the time. I mean ALL OF THE TIME. There is literally nowhere for them to go. I can’t tell you how many times in the last month I’ve been trying to work and have heard, “Mommy, I just have a quick question”, “Mommy, I’m bored”, “Mommy, can I watch technology now?” or “Mommy, I’m hungry”. Can’t these kids fend for themselves for 5 freaking minutes?
Here’s the thing…it’s all too much. The news is depressing (and addictive), it’s impossible to be 100% productive at work right now, the natives in our house are getting restless, there’s only so many times we can walk the dog around the block and distance learning may be the thing that puts many parents over the edge. I was freaking out when my 8 year-old, Ellie, started distance learning two weeks ago. It just was not possible to have her do everything they expected her/us to do, while keeping our jobs and trying to have some semblance of sanity. Something had to go so we told her school, “This isn’t working for our family right now” and together we worked out a modified schedule where math and reading were the priorities. Then we hired our 13 year-old, Jackson, to be lead on her classwork so that we could still try to work. Brilliant if I say so myself (although the credit goes 100% to Lori, my co-principal, who really is brilliant). After that first week of freaking out, I’ve been able to calm down about distance learning by lowering my expectations which has allowed me not to worry if Ellie doesn’t get 100% of her schoolwork done and we are now in a better place with it.
Just as we’ve gotten into a groove of Ellie being back in school, Jackson and Lucy’s schools will start distance learning next week. My biggest fear is can Jackson do his school work and still help us with Ellie’s school work or is this ship finally going to sink? If I had to choose, I honestly might choose Jackson helping Ellie over prioritizing his own school work so that we can continue to work and try to stay sane. I think I’m kidding but I’m not really sure.
Luckily, Lori and I are both in agreement that we do not have the bandwidth, training or desire to replicate real school at home and that the kids are going to be alright, even if they fall a little behind academically. Since Lori has a healthcare/public health background, she reminds me that their mental health and well-being are the most important things right now and academics need to take a back seat. I blogged last week that our homeschool was in crisis and we had to hire a reading specialist, PE teacher and tech support person. The good news is that we hired from those who were sheltering at home with us (Ellie’s older brother, Jackson, and older sister, Lucy). The bad news is that Lucy quit her job as the reading specialist on the first day due to fighting with her one student but, luckily, Jackson picked up that job so we are fully staffed again. If Jackson quits, we’ll have to hire the dog, Oliver.
In trying to keep this ship from sinking, we have to give up on unrealistic expectations. There are things we cannot do. We cannot not replicate school at home. We cannot be 100% focused on our jobs right now. We cannot control anyone else’s emotions or reactions other than our own. We cannot be perfect parents (now or ever).
Luckily, there are things we can do. We can lower our expectations. We can try to be sane and put our face masks on first. We can try to not sweat the small stuff. We can realize that academics may suffer during this time. We can spend time connecting and playing with our kids. We can set the tone that everyone is safe and loved in our house.
Here’s the interesting thing. Our kids have told us that they are all happy to have this time at home with all of us together and our family is doing ok. I am happy to report that this ship is not even close to sinking right now. Even though I sound crazed writing this, I’m actually trying to be my best zen self at home (and my wife is too) and our kids are actually doing alright. We are always so scheduled that this forced break is giving us all time to refresh and reflect on what’s important. In writing this, I acknowledge the ability to do this requires a lot of privilege as we have a roof over our heads, food on our table, good health and jobs. My wife told me that I was more stressed a couple of months ago at work than I seem now. I think part of that is that we are focusing on what is important and family is at the top of the list. There is so much to be scared and anxious about but also so much to be grateful for.
As parents, we all need to take a minute to breathe and step back to think about what the kids will remember about all this 5, 10 or 20 years from now. We don’t want them to remember that they spent their days stressing about math, science or English language arts (ELA) and that their parents were freaking out trying to learn Google Classroom, Khan Academy and Zoom but instead we hope they remember that even though these times may have been a little scary, they enjoyed a time at home with less busyness than normal, learned new things and spent extra time (hopefully some of it fun) with their family. Just as no one wants their gravestone to say, “She worked a lot” let’s not have our kids remember, “My parents were really stressed out and making me do distance learning for 8 hours a day”.
Here are some things happened this past week in our little bubble:
- Our PE teacher is tough. I overheard him making the girls do a 5 minute bent arm plank. I don’t think I can do a 5 minute bent arm plank. He showed them a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger and told them he’s going to get them to look like him soon. I’m just picturing little Ellie and Lucy with their sweet faces on Arnold’s jacked up body.
- The kids thought I was touching my face too much so they challenged me to not touch my face for 5 minutes. They kept changing the timer to longer (which I knew) but I was determined to win their challenge, much to Lori’s amusement. I ended up going 12 minutes without touching my face. Try it, it’s really hard.
- Ellie was overwhelmed one day and didn’t want to call into her morning Zoom math call but wanted to play legos instead. We decided that she could skip the call, play legos and then she and I baked chocolate chip cookies when I had a break between work calls. We considered that a positive thing for her mental health and she was doing STEM by building legos and cooking so she was doing something educational, just not the math from her school.
- Our mindfulness went to the wayside in the last few weeks mainly because we were planning on doing it at 9:15am every day and one or two of the kids is usually still sleeping at 9:15am. We changed it to 10:45am and are doing it again when we can. We use the Headspace app and it’s a very simple, relaxing 3 minutes if you ignore the burps and farts, the dog barking to come into the house because he feels left out and then giggles because the dog is licking a kid’s foot. Try it.
- I love hearing Jackson give Ellie her school lessons and doing recess and PE for both Lucy and Ellie. He is patient and creative. I hope he considers being a teacher when he grows up. I know he wants to go to Hollywood and make movies but just in case that doesn’t work out, he’d be a great teacher (or he can combine them and teach filmmaking or drama).
- Lucy spent a lot of her educational time this week creating rainbow loom figures. She is quite amazing at it. Sometimes she watches YouTube to learn them and sometimes she makes her own design (the photo is her rainbow loom creations of Kermit and Elmo). We didn’t stress that she wasn’t doing as much reading or math. It’s her “spring break” and her distance learning officially starts next week so we gave her a little break.
- It rained for 3 days over the weekend/early in the week and that was hard. We were all so happy when the sun came out again. The dog might have been the most happy because he hadn’t gotten as many walks as he’s now used to.
- Ellie is not pleased that her virtual tutoring is continuing during this time. She’s got dyslexia and needs the tutoring but it’s not going over well that she has to do it like she normally does. I don’t know what the answer is but we need to figure this out.
- If you can get a copy of Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, read it. I got one of the last copies at our local bookstore right before Shelter in Place started and I just finished it. She’s an amazing writer and has so many insights on life, love, parenting and “doing hard things”.
- Sock wrestling is a great family sport to do when you are stuck inside. Just a heads up that sometimes it can end in injuries and/or tears.
If your children have started distance learning, remember that we are all doing hard things now (to paraphrase Glennon Doyle) and we will all get through this. As a veteran who has two weeks under her belt, it does get easier as the learning curve levels off. Let’s collectively take a deep breath, lower our expectations, remember that our educators have the best intentions for our kids with a near-impossible task and also let’s not be afraid to say “too much” if that’s what we need to do to keep our families sane and our ships from sinking. Let’s focus on family and not sweat the small stuff. Call or Zoom with your parents and relatives and be good to everyone you are sheltering in place with this week but especially be good to yourself. We are going to survive this and remember that the kids will be alright.