“Worst Kid Day Ever”

Some days are just not your day.

We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..

And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!!  “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)

Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.”  It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain.  After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.

Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).

Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.

At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).

The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.

But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.

You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.

You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.

You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.

But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.

You have amazing friends to encourage you.

And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).

I’m here right with you, buddy.

Always.

The Impossible Decision Regarding COVID Schooling

My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”

Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.

Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?

Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.

As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.

One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!

My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.

My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.

So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school.  We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.

Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.

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…..