Seven weeks ago, when I collected the boys from school, I knew it would be for 3 weeks and maybe more. Having had a few days’ practice at homeschooling via one-day teacher strikes, we talked over what they had (and hadn’t!) enjoyed and rejigged the schedule a bit, took a week off for March Break, then hit the ground running (ish). Since then, we’ve tweaked the plan and replaced some of Mummy’s work ideas with the stuff sent out from school.
I am lucky. Even before the pandemic, it would have been hard to claim I was far down the privilege ladder, but I have to acknowledge my Pandemic Privilege in being financially secure, living in a house with a garden and separate room (even if it doesn’t have a door) for Jon to work from home, having no job myself so that I can focus on the kids, having no need for either of us to engage with other people except for shopping, having the people I love most right here in my household, being used to using skype etc for grandparent and friend communications… etc. This is not to boast, I am just acknowledging that when I say I’m doing well, it is in the context that I am bloody fortunate.
But for the most part, I am doing well. Parenting has never been something that came naturally to me, and I would certainly never pretend that what works for us would or should work for anyone else. I miss school. I miss the break from being constantly talked to, constantly touched, constantly relied upon. I miss the opportunity to write both rambling blog posts and concise content (two short paragraphs this afternoon took me 25 minutes because they were written in between a thousand interuptions and I wanted them to be tight). I miss talking to my friends and my husband without anyone saying “What? Why did you say that? Who’s on the phone?” and then stealing it and hiding it under a cushion while I yell at the person on the other end not to hang up. I miss work, even though I didn’t do very much of it.
But for the most part, we are doing well. We have found a balance that mostly works, most of the time. That is structured enough that my structure-craving boys and I feel safely cocooned in our regime, and flexible enough that if they just don’t feel like working today, we can play 96 games of monopoly and Zombie Kids, and then they can run out into the garden and whack each other with cardboard swords while I watch some crap on Netflix and clean the bathrooms.
It turns out that why I am not a natural parent, I might to some extent be a natural teacher. Or at least a natural maker-of-interesting-worksheets, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. I’m NOT enjoying class control. The patience it takes to watch a child lounge around, groaning because you have just asked him to add a period (full stop) to a sentence he’s written but he is soooo tiiiireeeddd mmuuuuummmy… that patience is not something I was blessed with. But I enjoy learning and I love to watch and guide the boys in their discoveries. It’s a thrill when they get caught up in a project I’ve set (or even one I’ve passed on from their teachers), and it’s great exercise for my brain to create the projects while they are asleep.
So, mainly for the sake of posterity, but also because I have been totally amazed by how many things capture their interest and how much they can do… here is a list of just some of the things we have fit into the first 7 weeks of lockdown…
1) Chalk. Walking around the neighbourhood is the most exercise most of us get these days, but I find it hard to walk for the sake of walking. A destination helps, and making that the home of one of their friends helps them stay connected. So we walk there, we leave chalk messages or trails and we walk home again. It’s made even more exciting by the prospect of friends reciprocating a few days later!
2) Backyard play. Jon made the boys a swingball set and I bought them a plastic baseball bat. They have rediscovered their climber / slide and when the oven arrived in a huge new box, they extended their fort and play who-knows-what outside happily for 30-60 minutes every couple of days. Sometimes they borrow a pair of scissors to trim the fir trees. Sometimes they take the lid off the sand box – they particularly enjoyed the first few weeks when it was very wet and they could build dams and rivers and occasionally Mummy appeared to teach them about strong foundations and adding weirs for overflow.
3) Sometimes we walk up to the trainline and scream for the duration of a passing train. The boys are much louder than a modern engine, so the neighbours probably hate this one, but sometimes everyone needs to drop the ‘indoor voice’ requirement for a minute!
4) Mapping project. I printed a googe map of the ‘hood and set Sebastian a project to mark lots of houses and shops we know. Then he had some extra challenges – like visiting a number of places without doubling back on himself, or only turning right (or going straight on). We tested them out on our neighbourhood walks and talked about the effect of these extra rules.
5) Biking. I’d like to say Dominic has taken advantage of this extra parent time to ditch the training wheels, but instead he’s regressed to a trike, which he now confidently rides around the whole area, while his bike (with training wheels still attached) languishes forgotten. Mummy and Daddy might have to figure out some impetus for that particular challenge.
1) Screen time rules have been slightly relaxed, but mostly for ‘educational’ activities and keeping in contact with friends. Both boys have taken to Messenger Kids and WhatsApp calls with their friends, and enjoy exploring a few websites / apps with games on. Dominic will play any amount of Starfall.com and the Monkey Preschool app, Sebastian uses Starfall as well as the work set by his teacher. They have both watched countless hours of someone else playing Luigi’s Mansion on youtube. It doesn’t seem to occur to either of them to ask us to buy the game for them to play themselves!
2) We got a couple of extra board games for Easter (Robot Turtles and Zombie Kids Evolution). The latter in particular is at a perfect level for them to BOTH play, with or without us. We are also required to play several games a day of these, Monopoly, Game of Life, Rat Race, Cribbage, Snakes and Ladders, Scrabble, Memory… etc I love board games, but even I find this level of playing exhausting, and very few of the games appeal to both boys so which adult is involved has to play two different games simultaneously. It appears to be a huge way that Sebastian measures love though, and although the boys are handling the lockdown very well, it’s important to me to give him that extra attention and recognition when I can.
