The beginning of the last week of school

What worked and what didn’t

We have made it to the end, my kids and me.

This time of year always makes me a little sad.

This year, with everything that has happened, I’m not really sure how I feel. Relief that we can take a break from screens and get on with the business of being in the world, yes. But sadness at not saying a proper goodbye to teachers and friends are with me, too.

And the uncertainty about the next school year… That feels nervous and scary.

Three months ago, when we started this learn at home journey, it took some time to get up and running and familiar with the Google platform the schools use. Once we got going, the tech was the easy part.

Staying motivated was more challenging. Feeling like I was good enough to support my kids, wondering if I might be pushing too hard at a time when the world had gotten a bit scarier and my kids might be feeling things they never thought they’d have to contend with, those aspects attacked my motivation and left me wondering what the point of it all was. Those were hard days.

Knowing that the work didn’t count towards marks unless it improved your standing after March 13th was a welcome relief on those days, but it also made us feel like nothing mattered anymore on the good days.

I learned more about myself and my kids than I thought there was to know. Like, there are two kinds of people in this world: those with patience in abundance and those who need to learn to have patience.

That’s the catch, the learn to have patience part. How do you teach that if you haven’t mastered it yourself?

Not too long ago, kids (and adults) had very little in their lives that provided instant gratification and entertainment. Stories came in the form of books and they took a while to read. Hot summer afternoons were often spent figuring out what to do to stay cool and entertained, which involved a lot of downtime just lazing around with nothing to do until you figured it out. Nowadays, hot summer afternoons are spent inside scrolling Netflix or TikTok on digital devices, searching for the next dopamine hit.

My patience wore thin quite a few times over the last few months. Between working and supporting the learning my kids were doing, I was spread thin. I was tired and torn between competing priorities daily, and some days my kids needed more from me and I just didn’t have it to give them.

Early mornings are best. The will power is strong, the mind is sharp. Unfortunately, children who do not do learning in an environment with morning bells and late slips tend to sleep later and work at their own pace. Ironically, this is something that I’ve always wanted for my children. And as far as their learning went over the last few months, allowing that “get up when you wake up naturally and work on something until you master it” was the right thing to do. My stamina and patience may have worn out by mid-morning, but my kids were just gearing up and doing great work.

But the patience still must be practiced. The kids and I both have to stretch that skill. We have to become people who can focus and wait.

What comes next

As we head into this last week of the 2019-2020 school year, we have some reflecting to do. There is a chance that the schools won’t re-open in September, or they will open only in a partial way. We have to wait and see. In the meantime, we have the summer to practice our patience, read books, brush up on our tech skills and get ourselves ready for whatever the future holds.

I hope you have a wonderful summer full of the things that bring you joy and that you are recharged for whatever the world hands us in the next season.

Systems, goals, failure, progress

The thing is, I like systems. I am attracted to things that are created to be connected and that have reminders and goals and progress reports.

I spend a lot of time coming up with systems. Most of them don’t work. I don’t think that’s because I’m bad at designing systems (ok, maybe a little bit). I think it’s because it’s not systems that I need. Systems are what I want.

A nice tidy box to put all the steps in. And then, as I need to progress toward the goal, I can pull out a step and do it, and that moves me forward.

And I want this for my kids, too. I want them to set goals and work toward them and see their progress, their growth.

But I forget that I have spent years reading about goal setting and systems and growth and my kids have not. And no matter what information I share with them, they don’t get it because my problem lies in translating what I have learned into something they can learn from.

So, back to systems. I am designing a system to teach them about goal setting and progress and growth. And I’ve discovered that not being able to stick to one idea at a time is the real problem. Not the lack of a system or the lack of a goal. It’s the sticking to it.

Are my systems and goals not sticky enough? Maybe. Is my brain too full of clutter to focus properly on only one thing? Probably. So what’s my first step, then, before setting the goal or designing the system?

Learn to focus.

This is the hard thing. This is the not-so-fun thing. This is the thing that I have to do if I want my systems to work, if I want to reach a goal, if I want to teach my kids goal setting and focused growth.

So, I’m going to set up a system, a very simple system, to learn how to focus.

Being alone in a coronavirus world

All day, every day with the kids. Geeesh! This is tough. I love ’em. I really do. But I need to be alone. And not going-for-a-walk alone or going-for-a-drive alone. I need to be in my house alone. I don’t know why. I’ve been thinking about it all week. My mother has often expressed the same need and I’ve understood.

Quick updates on our learn-at-home experiment and get-outside experiment

Learn at home is going better this week. Both kids have settled into a morning school routine, school work is being done and I’m supporting in a minimal manner because they seem to have gotten the hang of it.

