The Impossibility of Pandemic Schooling

A week or so into the closing of schools for the COVID pandemic, the learning support coordinators for each of my three boys called to see how we were doing. Apparently they were required to see if any updates to the 504 or IEP plans needed to be made to handle the transition to remote learning. I couldn’t think of anything at the time.

Times have changed.

I have tried to help my boys meet their educational expectations. I have nagged and cajoled. I have praised and punished. I have hidden the gaming devices and TV remotes. I have yelled and screamed. I have cried …. and I have cried.

But it’s still a mess. My boys are not iPad learners. They are get your hands dirty learners. They are drop the rock into water to measure volume learners. They are sit with other kids in a classroom to motivate me learners. Their ADHD and learning styles are not meshing with a learn-at-home environment.

Text with teen

I warned my 7th grader one day that he was in jeopardy of failing yet another class….in a long procession of emails I receive every few days. His response was spot on: “I would be fine if I was in school.” He’s right. He was an A/B student. He was fine. “I know you would,” I understood. “I just don’t do well with this iPad sh$t.” I know, buddy. I know.

Super Tall Guy is expected to learn about Greek Gods and Goddesses from a series of Powerpoint slides. Not surprisingly he doesn’t care. I thought about the fact that had he been sitting in the classroom, he might have heard a tiny bit about a goddess or two as the teacher talked. He might have snickered to a buddy across the room about a particular characteristic of one of the gods. He and his friends might have joked about the lesson as they walked through the hallway to the next class. Something might have seeped in. But not if he’s sitting at home required to swipe through slides in just one more endless exhausting list of “things to do.”

Even the third grader commented the other day on our daily walk, “Mom, the iPad just doesn’t trigger my brain to learn.”

On a phone call at Easter, my sister-in-law noted that she’s been homeschooling her children for years, so this shutdown hasn’t really changed them at all. “But,” she acknowledged, “I have the whole curriculum supplied to me. I know what we’re trying to accomplish.” She is a teacher, an educator.  Me, on the other hand, looks at a list of what is due today or this week for multiple teachers, multiple subjects and multiple children. I don’t know “where” they are along the continuum of lessons.  The difference between home “education” and crisis online learning is huge.

We can do 10 minutes.

Mismatched to the very core of their brains’ ability to retain information, this remote learning expectation is also mismatched to the life of a working parent. Like school, my work also shifted to the home. My coffee house meetings are now draining Zoom calls. My simulation classes are now dry lectures that I’ve recorded onto Powerpoint. My comradery at the office is now gone. My brain is stressed about how to get work done because every 5 to 21 minutes, I’m interrupted to assume the role of teacher, short-order cook, Bingo number-caller, dog-walker, TV-fixer, argument-settler. My conscious bombards me with work that is not getting done. My email-response time is at least 3 days late. My to-do list is never-ending and just moves from one day to the next, from one week to the next. And one day a week, I work at our medical practice, so 20% of the week, I’m completely absent from my children. As I struggle to keep up with work, I just can’t even attempt to teach, especially as a single full-time working parent.

And I’m stressed by the sheer load of trying to understand life within the context of a rapidly transmissible, potentially deadly or life-changing virus. I’m worried about keeping my aging parents healthy. I’m worried about keeping my children healthy as we learn about unique inflammatory reactions in kids. I’m worried about the patients that I’m not seeing in the office although I go in for 10 hours one day a week to sit and make telemedicine calls. I’m worried about people around our community who are experiencing far more hardship and stress than I am. I’m worried about how much of this could have been prevented by a competent and coordinated government response at the beginning. This concept of allostatic load is certainly present in many people’s lives and for me leads to forgetting to do things, taking a long time to respond to emails or texts, and falling into complete exhaustion by the end of the day. I don’t want to clean the house or wash dishes, I just want to sit at the puzzle table or zone out on the couch.

5th grader “self-portrait” (We sorely miss the breadth and depth of Art class and all the “specials”)

I fully know that my children’s teachers are trying their best to convert from their plans for the final school quarter to an online platform. They are all truly amazing teachers and I grieve the fact that my boys no longer sit and listen to their wisdom. I also know that teachers are generally trained to be in front of a classroom of children and have little to no training in being an online teacher. It’s hard on them too and they need support.

I also struggle with trying to focus foremost on the boys’ emotional needs. I worry about how much to push them and how much to acknowledge that they are also stressed by this whole situation.

So many families I speak with have similar experiences. So many agree that they were holding together for the first few weeks and managing okay. But now it has all collapsed.

