I am starting this year by claiming defeat. Last night, I fired off an email to my kids’ principal, begging the school to take them back.
I tried. We all tried. And cried. And then tried again.
But this is not working, and something has to give. If I’m not careful, it will be my very fragile state of mind.
This past year has taught a lifetime of lessons, but one of the most apparent to me is that children are not meant to learn via blips on a screen – recorded videos from some revolving writing instructor sitting at a kitchen table 200 miles away, pages of social studies transformed to digital drivel, Michigan’s economy laid out before a third grader in 4 interactive maps, 2 color-coded graphs and 16 clickable boxes, each containing their own individual set of instructions.
I watch my son stare into the monitor, eyes beginning to glaze.
“What is a capital resource?” his brain wonders but momentarily.
“It must be time for a snack,” his belly mumbles.
Ears take over, “Which little brother is crying now? Wait…is that Mom?”
His brain intercedes, “What question was I on?”
But those restless fingers get in the way, “Oops! Closed out everything. Have to start over.”
That tummy again, “I’m hungry.”
Nope. Lower. And off he trots to the bathroom.
Eight-year-olds don’t have a prayer of making it through the ins and outs of Michigan’s lumber industry or farming trends via virtual text book. And as a mom to four boys, two of them neck-deep in online learning, two of them younger and even needier, I have finally realized that despite my best efforts, despite the very best efforts of their teachers working tirelessly to bring the classroom to our living room, and despite the efforts of that Mystery Science lad and those ladies responsible for the awkward reading and writing videos, this family doesn’t have a prayer of making it through another semester of online school. We are throwing in our sweat-ridden, tear-soaked towel – and I am crossing my fingers the school doesn’t hold us to that mid-November deadline.
Because all those years ago, way back before Thanksgiving, this family was still grasping on to hope. We were still waiting to see how many times the district would send kids back home due to an outbreak or state order. We were still counting how many students and staff would end up infected. We were doing what we could to keep class sizes small for those families who didn’t have the flexibility we have been granted. Most importantly, though, we were still hoping computers could bridge the gap when push came to shove.
For us, it feels they cannot. Regardless of the devoted, determined teachers on the other end of those computers or the hours I sit at the table reteaching lessons I didn’t create, checking work I don’t have the curriculum for, scribbling down new log ins for yet another app everyone is hoping can take the place of a real live person – none of this is an adequate replacement. The workarounds we’ve all employed to hobble through 2020 are turning out to be dead-ends.
I am a full-time stay-at-home mom. My whole job is to look after these kids, and yet, I continue to fall short. I cannot make this work. How do we expect parents with jobs outside of the home to find success or a quiet moment to think their own thoughts? To take a breath? And single parents, grandparents and caregivers who have even less time or access to the teachers and their detailed emails? Or the kids with no one by their side to help navigate this continually changing virtual land? What exactly are their chances?
Hear me, please. From a two-parent household, with one of those parents whose sole job is to raise these kiddos – we are still calling it a day. I didn’t expect this to be simple, and I’m always game for a challenge but not at the expense of my children’s education and well-being. Because believe me when I tell you, the view from inside these four walls is getting pretty dim for everybody. We miss our people. We miss being in community. We miss face-to-face contact and high-fives and bear hugs and grins you watch spread wide across a friend’s lips. Smiling eyes are great, but they aren’t the same.
We have longed for these simple things since March, and while I cannot bring back everything we so dearly miss, I can make a choice that helps our upturned world feel a bit more normal, a choice I’ve been trying to avoid ever since we spiraled into uncertainty all those months ago. I am fortunate to have this option as so many families don’t. We do not have to stay stuck at this dining room table.
There are few things I dislike more than making the wrong decision and having to admit it, but this month, I use these paragraphs to boldly wave my flag of surrender as a beacon to other parents, grandparents, caregivers, and students. Keep fighting the good fight. Or don’t. These decisions are hard, weighing risk versus reward, mental health against physical. Neither feels right, but the call from the school this morning brought a long-awaited sigh of relief. Kitchen school is over. Accepting defeat feels more like a win today.