Are You on Mute?
The music teacher's enthusiastic introduction floats from the speakers of the laptop, where my first grader is supposed to be attending his fourth google meet of the day. I’m assisting my four-year-old with gluing a freight train on a large piece of paper in the other room. Running back to check on how school is going, my child is conspicuously absent from his chair. I hear a noise coming from under the desk and find him crouched under his great-grandfather’s roll top desk, contorting himself into strange shapes. “Hey, buddy, you are supposed to be watching your teacher,” I say, helping him extricate himself from under the desk. “Are you on mute?” I double check as I install him back in front of the screen, silently calculating how many hours he has stared at it so far, on this first full day of virtual instruction, and on my way back to the freight train, I stop by my hidden stash of peanut M&Ms, glancing behind me to make sure no children see and demand to share as I stuff the last handful in my mouth and discard the bag in the trash. I know that this is an unhealthy coping mechanism, but I don’t care--I do it anyways.
Grabbing my color-coded schedule of live class meetings and notebook of preschool curriculum, I glance at the clock to see how long I have before my toddler wakes up from his nap. White-hot rage suddenly courses through me. It takes a lot to make me feel angry (hi, enneagram nine here!) but the frustration of the last six months hits me all at once and I am past angry; I’m furious.
I am furious at the very existence of COVID. I am furious because it has stolen so many things from us. I am furious at all of the ways this pandemic has been mismanaged and I am furious at every person I have seen who has declared that their right to go to a bar or gym or to not wear a mask is more important than getting this pandemic under control, so that my children can go back to school, safely and in person. I am furious at every person I have seen post statistics twisted to say something that they don’t mean. I’m furious that we live in a society that is selfish and hypocritical, that thrives on instant gratification and “me, me, me.” I’m furious at our political system and inability to have civilized discussions, at keyboard warriors that have their talking points ready but are unwilling to truly listen to anyone else’s point of view, that frequently resort to throwing childish insults at anyone who has a differing opinion. I’m furious that I have to consider the possibility of a hacker entering my first graders virtual classroom and exposing him to inappropriate content. I am furious that after six months of following all the rules and taking all the precautions, it seems like the finish line of this pandemic is further away than it was at the beginning.
I am furious and I’m exhausted and I’m sad. I am so tired of there being no end in sight. Every time I have to tell my children that we have to wait a little longer to see friends or be able to play on a playground, every time I have to tell them that an anticipated event won’t happen this year, I am crushed. Every time I have to tell my oldest to pay attention to school on the screen, I cringe. My typically inquisitive, curious, excited to learn first grader does not have the same kind of attention span on a screen, and he’s already struggling with the length of the virtual school day and the distractions at home. I know that this is not the best way for him to learn. I don’t want him to finish this school year hating school. Maybe I should pull him and homeschool instead.
But--our school is trying so hard. Our teacher is organized and prepared and completely on top of things. She is doing her best to manage a virtual classroom full of distracted students. Our district is providing devices to anyone who requests them. Our school organized a wonderful meet the teacher parade, and the school library is offering books-to-go. Pulling him would hurt the funding for our school and he would lose his seat at the magnet school that we love. I am so thankful for all the ways they work hard to serve children, both in normal and pandemic times. I can’t imagine unenrolling him.
My frustration level is high, my patience is thin. One moment I think there is no way we can keep going like this; the next I remind myself that it is only the first full day of virtual instruction, of course things will get better. I find a small moment of peace, take a deep breath, and remind myself that I can do hard things. A second later, I have a screaming toddler, a four-year-old hanging on my leg and a six-year-old who needs technology help. I hope he remembered to mute himself.