I guess now is the time to revisit that learning support plan for the boys (the 504s, the IEPs). Now is the time just give it a wash for this school year. Now is the time to think about what supports need to be in place and what changes need to occur in case schools have to be closed in the fall.

Shared by a friend.

Now is the time to be honest….that for my family ….remote learning is a traumatic check-list of failure and a complete lack of “learning.”

My hope is that the boys will catch up and not shutdown any love of learning. That they will indeed rebound. That they will have a most beautiful future learning to do the things they love.

And, thankfully there’s always the joy of the puppy…..

Troublemaker: The Quarantine Puppy

Like so many people sitting at home to work over the past six or so weeks of “shelter-in-place,” it seemed like the perfect timing to get that puppy I had been contemplating for months.

Since the boys were clearly stressed by the sudden change in their lives and unable to say things like, “Gosh, Mom, I’m feeling really stressed and unsettled by this rapid change and don’t have great coping mechanisms,” they expressed this by fighting over who would get to sleep with our little cavadoodle. They cuddled up with Mitzy any time they were overwhelmed with big feelings. They found an outlet in loving a fuzzy little animal. So when a friend posted about Animal Lifeline on Facebook, we got our application in and waited for the next transport of puppies rescued from puppy mills or kill shelters in other states.

Scanning through a dozen or so photos of available puppies the following week, Mr. Ornery zeroed in on a tiny pure black puppy. “Look at those eyes, Mom,” he said, “that puppy needs us” (or the other way around). A few hours later, the boys were cuddling a black lab mix and I was signing paperwork.

All the way home, the boys argued over a name before

Amazon reminds me I purchased this in 2009

settling on Malachi. I tirelessly argued that was a boy’s name. The moment my friend texted a series of suggested M-names and I read her daughter’s suggestion of Mocha, I knew that was it. The next day, Little Guy came running into the room singing, “Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha. Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha, where’s my puppy Moka?” using my favorite coffee drink to remember a new name.  I laughed and I switched the spelling to match a book we’ve enjoyed.

 

Sure it sounds like a great idea to get a quarantine puppy. Why not pile on a lot more work? With the current crisis level of stress, I had started to sleep 8-9 hours a night. Now I sleep 6-7 and beg the puppy to go back to sleep in the early mornings as I lay there restlessly unable to doze off. With the constant disruption of children as I try to pay attention to Zoom meetings or put thought to paper for work, now every 20-30 minutes I have to figure out what the puppy is chewing on and take her out to pee.

But I can handle this, because having a new puppy is just like having boys:

Little Moka can’t come into the house without tracking in dirt or carrying in bits of nature. Mostly because she loves to dig the black dirt all over the sidewalk right in front of the door – so that everyone now drags in dirt! It’s especially awesome when it rains.

She contributes to the constant “I can’t find my shoe” issue. It’s been three days and I still can’t find the left flip-flop and my right running shoe. And I don’t know whether to blame boys or a puppy who picks it up and carries it around the house.

She leaves wet blotches in the carpet much like the boys do when they spill their drink and “forget” to clean it up or mention it until I find it with my socked feet.

An innocent appearing behavior, such as licking the front porch railing quickly becomes destructive and I think about all the repairs I’ll some day have to do because of the constant flurry of activity of all these little creatures in the house.

There are some lessons learned, as well. For example, when leaving the puppy home all day with the older boys while I’m at work, I might have needed to specify to remove the “solid waste” BEFORE using the spray and wet paper towel to rub the carpet! (Even magic Folex hasn’t been able to touch this stain.)

Also would have helped to be a little more specific in my note to the 11-year-old that read, “Please take puppy out every hour and feed at 12 noon.” When I unknowingly gave the puppy dinner and she groaned as she still tried to eat with a belly double its normal size, I learned that Mr. Ornery read that as “feed puppy every hour” as well as take her out.

Despite all this (and the continuing destruction that I’m sure we’ll have), I don’t regret the decision. The other night, on The Little Guy’s ninth birthday, the puppy jumped off the couch and landed on her front leg wrong. She howled in pain. The boys ran to find me and I held the puppy tight. Wrestling with whether she needed to get to the emergency vet, with time she started walking on it again. As she tucked in to sleep that evening and the younger boys cuddled into my arms on the couch watching a movie, they wept with worry about the puppy. Reassuring them, I thought, you know what, you boys are going to be okay. You have tremendous love for another creature. You have deep empathy for someone in pain. You find joy in the physical connection (even if it is a puppy licking your face). And you are learning more responsibility.

Welcome to the family, Moka. We’re all glad you’re here.