Neither kid is particularly happy about all this computer work and would rather be doing hands-on classwork in real life with their project mates in a classroom setting, but their computer skills have multiplied seemingly overnight. And I’m seeing increased confidence coming out of that.

Getting outside has been a bigger challenge. I haven’t been doing it. Full stop.

Being alone

Back to the being alone thing. I’ve let my kids spend too much time in their bedrooms, by themselves this past week just because I want at least the main floor of the house to myself. I’m feeling guilty about every minute that I don’t interact with them. (Although, I’m pretty sure they’re craving alone time, too, and are happy not to have me around every afternoon.)

Sleep deprivation, chronic pain and various other ailments continue to plague me, although I’ve seen some improvement (probably because I’ve been alone and could focus on me instead of everyone else).

Maybe I’ll go for a walk this afternoon and invite the kids to come with me. It would do us some good to get outside and spend time together. It would also probably alleviate my feelings of being responsible for everyone’s feelings.

Or maybe I’ll stay inside and take up drawing as a hobby.

How are you coping this week?

Hard things are not easy

I’ve noticed a theme in my reading lately. Over the last three weeks, I’ve read Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés and I’m in the middle of Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

I’ve also read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce, which I wasn’t going to list here because it’s a fictional story about a woman who is dying, not a self-help book. In retrospect, it fits my theme: doing hard things.

Also, over the last three weeks, I’ve been working from home, supporting my children as they do school from home, parenting in the usual way and navigating new parenting rules, keeping up with friends and family, trying to keep space for my marriage and managing my mental health (but not very well). These are hard things. And I thought I was doing OK. I really thought I was doing OK.

Things seemed almost easy. For sure life was different. But I was once told by a therapist that all my stories and everything I’d talked about in therapy led her to the same conclusion: that I was good at adapting to and solving problems.

And this physical distancing COVID-19 thing is simply a problem to be adapted to and solved.

But then my chronic pain flared up, a bad case of hives and additional joint pain jumped on board and proper sleep evaporated. Oh and my body won’t stop buzzing (whether or not a I drink coffee).

So, not doing so well after all.

I haven’t written on the blog for a few days because I’ve been filling my journal with dark thoughts, paranoia and self-defeating lies.

Today, it’s raining. It’s gloomy. The weather kind of matches my mood. It was sunny yesterday and I tried really hard to let the sun in, but it was just.too.damn.hard. I went for a walk, which only made my pain worse. I tried to focus on work and enjoy the sun beams streaming through the windows. No luck there either. The bright and sunny day brought into focus how little time my kids were spending outside and how much time they were spending on their various screens. Which spiraled into a vortex of parenting guilt.

I know, I know. These are different times and we should go easy on ourselves. But boundaries still need to exist otherwise there’s chaos.

Today, I’m giving myself permission not to do the hard things, like fake it ’til I make it. I’m going to be sad and in pain and exhausted. And I’m going to nap and drink water and go for a walk on my treadmill while listening to a podcast I enjoy.

And I’m going to start to heal…again.

(Because books are always a good balm for my agonies, I read a lot. And this past week, the sweetest and most beautiful story that has kept me going is The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. It is so tragic and uplifting and sad and real all wrapped up in a person’s struggle. I really recommend it, but read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first; also a very good story.)

Things I’m grateful for today

  1. That the decision to go out and be in the world has been taken out of my hands.
  2. That I can work from home and that I have a job.
  3. That my kids are old enough to entertain themselves.
  4. That I got to have Easter dinner with my family via video and it worked well.
  5. That the cake my husband and I made from scratch on the weekend turned out perfectly (and deliciously!)
  6. That we’re all going through the same thing in different ways and I think it might be making us better humans.
  7. That this pandemic is happening in 2020 when we have the tech to stay in touch and the knowledge to understand disease.
  8. That I have so many understanding people in my life.
  9. That my husband still works outside the home and can do the shopping.
  10. That this won’t last forever.

Experiment updates

This was the rough plan for Experiment #1:

Sometime early morning: get up, make bed, make breakfast and eat together, then clean up breakfast dishes and bake something to have later

Mid-morning: clean up baking and pull out some math problems or games

Lunch time: make lunch and eat together, then clean up

Mid-afternoon: go for a walk by the river, discover what nature has to reveal

Late afternoon: write about the river walk, read a book, play a game

After a few weeks home together and one official week of school guided by the kids’ teachers, we’ve kind of made this our routine. I’m proud of us.

There have been some adjustments, as I’d expected, but mostly, this week has been pretty good.

We don’t all eat breakfast together. (And sometimes I don’t eat at all because my son likes to do his own cooking and I take that time to get in some extra editing.)

The cleaning up is mostly left to me to do later in the day (which I often end up leaving for my husband when he gets home from work at the end of the day).

