I stepped into the world of virtual school for the last two days, as I filled in for my spouse (Rod) who is “helping” our two youngest grandchildren (Marie-Hélène – age 3 and Anne-Sophie – age 6) every other week at our son Seth’s home in Bowie, MD. The girls’ school is fully virtual until their county meets the criteria to go with a hybrid school, and that still seems a long way from happening. Both parents have full-time jobs, and although one of them is working virtually from home, trying to manage his own work and at the same time help the little girls keep up with their classes is challenging. Rod has a doctorate in education, and over 46 years of experience, so he is the perfect person to help our grandchildren. I, on the other hand, am not.
But I am familiar with anxiety, frustration, and the fear of not doing enough to give your children a good start in school. I arrived just as the girls were going to bed on Sunday evening, to receive a quick tutorial for the next day. Materials that they thought were in school packets were nowhere to be found. The discovery that P.E. class Monday morning required ten empty water bottles and a rubber ball for bowling was ill-timed, as all the recycling had just gone out to the curb. I my off-the-cuff suggestion that ten My Little Pony Unicorn toys might be a substitute was laughable, but actually worked. Go figure. A paper that was supposed to be scanned and returned to the teacher last Friday was located and submitted two days late.
I managed with a little help from Seth, to get the girls to “school” on time. I didn’t think much about it when Anne-Sophie told me twice that everyone sounded like monsters. She has a great sense of humor, and Halloween is just around the corner. It wasn’t until about half an hour later that Seth discovered the headphones were broken. I ran upstairs and grabbed my headset for Anne-Sophie, and when I plugged it into her computer, I inadvertently moved her camera. That wasn’t discovered until about an hour later.
Marie-Hélène’s class is studying fire safety this week, so she had a blast doing stop, drop and roll. But then came the art project that involved adding spots with black paint to a dog so it looked like a Dalmatian. The cut-out dog, a fire hat, a small container of black paint for the spots and a cotton ball was provided. The teacher instructed the children to make small dots on the body of the dog with cotton swabs, making sure to avoid the face so as to not cover the nose of eyes. Seth, familiar with Q-Tips, but not the generic term, had provided a cotton ball. As I saw the teacher using a Q-Tip, I frantically searched for one, to no avail. So I instructed Marie-Hélène to make the smallest dots possible with the massive-looking cotton ball.
I turned aside for no more than a minute to assist Anne-Sophie who was hunting for a math paper, which I could not find. When I turned back to Marie-Hélène, I discovered she had proudly covered the dog’s face with black paint and was now focused on getting the black paint off her fingers. I got her back on-task just in time to see a Paw Patrol episode about fire safety that the teacher had uploaded. Anne-Sophie, without a headset, heard the opening Paw Patrol music, she was drawn like fly to sugar to her sister’s screen. All this occurred before our morning snack. My snack included a much needed second cup of coffee.
Seth’s family is privileged, with the financial resources to afford computers, headsets, desks, chairs, and white boards for each child; healthy diets; adequate rest (for the girls, not for the parents); indoor and outdoor space for safe play; the support of grandparents; and unconditional love for those two little learners.
There are approximately 17,750,000 elementary children in virtual school this fall, so magnify the anxiety, frustration, and fear of this one family. Add to that the teachers who are trying to manage classrooms virtually, all day, every day, in addition to planning, grading, and preparing for school to transfer to a hybrid format at some unknown time down the road. They do all that while juggling the needs of their own families, which can include their own school-age children who are in their own virtual classes. Add to that the generalized anxiety of living in this season of COVID19, in this nation, in this time, and it is amazing that anyone is functioning.
I wonder what keeps them, what keeps you and me going? For me, it was the moments of grace in the midst of the craziness: A good cup of coffee. A spontaneous hug from a 3-year old. An afternoon walk with the girls. The treasures we discovered on the walk, acorns galore, yellow and red leaves, a couple of really neat feathers. And the finale: the girls each plucked the petals from white roses, turned to me, and showered me with them. I felt, momentarily, like a bride dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, showered with love.
Jesus said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.” (Matthew 18:3-5, The Message).
Did the granddaughters learn enough? I guess it depends on what matters most. They learned that they have safe people who help them work through problems, keep them in-line when they get off-track, don’t always have the answers, and that not having all the answers is OK. They learned to stop, drop, and roll (which was really fun in the grass on our walk). They learned that there are treasures everywhere, if you just pay attention. And those treasures are better if a Nana delights in their discovery.
What did I learn? That piles of leaves are called “leaf puddles,” and are really fun to walk through. I learned about number bonds (a math concept that was new to me), and also about bonds of kindness and love. I learned that those caring for our children – their families and their schools, deserve our highest praise and thanks for not throwing in the towel, our prayers for their health and safety and sanity, and any and all acts of support we can imagine – meals, cards, offers of help, random acts of kindness, taking all necessary precautions against COVID19 so that we can get through this season, and the perspective of grace that so often comes with wisdom and age.
Grateful for a look at God’s kingdom, right here ~ Anne