I have four kids, and each of them is in a different school this year. (Long story.) Two of them are in seat (one because parochial school, one because special ed), the other two are all online so far.
Today is the first day I have to have one of my in-seat kids at home for learning, and since I’m groaning internally about it, I want to stop to acknowledge the great blessing that my two highest-maintenance kids have, in fact, been able to have relatively normal schooling all the way to October 21st. I have been on fire in my writing–laser focused and accomplishing a lot.
At the same time, some really beautiful things have come out of having two kids at home for school. I’ve gone running with my 6th grader a few times. Taken afternoon walks with him at other times. Eaten lunch with my high schooler, who, in an ordinary year, we’d barely see because he’d transition between school and marching band and be gone for ten hours and do homework the rest.
Also, I have a lot better picture of what my kids are doing at school this year. I’m puttering around the kitchen during middle school zooms and for that reason I know all the teachers by voice and name and I know that one teacher has a chirping smoke detector in her house, and I can hear the banter in the class. I can ask intelligent questions about the things the kids are studying, because I have some clue what they are.
It’s a give and take. There are plenty of things that feel constraining about this mode of education, and keeping spirits high… or, well, in the neutral range or better… requires constant vigilance. I feel much more guilty for going to take my hike/bike/sit/pray times when there are kids at home. But there are things to love about it, too.
My kids’ school district finally decided last night to go online. We knew it had to be coming, but the uncertainty has been punishing. It’s a tough thing, living with delay and uncertainty. And as long as it wasn’t certain, it was hard not to keep hoping. Hoping for a couple days’ normalcy a week.
2020’s been a punishing year. For all of us. For the most part, we’re not handling it well. I firmly believe the ugliness and rush to the extremes that we’re seeing has been exacerbated by stress. When you feel like you can’t handle one thing more, that one political nugget just sends you over the edge. Certainly it’s been happening to me. I’m at the point where I don’t trust my discernment of when to speak and when not to.
Contemplating an all-online school year, or at least a significant start to it (because the carrot is always dangling there: if the cases go down…) has so many really obvious negatives, it’s a real spiritual exercise to #seethegood. I’m going to have to give up so much. My kids are so sick of this house. Of each other. My soul feels suffocated from togetherness, from lack of time to go out in the expansiveness of the universe. I lost the spring for my weekly hikes and bikes, but I clung to the fall, and now the fall is gone too.
But there is this: going back to school was always going to increase the exposure exponentially. As long as we’re virtual, we can still rest secure that our kids’ friends, who are also virtual, are low-exposure, and that’s one good thing, because it means we can continue to carve out time for them to be together with less worry (not “no” worry, but “less”).
And all virtual means, paradoxically, more instruction. The hybrid schedule involved two days of in-seat and three days of independent study, which has been a struggle for my kids. In the virtual model the kids can all be “in class” together.
I suppose there’s also the potential for slightly more flexibility of family schedule, although I won’t know that for sure for a while.
And I suppose there’s another #seethegood so obvious, we’re not really clued into it right now: that all this suffering and upheaval is sensitizing us to the goodness of our ordinary lives. We have taken so many things for granted. If we approach this time exercising our thankfulness muscles, we could be different people when we come out the other side.
It’s been beautifully cool this week, and I left the house on Tuesday before the kids were up to do my favorite bike ride, 12 miles roundtrip, with an hour and a half to sit quietly beside the Missouri River at the turnaround point. This point was my breakfast cafe.
There’s divine magic in the way a drop of dew clings to the tip of a piece of grass.
And there’s something that reveals the mystery of holiness in the play of light and shadow.
It’s been 157 days since this pandemic shut down schools. 157 days of intense parenting and constantly shifting reality and discernments. This is the time of year when I try to get out to be still with God in nature at least once a week. I’ve only managed it about four times. It’s been rough. But I’m so grateful for the times when it’s been possible.
Late Sunday morning, my teenager was driving us home from church. I had a full docket of things I wanted to do: fold laundry, some shopping, etc. But as we pulled in the driveway, my teenager said, “Mom, we never took that bike ride. You want to do that now?”
Exercise was not on my agenda. I’d done hard workouts 7 days in a row, and my body wanted a break. Plus–obviously–I was busy.
But when a teenager asks you to spend time with him, you drop everything else. “Yes,” I said.
We did not only a full bike ride, but one that was a third longer than a full ride. My legs were crying out for mercy. But that lovely day, I remembered again how blessed I am to be suffering through this time of uncertainty and isolation in the arms of my family. I have people to touch. People to be with. Our family life is fraught with conflict, stress, anxiety, bad feelings. Too much togetherness. Infrequent and insufficient breaks from each other. An ever-shifting landscape that renders arbitrary every discernment of what social gatherings feel safe or unsafe. Kids lashing out. Kids fighting over screens. Kids fighting with each other.
And yet, I am not alone. A few weeks ago, a national reporter had a conversation with the morning show host, saying, “I haven’t touched the skin of another human being in three months.”
I knew then that having my children to hug and kiss, to cuddle on the couch, my husband to hold hands with, is a blessing I need to keep my eyes fixed upon. Because it is a big one.
There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world–and even in our houses, the wearing daily grind of togetherness causes so much stress–that it feels almost insensitive to acknowledge out loud how beautiful some of this stay-at-home experience is.
How can we find beauty in our world when so many are suffering and dying, when so many have had the pain of losing loved ones they can’t even be with in their last hours? Can’t gather to bury?
But beautiful things are happening in our homes alongside the stress of isolation. With the punishing busy-ness removed, creativity has flowered, giving rise to new traditions. My family kind of hopes the birthday parades continue! For Mother’s Day and birthdays this spring we wrote up affirmations and left them hidden around the house for the honoree.
We’ve cooked well, regularly eaten together on the deck. Taken lots of walks and bike rides, done lots of work in the yard. All because we weren’t chasing the futility of the rat race all over town.
And for all of that, in the midst of this upheaval, I give thanks to God.