They’re the three words no mom wants to hear: “I am unhappy.” And yet, this is where I find myself, nearly 10 weeks into remote learning, with a kindergartener who has plenty of words and isn’t shy about using them.
The words came after a particularly draining day, when my daughters, 6 and 4, got up way too early and just couldn’t find enough activities to fill their time in a satisfying way.
I was working and not really able to fully observe what was going on, but I heard enough fights back and forth between the girls to guess where it was going.
Madeline acted out after dinner, pinching her sister and throwing the iPad. There’s been way too much pinching, and way too much iPad time.
I followed her up to her bedroom after telling her to take a few moments to cool down. I asked her what was wrong. And she laid it out.
“I am unhappy,” she told me. “I love my family, but I miss my school. I don’t want to play with Annabelle all day long. Why are you home if you’re not able to play with me? Why can’t I hug the people I love? When is this going to be over? I am sorry I am sad, Mom. But I don’t feel very happy anymore. I HATE the coronavirus.”
You may recall some weeks back I wrote about how I felt about homeschooling - I hate it. But the last 10 weeks have been humbling not only as a parent and an “educator,” but also as an observant adult who has watched two children take so many changes in stride, until they didn’t. I can’t even blame them.
What began as a novel idea - “Mommy is going to teach you about digraphs” - has transformed into something of a nightmare. My enthusiastic 6-year-old learner is no more, replaced by a child who doesn’t really know how to be a child anymore. She doesn’t want to do more art projects or read more stories on Epic books. She wants to sit on the carpet in her classroom and hear the story read by her teacher.
She doesn’t really want to play with her sister, who is struggling in her own way, complaining that she needs space sometimes and wants to be left alone. She wants to see friends and cousins her own age and have experiences that she can tell me about, not experiences that I am witness to because we’re together so much.
There are no more reckless runs up the block to the park (“Put your mask on! Stay away from people!”) or surprise visits to beloved relatives. There’s only FaceTime, Google Hangout and Zoom.
They were a godsend until they weren’t.
Maddie has refused to take her tap and ballet classes for the last couple of weeks, telling me she’s “sick of dancing in front of the computer.” And while there’s some joke in there about her need for an audience, there’s some honest truth that all of this virtual life really isn’t much of a life at all.
Undoubtedly, technology has saved us all in innumerable ways. It has allowed us to stay connected and allowed us to continue “working.” But it’s also created more barriers from the real world - screens where friends used to sit in the next chair, and videos for lessons that came from an enthusiastic a teacher standing right in front of her.
A couple of weeks ago, I reported that the Department of Education would be changing its grading policy so that each elementary student would simply get a satisfactory (S) or a needs improvement (N). At the time, I remember thinking: I don’t want her to fall behind. I don’t want her education to be less. I may not like remote learning, but I will do everything I can to make it work for her.
But the shift in grading has created a shift in assignments. There is definitely less work and fewer expectations.
To my surprise, I’m OK with that, especially since my focus has shifted to managing my kindergartner’s emotional state.
I know, I’m lucky - many people are dealing with losing loved ones and income. But watching my daughter struggle with things she doesn’t understand has been heartbreaking. Like most parents, I am devastated that I cannot fix it for her, and I know I’m not supposed to. I am sad that she’s suffering the loss of time she won’t ever get back.
But still, I’m trying to be positive. For her, and for me.
My girls play nice a lot. They HAVE learned a lot with my help, and they’ve developed an affinity for "Hamilton."
I am counting on the fact that my daughter is resilient — and that her clear expression of her emotions will help her through what’s a tough time for ALL OF US right now.
I’m grateful she’s able to articulate what she’s feeling so well, because I am sure there are plenty of other kids who feel this way but show it by shutting down and acting out.
I’m hoping her honesty will inspire all of us to be more honest with ourselves.
Are we happy in this, any one of us? I know the answer: no way. It’s not natural to be away from people, especially those we love. We need people, we need hugs, we need face-to-face interactions.
All of that will come, in time. But right now, we need our families — stuck inside with us for too long — to be strong and guide us through an uncertain future. And that’s going to be our focus from now on.