4 June 2020: Lockdown Day 70

The world wants to return to normal.

Some want to debunk the covid threat. Some want to demask the uncompromised. Some are making peace with inevitably contracting the virus. Some are preparing stockup for the coming wave. Some are grateful that we can fully shop again. Some are grateful to go back to work again. Some are grateful that there’s still a job to go back to. Some are just grateful that we can finally drink again.

For some (even those that were caught in the rat race pre-covid and needed this calmer time), the novelty of staying home is now wearing off. For some (even those with good children) that novelty has worn off weeks ago.

Because, while some are focused on the UIF payouts that haven’t happened yet, and the cigarettes that we can’t buy yet, and the beaches we can’t access yet, some moms are still faced with the schools that haven’t opened yet. And, until then, our world has not returned to normal.

In a different life, this wouldn’t have been all that bad. I actually considered teaching as a profession in my early twenties (which was just the other day). I also seriously considered home schooling – but that was way before I actually had kids and knew what this would entail. (I now downright snigger at my prekid intentions around exemplary entertainment, structure, and discipline.)

Homeschooling isn’t tough, because I am a bad teacher. I tick most of the boxes. It would just have been smoother sailing if I had a different crew on board. My students aren’t exactly cooperative eager-beavers. They’re more like drunken pirates. And I am a captain with a wooden leg and one eye. And the boat is small. And the storm is big. And while one child wants to have a sword fight with my wooden leg, the other tries to make the parrot walk the plank. That’s the picture.

 

I take my hat off to the teachers of my two younger ones.

Teachers either have some skills I cannot fathom, or some passion I cannot mimic, or a threat-bribe system I’m not aware of. I realise that I shouldn’t take it personally. I am teaching three boys, in three vastly different phases of development – around one dining room table. And I suspect that female students are more gifted at sitting still and paying attention. It’s at times like these that I know I wasn’t wrong to continue trying for a girl. It’s also at times like these that I know I was right to stop trying by child number three.

But I find peace in Zoom calls. Because it’s proof that I might be in this boat alone, but we’re all in the same storm. Other kids aren’t exactly model students either.

My three-year old misses his teacher. He is a new generation kid, so he Whatsapp-video calls. Now, on a good day, my mobile internet connection isn’t great at home, which means that he has to stand quite still, in one room, for the conversation to flow fluently. He is a pacer. I bend down to his level and form a human shield, to try and restrict the movement of his body, as well as the rapid movement of the phone – all while not being allowed to touch the device. When I’m in his way, he grandly swipes me away (with the hand holding the phone). This results in his teacher mostly viewing our ceiling or part of his chin. As for conversation, his long stories are conducted in toddler English (with Afrikaans grammar), about completely irrelevant events or last night’s dreams – mostly interrupted by himself to tell her that she sounds funny (because of the video lag). Yet, she laughs and comments (surprisingly appropriately). They hang up as old friends and my child’s emotional tank is full again.

My seven-year old has Zoom calls, which include reading and math sessions with his teacher and a small group of classmates. This is highly entertaining. Such a video class session requires at least ten minutes of warmup, because either someone didn’t receive the link on time, someone’s audio is accidentally muted, there’s a screen on a wrong setting, someone forgot to bring their book, the laptop’s battery is almost flat, the background siblings need to be relocated to another room, or someone needs to go to the toilet first. This is on a day with good internet connection on all sides.

Our usual challenge is to find a location in the house where we’ll be undisturbed for half an hour, hoping there won’t be any incoming calls while using the phone, where I can contain my child in one spot without much room for him to melt into a lying down position, with good light, and not too much clutter in the background for everyone to see.

When there is no video lag, plus silent cooperation from all, and if the teacher manages to get her message across, the first graders either answer out of turn or can’t resist the urge to share their knowledge and indicate the answers with their fingers and dramatic facial expressions, as if it’s a game of charades. My middle child is usually still in pyjamas. This would’ve been quite acceptable under the current weather circumstances, but then he dramatically yawns throughout the session, as if he either just woke up or the class is boring him to death. I end these quickly with sharp elbow nudges in his ribs, taking care not to jolt the phone I’m holding up for him – hard enough to make my point, but not too much for him to cry out and reveal my presence next to him.

The reading session is interrupted by one child walking around with his device. He denies it. I quickly lean in for a comparison to make myself feel better, in the hope that their house is as messy as ours. (It’s not.) Another child disappeared from the screen, but we can still hear him talking to himself from under the desk he was sitting at. One is pulling faces at his self-image on the screen – seemingly oblivious that we now all smile at him, instead of listening to the teacher. Another tilted the screen up and we see up his nose. One wants to tell us something out of context and runs off to fetch his interest, ignoring the teacher’s patient attempt to direct him back to class.

My usual chatterbox lost his tongue and zooms out instead of in. The teacher asks him to read a sentence and he whisper-spells the words, while looking at me for reassurance, although he knows the letters perfectly well when the spotlight is off. During maths, my child exaggerate-sighs before answering his sums, as if his teacher is completely ridiculous to ask him such simple questions. She gets the point and shifts up a gear. He now copies her question twice in his best animated voice to buy himself time to work out the answer. It’s his friend’s turn and he utilises this break to slump half his face into his bundled up pyajama top – a position which can neither be comfortable, nor make a good impression. I poke my index finger under his bum to subtly nudge him back to a sitting position. We end the call and I start a private session on respect and body language.

As I said – highly entertaining. 

We move back to the communal school table. While on the Zoom call, the eldest child drew pictures over his math page. He starts explaining that they can be rubbed out, but I’m on a roll to make a point about respect and crumple up the page. The little one coloured half of his weather chart, on which we should indicate each day’s weather – and we’re still only at the start of the month. I don’t have the energy to redraw the chart, so I don’t crumple up his page. I get a lecture from my eldest about fairness. The middle one feels that, after his short Zoom session, he should be done with school for the day. I reluctantly announce a break and send them to go jump on the trampoline.

The eldest one “double bounces” the little one. He starts wailing. I am a master at judging pain levels based on the tone of cry, so I just switch on the kettle to drown out the noise. The middle one runs inside and very excitedly trumpets that his brother needs punishment for hurting the little one. A heavy debate breaks out between the older two about appropriate action. I sip my coffee. The little one sneaks away to go watch tv. I declare end of break, because they are not showing appreciation. Everyone returns to the table sulking. I look at my crew. Our ship is sinking. We decide to have an early lunch instead.

This homeschooling thing is tough. Sometimes we’re on top of the boat – sunning on the deck. Sometimes we’re swimming amongst the sharks. Sometimes it’s a little rocky and some of us get seasick. Sometimes the weather is good and we fully enjoy the ride.

Although we seem to be getting our sea legs now, I must admit that finding land soon would be great…