3) Tapping into this love of board games, I have discovered Sebastian loves doing projects to discover more about them and about the strategies behind them. So I’ve written him worksheets guiding him through complicated probability questions and tactics (likelihood of dice rolls, rates of return on investment, different incomes for different career choices, etc). They are one of our favourite parts of homeschool.
4) School started sending work for the boys a few weeks in. Their reading is on getepic.com, which means it’s on a screen. Sebastian quickly started to complain of sore eyes and headaches, so we’ve stopped that in favour of reading real books. Luckily I managed to get a few books at his level at Walmart and we have plenty of books that are a little easier that he can dip into. It means his teacher isn’t ‘witnessing’ his reading, but I am happy that it’s happening at least to some extent. Dominic is getting on OK on epic, probably because his books are a lot shorter so it’s less intensive reading time.
S gets Math homework on screen too, through ca.ixl.com. Math is a subject he finds easy, so he sails through the set work and can occasionally be persuaded to try something at a higher level. D’s math is games and counting – and he’s teaching himself multiplication because the ‘game’ he is desperate to play is in the Grade 3 section of Starfall.
S’s main language project is writing a Mr Men story, which he’s enjoying and doing a great job on. Dominic gets poem comprehensions each week and some fun ‘science’ experiments, which we generally all do together. Yesterday’s ‘mystery ice cubes’ (I’d frozen tiny toys into each one) was a real hit.
5) Science is popular with both boys and once a week we drag Daddy out of the basement to ‘teach’ for an hour or so, usually using one of the Science Kits the kids have had for months but rarely had the time to dig into. This lesson gives Mummy a desperately-needed hour off supervision duty and the three of them enjoy making a mess much more than I do. Glow-in-the-dark slime, ‘alien blood’, bouncy balls and bath bombs are just a few of their creations. With me, they have baked brownies, made beautiful birthday cards for Daddy and for a few friends and this week we melted some discounted Easter chocolate and made heart-shaped chocolates with homemade jelly filling.
6) On the subject of unused gifts, we’ve been collecting the boys’ Little Passports envelopes unopned on a shelf for a few months. Just before Lockdown, I was about to cancel their subscriptions, but we are finally finding time to focus on them now. Dominic’s most recent included a velcro weather chart, which he’s enjoying updating each day. April is the best month for weather charting in Toronto, becuase it’s the most varied. We often use all the symbols over the course of one afternoon!
7) There’s plenty of play too. The kids like to build forts on the furniture, build lego, play with their toys, chase each other around and just generally let their creativity flow. It’s a bit of a break for me, although I’m unable to completely relax because I am always on the lookout for declining tempers and imminent battles, but at least it allows me to clean or check on a friend or neighbour. At weekends, Jon and I try to give the boys an hour or two apart, but otherwise they are togehter 100% of the time and it occasionally results in drama. I am grateful, though, that for the most part it seems to have cemented their friendship and support for each other.
And what about mental health? So many of my parent-friends are reporting real dramas from their kids, that I have to take my hat off to our boys, who have mostly slid into the ‘new normal’ as if they’ve been doing it all their lives. Their energy / enthusiasm for homeschool comes and goes, and they are slightly more clingy than usual, with Sebastian’s board game habits at least partly just an excuse for parent attention and Dominic frequently deciding he is a baby sloth (and in need of carrying around). But for the most part they are on a fairly even keel. We’re being careful with their emotions and have worked hard to smooth the transition and downplay any fears about the world outside, but I feel they deserve a lot of the credit for even tempers and willingness to adapt.
For me, that constant sense of being ‘on duty’ is the hardest thing about parenting, it always was. A close second is finding the balance between the loving, supportive side of parenting and the disciplining, challenging side. Lockdown has intensified both problems. This week, they haven’t felt like schoolwork of any kind. It’s been hard to know when to insist they at least try and when to let them kick back and relax. There is no universal answer and each situation has to be taken on its merits, but that is the challenge and at the moment it crops up 100 times per day.
I miss my friends and the chance to kick back, but I am trying to have calls and even the occasional distance-chat, and I miss the gym but the boys and I do a dance party every day and even when they lie around, I jump about like a fool.
For the most part, then, I’m doing OK. Jon said the other day that I was “strangely calm” about all this, and I am. I can’t do anything about the bigger picture and I am doing all I can about the smaller one. I am luckier, in so many ways, than so many others and focussing on that helps. My life has changed but it also hasn’t, and not all the changes are for the worse.
And the weather is getting warmer, which always improves my mood.
(I’ll try to add pictures later; writing this post over the last 2 days has completely used anything approaching spare time I don’t have.)
A Note On Privilege
Privilege is a funny thing. Many people seem to react to their own privilege with either guilt or defensiveness; to me, acknowledging my privilege isn’t to apoligse for it or to dismiss the struggles that we faced and face or that fact that lots of people have it better than we do. To me, noting my own fortune brings only a sense of duty – to acknowledge it, and to attempt to improve things for those who weren’t dealt a flush.
Privilege is a lot like playing cards actually. If you get dealt a crappy hand, you can still win. You need a lot of work and skill and a little bit of luck along the way, but you can still win. And if you’re dealt a great hand you can still fluff it up and end up losing the game through bad luck or bad judgement. But the odds are stacked in favour of the guy with the better hand, and to watch a single round and then claim he won purely through his own skill would be missing the part the deal had to play. The relative skill of two players simply cannot be properly measured if they are consistently dealt unbalanced cards.
In cards, the deals are balanced by playing multiple rounds and by careful shuffling. In life, if we only get one round and we cannot guard against the imbalance of luck, we should instead guard against the error of judging a man by the cards he is dealt.