Back on March 16th, such a huge day and turn of events that most of us never saw coming was when it was first announced schools were going to be closed for a while, as well as my place of employment. Everything was happening all at once, crashing down, almost surreal. I knew deep down the school was not going to be in session for the rest of the year, and there was no time soon I would see my personal training clients. The bigger picture emerged as well; people were sick, people were dying. I took a deep breath. My son did a cheer about no school! Before I became a mommy to my little guy, I was a high school English teacher for years, so I told myself, “You’ve got this! You can teach your sweet boy all day for a few months.” I had no idea about the twists and turns that would ensue.
I cannot tell you how many people said, well you used to be a teacher, you should be totally fine. (Keep in mind some of these people are parents of older kids who can do all the distance learning on their own). And I am fine, and I am grateful, but holy heck, teaching high schoolers and teaching kindergarten is totally a different monster. The good news: We are doing it, we are surviving, we are mostly afloat. The bad news: This was harder than I ever imagined. Tears have been shed. Expletives have been withheld. Now, I had blogged before about how my son asked me, after starting kindergarten, “Do you miss the good old days, Mommy? You know, like before I had to go to school, and we were always together?”
And oh my gosh, YES! Oh, how I have indeed missed those days! A beautiful bright spot of this quarantine has truly been getting to reclaim more special time with my little boy. As everyone says, yes, he is getting so big, and daily I notice something new about his appearance or how he talks with a larger vocabulary or how another wiggly tooth is ready to come out. Yet, e-learning created a specific type of stress that didn’t quite emerge in the “good old days” when he was a toddler or in preschool and didn’t have the curriculum demands he does now (which I realize pale in comparison to those that will surface next year and every year after).
While quarantine has allowed us some flexibility with playing and going outside, it has also posed new challenges. He is just in kindergarten, but let me tell you how there are about six different apps that each give daily alerts whenever the teacher posts a new task, worksheet, passage reading, or website suggestion. There are worksheets galore each day, mandatory recordings of him saying his sight words, required recordings of him reading passages, “suggested” non-fiction writings (that, of course, have to be done because how can you not do it?), the online reading comprehension database called Lexia, PBS links, math lessons, science experiments. The multitude of channels in which this all goes down can be extremely hard to swallow. The teacher is all like, check Class Dojo for the calendar and tasks and then submit work in the dropbox of Seesaw Class but read my updates on Seesaw Family and I’ll send responses to questions via G-mail and be sure to attend the Zoom meetings on Tuesday and Thursday but complete all the tasks by Thursday. And this all goes down Multiple. Times. Daily. My phone pings, pings, pings, and I’m like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber when he cries, “Bartender!!”
I’m very pro-teacher and feel SO badly for these educators who have to navigate these e-learning times. I know they are doing their very best while also managing emotions; I hear the angst in my son’s teacher’s voice when she sends them a video of her reading a book to them, followed by her telling them how much she misses them. I tear up and nearly ugly cry at least once a week following her recordings, and when she speaks to them in Zoom video meetings. Their school experience was cut short, unexpectedly. It’s hard; it’s just all so hard sometimes, for everyone.
Ok, so at first, with my teaching background, I didn’t sweat things. I had even created a daily schedule of all the things we needed to do, in multiple colors of course; it was my lesson planning like the good old days, but tailored to just my son. I was uber-organized and way over the top at first because I harbored fear; I didn’t want my son to fall behind. I mean, he was in my hands full-time again, yet, he is older and growing and learning, making such significant progress this school year and was even invited into the advanced class next year. I didn’t want to derail that; there was no way this train was going off the tracks!
I was crazy with lessons and resources, and I placed a lot of pressure on myself. The school tried to navigate the changing times, but it didn’t have materials available right away. So, I was basically a maniac mommy, accessing multiple online resources, printing off graphic organizers, narrative journals, math charts, science and nature lessons, everything, and anything.
Then the links from the school and teacher indeed started rolling in On top of the pressure I had already created for myself in my new role; it was overwhelming. Then friends started randomly sending educational links without me asking. Reading and science, craft ideas, Dinosaur Train videos with reading comprehension questions, Odd Squad videos with math content. I would hear the chime of a Facebook Messenger chat and get excited it was a funny mommy meme, but it was e-learning links. It was SO sweet and creative of them, but on top of everything being posted on social media, it was just so much, too much, all at once. I was swimming in a dizzying sea of e-learning resources.
Rarely do I lose my temper with my son, but I found that my patience was growing very, very thin each day we did distance learning. On top of taking care of him in all ways, I was agonizing about work and applying daily for potential jobs, on top of overtraining, using working out as therapy and stress release. I wasn’t treating my body right or sleeping well, which affected my mood. And I wanted to fix all of what was wrong, so I did. Together, my son and I have learned to be flexible and go with the flow. I have tried to make sure we are going in spurts and not inundating ourselves. He has made great strides in not whining about writing a couple of sentences or decomposing math equations. Lots of nature breaks, scavenger hunts, science experiments (even coloring Easter eggs counted, in my opinion), building towers with red Solo cups, and other fun projects have highlighted our e-learning journey.
We have been learning together, and we are smiling more and stressed less. It’s not all babies and sunshine and roses and puppies; I still have to stifle my inner Samuel Jackson at times during math lessons. My son still lets out some complaints about doing “learning things,” but we are in a much better place than when this all began.
I take solace in knowing this particular hardship, this unprecedented time, is not forever. All of us–students, teachers, parents, health care workers, essential or non-essential workers, society as a whole, everyone–we are all enduring this. Ultimately, I choose and promote positivity and optimism, but some days are harder than others. I tell my son, especially when he is missing his friends and his teacher, that it is ok to acknowledge the sadness and negative feelings. We just can’t let them overtake us, and we must choose our attitude and our effort each day. Are we like Samuel Jackson, tired of all these snakes on a plane, I mean masks and social distancing and disrupted lives? Of course. Yet, we owe it to ourselves to count our blessings, smile through the chaos, and embrace how we are growing stronger each day.