The plan for mid-morning school work has settled into a slightly different plan with my son (who is up early) logging into his Google Classroom and getting his work mostly done before his sister wakes up. She then logs in and gets her work done. School work is usually wrapped up by 11:30 am.

After that, there are a few chores to be done, some outside time and quiet time for the kids, playing, reading or drawing. Then it’s lunch and free WiFi time in the afternoon while I work. Three days a week there is online soccer training for my son.

Experiment #2 of me going outside every day hasn’t always panned out. I do think about it, but sometimes the hours just slip away and the next thing I know it’s evening and I don’t want to go out because everyone is home. I have to get better at that.

But basically, that’s where we’re at. It’s lonely being away from friends physically, but we all have tech ways to connect and we’re doing our best to stay in touch with friends and family.

I hope your physical distancing time is going well and that you’re staying safe and sane. On to the next week!

Blending school learning with home learning

I’ve always wanted to homeschool. I spent years curating and collecting information on the topic and researching ideas and methodologies.

The thing I’m not good at, though, was the thing that stood in the way of ever getting homeschooling off the ground in our house: sticking to a plan.

I made plans to leave my job, stay at home with my kids, freelance, etc., but I put exactly none of those of plans into action. So, my kids started school at the required age and I kept working (because each time I returned to the working world after a maternity leave, I couldn’t imagine not working, as much as I missed my kids).

So, year after year, I talked about homeschooling (even got really close once when things went sideways at the school my kids attended), but a solution presented itself that wasn’t me staying at home and, because it’s what my kids wanted, we went with a school transfer into the private system.

We knew that wasn’t going to be a long-term solution (cost being the biggest factor), but it gave the kids a safe learning space while we weighed our options.

Throughout all the years my kids have been in school, public or private, I’ve enhanced their learning by doing after schooling with them.

Each day, after school, we’d come back together with a sweet treat and warm tea or cocoa, we’d talk about our day and we’d shift into slower gears. Once our snack was cleaned up, we’d do homework assigned by teachers (of which there was never much) and we’d read or practice cursive writing or play math games or look up things we were interested in either at the library or at home on the computer.

There were days when this didn’t happen because of after-school activities, but mostly, the kids were at the kitchen table working on something. Our summers were spent like this, too, with learning built into every day.

With a recent uptick in extra-curricular activities over the last two years, we have had to let our after schooling slide to the point of almost non-existence. I still try hard for the summers, though. Two months off school is a long time.

It has always been my belief that teaching is not the sole responsibility of teachers. Parents are children’s first teachers, and what children learn in the home is so important to how they learn in the outside world.

And now, even though my kids are dying to return to school and are retracting every negative comment they ever made or complaint they ever issued about school, I have to say that I’m content. They are enjoying the flexibility that learning at their own pace and in their own space affords them. And I can help and guide them or let them work on their own. We are in a good place after our years of working together. This is not a struggle because we have always learned together.

I now see those years of after schooling as having built a learning foundation with my children. And all those years that I wished I could have homeschooled them, and regretted not jumping in with both feet, I see their worth. Those years were building blocks that will help us through this.

And I think I understand now why I never put my homeschooling plan into action: it was too big of a responsibility for me to take on alone and I’m not one to forge ahead on something where there are so many unknowns (my own mental state prevents me from firmly placing myself in the driver seat of any action plan).

But with this blended learning model where my kids’ teachers are firmly in charge of the lesson plans and I’m back to enhancing their learning and filling in gaps of understanding, my kids and I can thrive.

With as open a mind as I can have, I look forward to the next weeks and possibly months of learning away from school. It will be an interesting, challenging and rewarding time.

What things in your life have prepared you for what we are now facing?

First day of school…online

School started again today (learning never stopped).

in this strange experiment of learning remotely and keeping kids engaged whilst not freaking anyone out and managing all sorts of emotions (mostly mine), we stepped it up a notch to teacher-led learning.

I gotta say, I’m impressed. I’m not an advocate for online learning and I’ve spent a good deal of time railing against the proposed mandatory e-learning in this province, but in a pinch and with no other options, I am happy that everyone seems to be working together to provide some kind of structured learning for students. They rolled it out well, too.

I did discover a gap in computer skills with my youngest, though. I had suspected earlier in the school year that what teachers were calling “computer class” was likely just a bunch of time on an iPad or Chromebook doing activities on the web. Don’t get me wrong; there is definitely a need to learn how to search and work on the internet. But there are so many other skills that are needed to work effectively (and efficiently) with computers.

I’m not buying the kids-are-too-young-to-learn-that-stuff line. And I don’t believe that they can just pick it up without some formal instruction.

