There’s much more to learn at home

I’d had it with advice on home schooling – until I got some from my young daughters.

Caitlin Ochs/Reuters
Lydia Hassebroek (left) enjoys a few free moments between remote classes on her first day of school in Brooklyn, New York, on Sept. 21, 2020. Her mother, Naomi Hassebroek, sits at the table.

My older daughter hums. 

I have learned this, these past few days, as I sit in my office attempting to write in 15-minute intervals, in between tech support, password sleuthing, and schedule monitoring. The indeterminate tunes flow downstairs to me from the room we have converted into a classroom, through my office door, and into the journalism classes I now teach via Zoom.

My younger daughter whistles. I have learned that, too. 

It is a new skill for her, and she is quite proud of it. She practices, in between her morning meeting – during which she gleefully shouts at her fellow second graders through the computer screen – and remote PE class, which seems to involve bouncing a red rubber ball on the floor above my head.

Sometimes they hum and whistle together. Sometimes they compete. Sometimes I “need to take the dog out,” so I can walk around the block. And then I force myself to go back to home-work-school. Back to more learning.

It feels like ages since we were notified that our daughters’ school would be 100% remote. I had new projects and deadlines, a new house and town, and a newly long-distance marriage. I also had two little girls who were painfully eager for school to start. 

I tried not to panic. I scolded myself for reacting like a privileged baby. My family was blessed: healthy, financially secure. I could just lean in, right? 

I tried to. I jumped into learning about pandemic pods versus babysitters versus maybe nonstop reruns of “The Baby-Sitters Club.” I began the delicate dance of discovering my fellow parents’ boundaries about play dates, social distancing, and masks to find those whose inclinations matched my own. 

I scrolled Pinterest to learn how to set up the perfect home classroom, found inspiration, and then learned that none of the influencers had contemplated the cacophony of two different elementary school children, in two different grades, shouting at two different computers from their sweetly matching desk chairs. I learned about meal planning, chore charts, athletic schedules, and virtual music lessons. I learned about the bandwidth capacity of our internet, and that soccer cleats from last year do not fit. 

By the end of the first week of school I didn’t want to learn any more. I didn’t want the tip sheet on children’s wellness from the American Academy of Pediatrics. I didn’t want advice from other dazed parents. I certainly didn’t want any more articles on the impact of remote learning on women’s careers. I just wanted everything back to normal 

Name one thing that’s good about remote learning, I said to my daughters one afternoon, holding my head in my hands at the kitchen table. 

The girls looked at me strangely. I know they have missed their friends, missed hugging their teachers, missed going to school and coming home with backpacks filled with accomplishments.

“We get to see you more, Mama,” one said, finally. 

I looked up, taken aback. Of course. I had more time with them, too, these precious beings on the road toward their own lives, this year as much as any.

“And we don’t have to wear shoes to school!” The other added gleefully, holding up her bare feet.

“And we get to eat chocolate during the day!” The younger one grinned, and then pointed to what I thought was my secret hiding place for the trail mix. 

“And we get more play dates!” 

“And hugs!”

They kept going. They have seen their grandparents more. They have formed new bonds with teachers whose online efforts are nothing less than miraculous. They have daily FaceTime dates with their father, who has revamped his schedule to make sure he has an hour each workday to read to his daughters.

They started dancing around the kitchen. I felt better. This year is, if nothing else, unforgettable. And through the resilient eyes of children, I was seeing, it could even sparkle.

“You’re learning,” my older daughter said, and hugged me. Then she and her sister bounded up the stairs to their classroom, whistling and humming.

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