It all started to unravel when the first drop of blood hit the carpet—“it” being my Instagram-perfect, curated vision of what our family’s home-school would look like. The owner of that drop of blood (and several more drops to follow) was my curly-headed, precocious three-year-old, the youngest of our bunch of four kids ages 10 and under. Her chubby finger had gone after a booger during story time, and she didn’t stop her pursuit until her nose sprung a leak all over the carpet. That kid is determined, I’ll give her that.
But that soiled carpet wasn’t just any carpet. It was the final purchase for our playroom-turned-schoolroom. This light blue carpet with bold alphabet letters, accented with Eric Carle’s drawings of animals, represented the stake I put in the ground to hold onto some semblance of control as the pandemic tossed all of our expectations about the coming school year to and fro. All summer, the emotional whiplash of adjusting to back-to-school rumors and various draft plans of in-person versus hybrid versus virtual learning was wearing me out. In response to this uncertainty, I decided to create the best darn learning environment I could. Hence, my tricked-out playroom and the now-stained carpet.
Obviously, my carpet is not the only thing this pandemic has indirectly ruined. Far from it. Plans, finances, milestones, even lives have been upset—sometimes tragically so—by an inanimate virus that doesn’t care if your kid misses their graduation or you lose your house. As a parent, it has been tough to keep my own sanity afloat when life seems adrift in this sea of uncertainty. So choosing to home-school was another stake I put in the ground in an effort to moor our family’s sanity to something more solid that the shifting sands of school reopening plans.
Eventually, our school district arrived at their final reopening plan: virtual learning. I knew the eldest of our brood would be able to navigate distance learning’s various logins, passwords, schedules and platforms with an independence and maturity that belied her 10 years. So she will embark on a Chromebook adventure this fall with our local public school.
For the rest of my kids—and their Luddite mom, most of all—virtual learning would not be ideal. I knew that our active, make-me-learn third grader and his wide-eyed, new-to-learning kindergartner sister would do much better learning from a warm body than through the screen. So I scoured the internet and relentlessly polled “real home schoolers” (those who chose to home-school long before this pandemic—they are my heroes!) to cobble together a reasonably effective school curriculum.
And that’s how I became an accidental home-schooler. Yet home schooling is an intimidating prospect. I would not have chosen this route if the pandemic did not choose it for me. After ten years of raising babies, this was the year I would finally get to focus on my back-burner marketing career. Plus, I have the greatest respect for educators and their expertise in teaching everything from phonics to physics, earned from accredited higher education institutions, honed over years of classroom experience. My children have benefited from countless teachers’ care, creativity and selflessness. Who am I to try to fill their shoes?
My only response is that I’m “mom.” I know and love my kids better than anyone else. I have a vested interest in their success and will do whatever it takes to help them succeed. But as much as I hope this primal, mama-bear love can overcome my deficiencies as a teacher, I’m also aware that it poses its own challenge. As I watch my son struggle to complete a tough math assignment, I have to stop myself from rescuing him and giving him an easy out, simply because it hurts my heart to watch him struggle.
As I write this, we are only a few weeks into this home-schooling journey. So far, I can say that it has been the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens. We start our days with “Circle Time,” where we gather and sing together, read picture books, stretch and say a prayer. Despite occasional drops of blood on my new carpet, this is usually a precious time together.
Then begins the worst of times: math. I’ll spare you the details of tantrums and tears. Sometimes even the kids get upset. Our day then progresses through language arts, lunch, science and history—also known as “How many plates can mom spin simultaneously?” as I hop between children for various writing lessons, phonics games, computer technical glitch fixing, lunch prep, potty training help, sibling spat refereeing and science experiments. It’s non-stop and exhausting, but also fulfilling.
Finally, at the end of the school day, we come together for our favorite part: tea time. This was a concept I learned from one of the hundreds of home-schooling blogs I consulted as I tried to cram for this endeavor.
We gather to eat a snack and sip a hot drink—which has the effect of slowing us down—and enjoy time reading aloud, discussing current events or doing a creative activity. It allows us to “press pause” and appreciate a sweet moment, regardless of that day’s highs and lows. Because no matter of how we choose to educate our kids, each day will most certainly have its share of highs and lows. Education during a pandemic is ideal for no one—not our teachers, not us parents and certainly not our kids. There are so many dedicated mamas and dads out there who are managing the tricky balancing act of working full-time while also guiding their kids through virtual learning. There are also parents who are sending their kids to in-school learning, who worry about their health and safety. And there are parents like me, thrown into home-schooling and hoping I can do enough to help, not hinder, my kids’ education. Regardless of the “how,” we are united in the “why”: helping our kids learn about this world to gain empathy for others and the necessary skills to help them succeed.
That’s worth a whole lot more than my blood-stained carpet.
Laura Farmer is a writer, marketer and public relations professional. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Tim, and their four kids.