Distance Learning As Intensive Mothering

What two weeks of intensive mothering (distance learning) with my second grader, my kindergartner and my two-year-old has taught me:

  • Waking at 5:00 AM to spend some time in a room occupied by no other human is a luxury that I planned very carefully for myself and was doing very well with for a few weeks leading up to the announcement that I was going to have to go back to facilitating distance learning. Somehow, the day after we learned of our new schooling arrangement, my alone time in the morning was replaced with waking at 5:00 AM to spend hours with two to four other humans in our bed. I attribute this sudden change to my kids’ plunging head- and butt-first into any and every crevice of air that was mine alone as an effort to accelerate the acclimation process. Did I have a panic attack that first morning? What do you think? Didn’t you?
  • Single serving Skittles packages left over from the garbage bag-sized Halloween candy stash that we forgot to give away are fantastic bribes for the kindergartner, until I remember that my second grader, who is also a student in this one-room schoolhouse, cannot tolerate the scent of fruit-flavored candy. “Is somebody eating Twizzlers!” he shouts from the upstairs bathroom. No, no one is eating Twizzlers. Twizzlers are a summertime treat that my husband and I have to gorge from inside the pantry while the kids are outside. But we don’t think of summer now, as it’s so cold in Minneapolis in the middle of January that my device shows a temperature of “-0” because at some point why bother being specific or even numerically accurate. Summer is right now an orangutan at a zoo, flipping around in a tree under netting and behind glass barriers. You can see it in your memory, but there is no way you can touch it, and even if you try, it will flip you off or throw its shit at you.
  • My two-year-old, who has a profound speech delay, can now say “Watch” pretty clearly. And “poop.” But the first one I blame on distance learning.
  • The noise-canceling feature in my earbuds is life-saving.
  • Jack from “The Shining” comes to mind not only because he loses his goddamn mind but because there were a few times where I would’ve broken down a door, in my case just to have my own space for a minute. I may have been cool with being shut inside a freezer too, except it’s a freezer.
  • In order to protect my knees, I have to keep a little bend in them in case the two-year-old decides to run into me while doing his hourly wind sprints.
  • My coping mechanisms include inhaling Pop Tarts and the Reece’s Peanut Butter Hearts that my mom sent the kids for Valentine’s Day, all while squatting in the kitchen so no one can see me do it.
  • I hope to God that everyone was on mute each and every time I tried to get my precious babies on their Google Meets at the top of whatever hour because inevitably nothing was working and there was swearing. Inevitably.
  • Somehow my kindergartner was way ahead of the assignments and would do work to catch up from previous bouts of distance learning (such as the four times they were in quarantine before this), and my second grader is three assignments behind in P.E. because he keeps misplacing the jump rope that he has to use to demonstrate his very-much-still-developing jump roping skills.
  • We are still at it. There is talk of teacher strikes and petitions for more masks and all sorts of uncertainty in the next few days. My husband is working wacky hours as he is in a new role with his work since the top of the year, but he still works very much from home and is exceptionally helpful when he is available. But holy hell, it’s been a long few days. Few years, really. We have trouble getting outside on a regular basis as the high temperatures are sometimes below zero and the process of clothing everyone for 20 minutes when they’ll be outdoors for 10 is overwhelming.

    We try. We fail. We keep going. This isn’t easy for anyone. Except the two-year-old. He has it pretty good, other than he’s bored. I’ll write something about the spectrum of guilt I feel in all of this, but not now.

    I hope you and yours are safe and well.

    Noise Canceling

    We are back to distance learning. Three kids, two of whom don’t read, one of whom doesn’t talk. All of whom need. I am not adjusting with any semblance of grace, but I thought I’d try to write something humorous or at least light in tone for each day that they are home, from the beginning of distance learning until the end. Seventeen days. Seventeen installments.

    Here’s the first one.

    I call it…

    Noise Canceling

    Don’t bother Mommy.
    She’s got her earbuds in.
    You know what that means.

    It means we can do what we
    want, and she
    won’t hear it.

    They’re noise-canceling.
    Did you know that?

    It means they
    cancel out

    That means noise
    doesn’t exist when she’s
    wearing them.

    I don’t know why she
    doesn’t wear them all the time.

    Yes, we can do that
    now while she’s got her
    noise-canceling earbuds in.

    And yes, we can do that,

    But probably not that.
    No, we shouldn’t do that.

    Not even if she has her earbuds in.

    That seems dangerous.
    I know, usually that’s fun.
    But really.
    Get off of there.

    No. No, don’t do that.

    Don’t unload the dishes.
    That’s OK.
    I know you’re trying to help.
    But I don’t think she’d
    like that.

    No, put that back.

    Hey, Mommy? Mama?

    No, stop it.
    Don’t do that.
    I mean it, don’t!

    Mom! Mom!
    Help! Help me!

    I said stop!

    Mom! I need help!
    Help me!
    Oh shit.

    I shouldn’t have said that.

    Glad she didn’t hear it.

    What’s the Why Here

    Here I am at the end of the first week of January and I cannot begin to imagine I have any idea how the rest of this year will unfold. Therefore, I’m not into resolutions or plans, really.

    I am thinking about what’s really helping me, though. I’m engaging more with writing flash fiction, which really means I’m reading more flash fiction and writing what I learn from what I read. I’m hoping to write three first drafts this month. Sounds like a plan, I guess, but what I mean when I say “I’m not into resolutions or plans,” is that I’m not into thinking much farther ahead than maybe the end of the month. That’s a good amount of time, I think. I can bet that COVID-19 will still be very present in our lives and that my family’s routine will probably be about the same as it is now; I can plan around these things because they’re likely to be our reality. I cannot make big predictions for the rest of the year, as in a New Year’s Resolution, because as we all have come to learn that is just not fruitful.

    I am fighting with the daily why-do-I-bothers when there is a whole lot of pain biting away at us every day. But then I think, why not? Why not write for a few minutes? Why not attempt to tell a story for the sake of it? Why not offer some connection for people who may need a little inspiration to get their own creative stuff accomplished? Does it hurt anyone? I don’t think so, other than I’m not spending that time cleaning the house. 😉 Does it help? Engaging with my writing — something I’ve wanted to do since third grade — is both calming and exciting for me. I am fully satisfied when I simply write a damn story. And if I’m feeling decent about something, probably I’ll help the rest of my little family feel more decent, too.

    In this way, my Why here is really a Why Not. And so, why not keep doing what’s working. Write every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes.

    That’s it. Why not.