Since 23 March I have done almost no home schooling and almost no work of my own. There, I’ve said it.
Once it became clear that we were heading for many weeks stuck at home with no school, my first thought, just as a parent, was how we were going to get our daughter through this. Separation from friends, anxiety and boredom were, and still are, my largest worries for her.
A long time ago, I had counselling for post-natal depression. It’s proved to be valuable again now. When my daughter was a baby I was encouraged to look hard at any “oughts” and “shoulds” from the outside world, however well-intentioned, and to have the confidence to follow my own instincts about what was best for us. I was told, “no-one else has ever been you or your child” and made to challenge my tendency as a parent to worry too much about how the present might affect the future, and about what other people were doing. All relevant again.
I keep in mind also that I missed around half a year of school around the age of ten, when I was having a horrible time. No work was arranged, just a visit from the truant officer, and my parents left me to myself on the days I “missed the school bus”. I have no idea what I did with the time, except that I taught myself one thing that I have sometimes used out of a book. I did fine after.
So I have taken the view that school work has to fit round us, not the other way round, and that the only thing that matters for our daughter is whether she is getting through this alright: doing things, anything, that keep her occupied is part of that, but any formal learning is a bonus. I count long calls to friends in the daytime as a good use of her time, unless and until we hit anything upsetting there (not yet), and we take less interest in her online time than we usually might, but have kept the same general rules round technology.
It turns out our daughter prefers being left to get on with things by herself, and is doing quite a bit of what school sends. The teacher she reckons understands what works best is maths, who sends a daily task that feels purposeful, but doesn’t take too long, doesn’t ask for anything to be sent back, but is available for questions and points out the advantage of not leaving it all till when school goes back. We are helped a lot by the attitude of our headteacher, who has made it clear that school work comes second to doing whatever we think is necessary to keep our children safe and well. It’s obviously a lot easier to follow your instincts when they are the same as the school’s.
School aside, we have been lucky in other ways. If this had happened when our daughter was much younger, or facing a major transition, or exams, this would have been a much harder time for her, and us. She points out that she is lucky that she was just about to drop several subjects, so she can manage any sense of overload by skipping over the work for the ones she’s less interested in.
My own work (I am a research student, on quite a tight deadline) has been a disaster, however, mainly because I can’t settle to it, but also because I made an early decision just to be available, whenever I was needed, whether it’s for an internet clip, news about her friends, doing something together, or some large question about the news or life or even sometimes school work. That means I’m doing very little education but a lot of just being there, and being patient and saying yes to all sorts of requests, even with a child who spends a lot of time tucked away. I am sure it’s helped. But not all parents have that luxury, and as time grinds on, neither shall I to the same extent. Her Dad is there too, but we are different people, good for different things. And when I do want to work, the layout of our house becomes a problem: there is nowhere that I can easily spread out or hide away. Harder times lie ahead here.
For now, we are muddling along, experimenting with freezing bananas (very good, but peel them first, it turns out), heating up minieggs (also good), cooking more together, including new things, sticking to old routines (especially round food, television and bedtimes, and making schooldays different from weekends and holidays) and falling into new ones (an evening walk, a weekly house clean, a daily online quiz). The walks have turned out to be a great chance to talk. We are careful to notice with her ways in which we are relatively lucky. There have been so many resources shared on-line, but we have ended up using very few. They just don’t fit the rhythm we have fallen into.
My daughter has lost so much time with her friends, and a few particular things she had been looking forward to. I don’t know when she will be able to hug her grandparents again: the loss of time with them feels especially acute. The immediate losses have been less dramatic for us and we have one gain. In four or five years, unimaginably, our daughter may be away. For now, we have the one thing I’d not expected at this point; an avalanche of time together, like we’ve not had since she was very young. I’d never have wished for it to come about this way, with such constraints, but it has and, aside from keeping the virus at bay, getting along well together is the only project I find I can really care about right now. Other things will have to wait and somehow, in a world I hardly feel able to predict, we’ll just have to make it work.