“How many days left?”
My first-grader is perched on the edge of our couch. He’s been logged into his remote classroom for approximately 2 minutes and already he’s focused on the giant red X’s he’s obviously drawing on a mental calendar in his head, counting down his time left attempting to learn times tables and reading within shouting distance of his LEGO set.
And the LEGO are winning.
We have spent a whole school year like this – When we moved to Baltimore last summer we bought this house just in time to register him for the school down the street, although he’s never set foot inside it, because of COVID. So he’s been not only learning trapped in a house with me, near the tempting toys and refrigerator and whatever is happening on the street outside the window, but his class friends are mostly just faces on a screen that he’s never met because he’s never been to school with them. It sucks. But it was what it had to be.
Sometimes when we go to the school on days when they exchange books or give out holiday pumpkins or stockings on the blacktop playground, we run into his friends, and he’s either really excited, or shy, or sad. The week in March after some kids went back in person – this was like a few weeks before my first vaccination shots (I am fully vaccinated now) and we live with my 73-year-old mom, so we made the decision to keep him at home – we walked past a kid bounding out of the school doors with his backpack, and he was sullen and angry for the rest of the week.
“Why does he get to go back and I don’t?” he asked me, sobbing, the next day.
“Because his mom made a different decision that yours did, and I only had the information I had, and I did the best that I could. And I’m so sorry that hurt you honey, but we’re alive,” I said, knowing that I literally just said “You can be alive, or you can be happy” and it sucks. But it was what it had to be.
It wasn’t all awful – When I’m making lunch in the kitchen I can hear him reading out loud, and he’s a proud, confident reader. He’s a science wiz, and has been inspired to watch documentaries about dinosaurs and planets. There’s also a lot of laughing, and even as the kids go back in person this fall – PLEASE LET THESE CHILDREN GO BACK TO SCHOOL IN PERSON – I know there are lots of Zooms in his future as a student and a professional, and he’s an easy conversationalist.
We are privileged to have good WiFi, technology, food, and a situation where I can work from home. His teachers are a joy – when we turned in his books on the blacktop last week, one of them gave him a class award that he was the most “Relaxed,” meaning he was calm and didn’t let things ruffle him. Lord knows that’s a skill! He has access to health care and family he can talk to. It may be easier for us to navigate this awfulness than others. But it’s been awful watching him try to meet people through a computer screen, watching him have to show a patience that even college students haven’t mastered, just to pass math. I want normal, but I don’t know what that is anymore.
So my kid is not the only one in my house who is counting down the days until virtual school is over, and whatever the summer’s supposed to be begins. We’re still in a pandemic, and since Powerball eludes me, I can’t afford a whole summer of camp. But there’s a week of baseball camp, and then a week of outdoor theater camp, and a few days a week with a fun arts teacher/sitter/nanny savior of my life. He will run and play and laugh with real actual children. He will be away from screens and from my couch.
And we will plan whatever normal school is now. And hopefully not be counting the days.