Inauguration Day seems like an appropriate day to brush off the dust here and provide an update. I don’t usually pay much attention to such days, but this one felt different. One of my children watched the inauguration shirtless, wearing a light-up necklace of Christmas lights, and the other one sat next to me and asked every ten minutes or so whether they had checked everyone present to make sure no one had any guns, which both sums up my children in a nutshell and catches the mood in the house – joyous celebration, tempered with anxiety and unease.
I’m so glad Biden is president. I’m looking forward to no longer knowing more names of American elected officials (or counties) than Canadian ones. I’m excited for Twitter to continue to be as blessedly boring as it has been the last week or so. I’m hopeful that we can all sleep better at night knowing the adults are back in charge.
But man is there a lot of work to be done.
In our news, COVID in our province is completely out of control and our premier has continued to be astounded and horrified at the case numbers and the projections (which were NOT A SURPRISE for anyone who understands exponential growth). We’ve been in some sort of “lockdown” (or “mockdown”) for exactly two months now and the daily case numbers in my public health unit still clock in at close to 1,000 per day, so it’s been months of ineffectual action and dithering, rather than any coordinated proactive approach that might have achieved something. My Australian husband is beyond disgusted and regrets not fleeing down under back in the spring when it was still possible to get back into the country.
The kids have been home since early December and will not be returning to in-person school before mid-February at the earliest. There are many, many reasons why we didn’t choose virtual learning for our kids, and this enforced period of virtual learning at home has repeatedly confirmed that sending them to school was the right decision for them, for us, and for our family.
Managing their virtual schedules feels like a full-time job and includes:
- Checking their schedules (which change daily since their school is required to maintain the same rotary schedule they would follow in person)
- Making sure they get online when they’re supposed to (E. is quite independent with this)
- Coordinating when we can get them outside (which requires P. to miss the final meeting of the morning every single day)
- Finding devices (iPads and Bluetooth headphones)
- Charging devices
- Checking what’s been posted before breakfast every morning so I can print out worksheets (since the printer is in the study). Everything can be completed online but we try to get them offline and using pencil/paper as much as possible.
- Keeping track of what they’re supposed to be completing and submitting (as far as I can tell, E. is spending his days playing video games or looking up video game facts on Google while “listening” since the only work he seems to get done during the day is the math, so the school day drags into the evenings and weekends as he catches up)
- Managing the meltdowns when they stagger off the screens at the end of every day, completely burnt out. E.’s grade is required to have 225 minutes of synchronous instruction every day; P’s meant to be getting 180. I don’t run a Zoom meeting for my courses longer than 60 minutes, and I’ve had so much appreciative feedback from my students (and they are adults!). This entire plan was designed by people who are not educators and who did not consult with educators, and its sole purpose (as far as I can tell) is to keep the parents happy and complacent because their children are occupied.
The whole thing is completely ludicrous, and now that Q. and I have started our semester, we’re engaged in this elaborate dance where who’s in charge of the kids is largely determined by our own synchronous teaching commitments. It’s so complicated we had to make a spreadsheet and load everything into our calendars.
In some ways it’s better (and by better, I mean better for the adults’ ability to get work done rather than any educational, emotional, etc. benefits for the kids) than the spring since the kids are
pacified more occupied with school. E., in particular, is largely self-sufficient and gets himself online when needed. He plays Among Us with the other kids in the class during the breaks (more screen time – augh!). I don’t know if he’s learning anything, but he’s getting a lot of French language exposure, which was the weak point in the spring since there was so little synchronous work, so he’s not going to fall behind in that regard, and he’s ahead of grade level in pretty much everything else that I think is important.
P. is happy enough to sit up for most of her meetings, although her interest in doing any of the work has waned significantly since she started online in early December. This week she flat out refused to do the work, wailing at me, “I DON’T WANT TO CUT OUT THE PLANETS!! I KNOW HOW TO COUNT BACKWARDS FROM TEN!!” She’s right – she does already know pretty much everything she’s meant to be “learning”. We’re concentrating on reading (she’s very highly motivated). She finds it hard to sit through a forty-five minute meeting with only one chance to share. She misses her friends and often pins them (rather than the teacher) so that they’re always visible in the meetings.
Both kids are sleeping better without the rush in the morning, but the pandemic is weighing on them. A week or so ago they were ranting about COVID and what they missed. E. said he couldn’t wait to be able to walk around without wearing masks. P. said she wanted to hug people, starting with her friends at school. Some of her friends are meeting up at playgrounds, but that’s not something we feel comfortable doing.
The winter has been a bit of a bust so far in terms of snow (other than right at Christmas), so keeping them happy and busy has been a challenge. We have been skating almost every weekend – you have to register in advance for a specific session (it’s like trying to book swimming lessons) and the numbers on the ice are capped at 25. We always wear masks on the ice (which is now mandatory but wasn’t earlier in the season). It’s nice to be able to do something “normal”. E. is a great skater despite only first getting on skate two years ago, and P. is making noticeable progress every time we go.
We knew the kids would end up back at home eventually, and, if I’m being honest, we’d expected it to happen much earlier. Every day between Thanksgiving and early December felt like a gift. But at the same time, everything was working in the fall. The kids were happy at school. Q. and I had the time and space we needed to work again. We got our book project off to the press (and thank all the gods the kids stayed in school long enough for that to happen). We were literally just at the point where we were talking about taking a couple of days off, and then the kids had to be pulled out of school. Realizing how well everything was working made it harder when it all fell apart again.
Now, Q. and I are so tired. Between us, we are teaching seven courses this semester (long story, combination of factors determined long before COVID), and keeping our heads above water is taking all the time we have. What I’ve lost ever since the kids came back home is the snatches of “free” time that I was starting to be able to carve out for myself in the fall after we got our book project off to the press. I watched the new season of The Crown. I started to build up some momentum with my reading again. I used our exercise bike consistently (we have subscribed to the Peloton app and use it with our old and outdated bike, which is great). With the kids at home, we’ve both lost three or four hours of work time a day. If we have to make it up, we have to work in the evenings or at the weekend. If we can keep our heads above water with the time that we still have (which I have mostly managed to do this week), then there isn’t any extra time left over to do something for us. Writing this blog post now means I’ll be working this evening.
So, in the grand scheme of things, we are still totally fine. We’re safe, we’re healthy, we have food on the table and a roof over our heads and exceptionally good wifi that has only once flaked out when I was teaching.
But we’re tired (all of us).
We’re struggling (all of us).
And it’s going to be a long winter.