My eighth- and fifth-grade boys have been out of school for over three weeks now. Each day I've provided inconsistent guidance, asked for unfulfilled assignments and fought to provide a “schedule.” Each night, I’ve lost sleep, fretting about how to keep my kids educated. I'm not going to lie: Most days have consisted of about 45 minutes of haphazard school work and six hours of unadulterated video-game playing, interrupted by the occasional late breakfast and hasty shower.
My husband and I are working from home, too. Just managing work has been bonkers, so, of course, the children are going full-blown feral. As much as I can joke about it, it was really weighing on me that I might be failing my children; especially during these intense times.
And then my 14-year-old shocked me. He was the one I was especially worried about, too. The B, sometimes C, student, was already slipping into teenage angst. How was this affecting him? The most I could extract from him through gentle pestering was "I'm fine" or "I'm just going to take a nap" and "Can I game online now?"
But something changed last Saturday morning, when he lumbered into my room, stretched and yawned far and wide, and proclaimed, "I think all this rest is helping me grow."
Maybe this is just what my kids need — what all our kids need — time to rest, to free fall, to grow.
It hit me. Maybe this is just what my kids need — what all our kids need — time to rest, to free fall, to grow. While I’m sure he meant he was growing bigger, I began to recognize the colossal amount of emotional and intellectual growth this period of rest can offer.
I started noticing more what they were doing when they weren't on video games and on forced Google classroom check-ins. (Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to our district staff for making an online system work for all).
Once I started using my lens of compassion, I realized that my idea of what education means no longer applies — their independent learning was taking place regardless of my agenda.
The journal I thrust at my son at the beginning of the school closure with the instruction to "document your days of quarantine" had turned into a sketchbook for cosplay ideas and learning a new language — "Aurebesh." Albeit a sci-fi language, it was new and impressive. And, most importantly, these were his ideas.
Self-directed breaks from video games started happening. I even overheard this astonishing statement: "I'm going to get off, guys. I'm kinda burnt out on gaming." He then ran to his bedroom, where I assumed the next screen would take its place — but when I opened the door, a fort was being made and Legos were scattered out.
And it was happening with both kids. During a Zoom work meeting, I spied my 10-year-old digging in the fridge for ingredients to make his own scrambled eggs. Then later, he wrote a recipe for “Nick’s Perfect Eggs” to add to his grandma's family recipe collection. He decided to pick up skateboarding, and while he doesn’t listen to me much, the neighbor shouting encouragement as he wobbles down the driveway makes me feel like he has a makeshift coach.
Once I started viewing their everyday acts of living as learning moments, I could attribute nearly every activity to a school subject. Cooking eggs was culinary arts. Dividing diamonds in Minecraft was math. Online "Dungeons & Dragons" sessions were lessons in leadership and creativity. The list could go on!
The other important part of this breakthrough in perspective is that I had to offer compassion to myself, too. I’ve surrendered to the ambiguity of our situation and take comfort in knowing that this is just one of many growing pains in the world of parenting — and that together we will get through this. My kids will not be lesser people because of a few months of social-distance schooling, and I will never be less of a parent because I let them on screens for extended periods during a stressful time.
The bottom line is that our kids are much more resilient than we know. They are capable of learning in so many ways that we haven’t even explored yet. Even the kids who have milestone years (shout out to our seniors!) are building a new set of robust skills that we will get the privilege of seeing as they grow into adults and become our future leaders.
This week we discovered Washington schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. My children, eyes glued to the televised press conference, reconciled with the decision nearly the moment it was announced. I realized I was witnessing another moment of learning and growth, as unconventional as it may be, and seeing their resilience in action made me proud.
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