I spent about 20 minutes with my kid today and explained some basic online navigation skills and gave him a quick tutorial on Google Docs and some other programs and then he worked quietly for an hour on a French assignment with his sister, researching things online and using a French-English dictionary (not the online type) where there were gaps in his online research.

It was a good day. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Shrinking social groups

It occurred to me last night that without the real world of middle school, it’s harder for my tween to grow in that very awkward but also useful social world.

Yes, she’s keeping up with her friends in video chats and by texting, but it’s just her group. There are no virtual world opportunities (for my daughter, anyway) to just meet new people or develop new friendships with people she was only acquaintances with.

At school, she would have her friends, but she would also be thrown into circumstances outside of her control. Teachers would assign her to project groups with or without her friends. She would join school activities that interested her where she might meet other kids interested in the same types of activities. She might also just strike up a conversation with someone new at lunch hour.

All these situations are the seeds of new relationships. Nothing may come from any of them, but something may.

And in her new virtual social life, she has only the friends she has made up to this point.

They will become tight friends in some cases, having shared this strange time together. And some friendships will dissolve under the pressure of learning new ways to communicate when body language and transparency are harder to express.

It’s a shrinking social world in some ways. Much good can be found in the technology that we’re using to stay connected in this time of physical distancing. But we have to be prepared for the good to be different from what we’ve ever had before.

Yes, we’ve been connected digitally for years now. But we’ve had the advantage of disconnecting digitally and meeting face-to-face. And I think we need that. But we are entering uncharted waters. There is no disconnecting digitally anymore unless you want to be alone. Nothing wrong with that. But it is true aloneness.

Choose hope

For work and for helping my kids and for social connection, I’ve been spending way more time on social media than I usually do. And it’s wearing me down. I take digital breaks and stay offline when I don’t have to be online, but I feel like because the whole world is dealing with a common challenge (not to put too fine a point on it), it’s harder to just step away. Especially when government and health announcements are being made hourly, it seems.

When the fight was about government cuts to education or health care or tenant rent issues or the climate, even, I felt I could step back and choose what I read and responded to. But social distancing (or physical distancing as Dr Maria Van Kerkhove at the WHO said we should be calling it) has presented challenges to coming together in a real, person-to-person way and COVID-19 is amplified in the news. It makes taking a step back hard when I need to listen to or read the daily health announcements and new rules about going outside (not to mention that what I do for work is somewhat tied up in all the employment related fall-out from COVID-19, so I’m reading this stuff all day anyway).

There’s no break from it. And it gets nasty a lot of the time. Despite what Dan Gardner says:

So, why, if it’s a myth that disasters cause people to panic and the social order to collapse, is everyone being so nasty?

I have an idea. Why don’t we all stop griping and start helping.

In the last few weeks, the last few days especially, while we’re ALL just trying to get through this strange new reality we find ourselves in, I haven’t seen much in the way of support on either side of the political divide, from politicians or the general public. On the left, everyone’s screaming because the right is using COVID-19 to push their online learning agenda. On the right, everyone’s complaining about the money being spent & the power being acquired by the government in a bid to help people.

I get it; I don’t see the full picture, and neither does anyone else, because we curate our news from social media where we mostly just follow people who share our beliefs. But what if we just tried to work on things together instead of assuming that the other side was out to get us or put one over on us? It’s like reading a bunch of mean girl notes passed back and forth between kids on social media.

I may sound naïve, but I am going to choose to believe that the only way through this is by working together. It’s what I’m always saying to my kids: Learn to work together. Find a common point and work outwards from that center. The options you come up with may be far out, but keeping an open mind and working together to get all the ideas on the table will help you both get where you want to be.

I understand that teachers have reservations about grading their students given so many different circumstances, but I think what we have to remember, as well, is that not all students face barriers.

For the ones who do, we have to work together to find a solution…and there is one, I truly believe that. We just have to be creative and put all the ideas on the table, even the crazy ideas. For the ones who don’t face the technological and social barriers, we have to keep them engaged.

I’m not trying to minimize the challenges we’re facing. But we have great minds in this province. Let’s put them to work instead of using them to constantly complain on social media about how bad all of the current plans are and all the ways that it’s not going to work.

I am choosing to be encouraged by the TDSB’s Director of Education’s recent videos to students and parents about how schooling is moving forward starting on April 6. He didn’t give much in the way of details, but he gave hope that something is being done. And I know the teachers and staff are all working tirelessly to make the best of a bad situation. This is what humans do. This is how we have survived on this planet. We’ve been so pampered with material things in the last century that we have forgotten how to survive and we’ve become a bunch of whiny wimps. Together we’re stronger. Left and Right.

We’re all in this together. Choose hope, have faith, work together.