It doesn’t take much to distract me these days. The lure of the laundry, wondering what might happen in today’s episode of Little House on the Prairie, thoughts of what to prepare for the 20th snack request of the morning, and the fear of missing out if I don’t check news websites every few minutes in the hope that there will be some tiny glimmer of positive news.
I’m putting it down to the times we live in. The fight or flight state of mind that I feel I’m permanently in as I wonder what new curveball the day and the pandemic can throw our way.
And yet I’m a lot less sympathetic to any distractible tendencies that the children show in the face of homeschooling or remote-learning battles. As the four primary schoolers take their seat around the diningroom table and the secondary schoolers position themselves in the hall (where the wifi is strongest), the first challenge of the day is to convince the kids that it won’t be for too much longer. A much easier feat, I’m sure, if I believed it myself.
I can’t offer any hope. I can’t give them an end date. We’ve had the goalposts moved so many times that no one even knows where we’re aiming any more
“I hate homeschool” came the wails in the early days. These days resignation has taken over, and I’m not convinced it’s something to be grateful for. That’s not to suggest they are any more content to learn at home; rather, they’ve accepted their protests are futile. They are defeated. This is schooling for now, every hateful aspect of it.
And I can’t offer any hope. I can’t give them an end date. We’ve had the goalposts moved so many times that no one even knows where we’re aiming any more. Too many times in the past I’ve offered worried children the reassurance that it’s only for a certain number of days or weeks, only to have to break it to them again, that seeing their friends, peers and teachers is still a way off. Unavoidable perhaps, but still hard for them to manage.
“Who do you think would win between a polar bear and a shark?” one child asked randomly, putting the question out to the table just minutes into the homeschool day. “Or between a mandalorian and an ewok,” he continued before his first question had even been answered.
“It doesn’t matter, we can talk about it later,” I replied frustratedly jumping up from my work in a desperate attempt to quickly kill the conversation. But it was too late: pencils had been downed, headphones abandoned, and a debate was under way. Reeling them all back in was going to be a challenge.
I hate the incessant pressure and the feeling that my best efforts to do it all will never be enough
It was reminiscent of the conversations that might be had over dinner, except it wasn’t dinner. But it’s hard to change a small child’s perception of home. Home is where the fun is, where you play with your siblings and chat over meals. Home is where you relax after a day’s learning in school. Home is where you can ponder the prowess of nature and the inhabitants of Mandalore and the forest moon of Endor.
Home is not typically the place where a frustrated and cranky mum tries to teach her children, who are at different stages of the curriculum, while completing her own work, shutting down any attempts to escape the abnormality of it all in the process.
“Come on, back to work,” I implored to the sound of sighs and sadness. I hate this new role. I hate the battle of wills that must follow if we are to progress with the curriculum as I’m reminded that we are on a regular basis. I hate that instead of trying to distract them from the awfulness of the pandemic and all that it has taken from them, I remind them of some of what they’re missing out on every single day. I hate the incessant pressure and the feeling that my best efforts to do it all will never be enough.
“Can I have a break?” another child asked, just 10 minutes in. “Not yet”, I replied as I looked to see what he had to do next. “There’s the postman,” shrilled another, spotting the familiar face in our front garden.
“Lads, can we just focus and get our work done,” I pleaded in a less than calm fashion.
I got up to get a coffee, forgetting again, as I made my way to the kitchen, that the teens were secondary-schooling in the hall. At this stage I’ve appeared in the background of their online classes so often, I think their teachers may have included me in the roll call.
En route, I spotted the quiet child doing PE alone in the sittingroom. The sight caught me off guard and I found myself welling up.
“Right, what will we do this afternoon?” I turned and asked the kids. We needed a distraction.