The Chatter

As Students Resume Virtual Learning, Kindness is Key

Tenderness, tequila, and other tips for getting your kids back to school in the midst of COVID-19.

I lay awake now and count the days…10 days until virtual school starts. 9 days. 8 days. As the stress lays heavy on my chest, my husband sleeps soundly next to me. (More on that later.)

I scroll Facebook looking specifically for friends whose kids have already started school. “Only a few tears,” one mom posts. “Mine.”

My friend Melanie in Atlanta writes: “We came up with a new school rule this morning: When you have P.E., you have to wear pants.” This makes me laugh. And take a deep breath.

Every school year is complicated (teachers, grades, friends), but I think it’s fair to say this year will be the most complicated. My four kids are spread out at two Baltimore County schools. As of press time, they will be learning virtually through January, however it could only be a few weeks, according to Gov. Hogan. But, then again, with an expected COVID flare during the cold months, it could be forever. Unless we have a vaccine—in which case they could go back tomorrow. That could definitely happen,  but probably not. (You know what’s definitely happening? A margarita.)

These are the things that rattle inside my brain. In-person would be easier for this working mom, but would the stress of worrying about buses and sneezing and recess and “so-and-so’s sister had it but she slept on the other side of the house” rumors make me yearn for virtual? I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know. We need to be kind to each other.

We need to be kind to the teachers and staff who are just as overwhelmed as the rest of us, but have the enormous burden to teach the same but different.

To the kids trying to remember all the Google Meet passwords, whether it’s an A-day or a B-day, and if it’s a week where Monday was a holiday that means Tuesday is really Monday and Wednesday is Friday, but Thursday is still Thursday.

To the other parent who isn’t juggling kids asking a million questions all day while trying to run a Zoom work meeting—but is still picking up dinner or offering to take everyone to soccer practice so the main parent can have 60 minutes alone. (If they’re anything like me, they will use that time to watch the Real Housewives, scroll mindlessly through Instagram, and possibly eat an entire sleeve of cookies.)

We need to be kind to our co-workers who are suddenly managing way more than they bargained for and are daydreaming of their quiet offices in their pre-COVID life. They don’t want to look like they are struggling or dropping the ball, so they are often working late into the night to fit it all in.

And the parents who both work outside of the home and are just trying to figure it all out. The ones who deserve endless texts from a friend saying, “You are doing a great job.”

Be kind to the woman at the grocery store crying while she food shops. Her day might have consisted of troubleshooting a school device while her stressed kid slammed the door in her face and shouted, “I hate being home with you!”

And, most importantly, we need to be kind to ourselves. It’s gonna suck. We can’t be all the things to all the people all the time. There’s going to be tears and laughs and failures and disappointments. We’re going to say, “mute yourself” and “turn that camera on” and “are you paying attention?” and “no I don’t know where your book is” a bazillion times. We’re going to be mad at our kid and a teacher and an administrator and other parent—sometimes all at once.

Occasionally it will be because we’re right, and other times it will be because we think we’re right. But mostly, it will be because we are tired. And heartbroken. This isn’t how the first day of kindergarten was supposed to go. Or the last year of middle school.

So let’s be kind.

I asked my friend Jessie Peterson, a mom of three who has been virtual schooling it for a few weeks now, for some tips on getting adjusted this year.

“I think as parents, we feel responsible—I mean we are, but education has always been shared—for the success of our children. Now it’s all in our hands and that’s incredibly overwhelming and scary,” she says. “I have so much guilt because I can’t give them what their teachers can. I don’t have the tools, especially for my special needs kid. It’s hard to sit on the sidelines and watch your kids struggle and be generally unhappy.”

Peterson felt like she was staring at a calendar wondering what day they’d be back in school.  So her first tip is go day-by-day. “Don’t think about the weeks or months ahead. You will drive yourself insane.”

Tip 2: Create a quiet workspace with caddy of easily accessible materials. (For two of my kids we were able to fit desks in their rooms. For the other two—it’s the kitchen table. Do what you can.)

Tip 3: Talk to other parents. Be open. They are feeling the same things. Time to be honest and supportive and raise each other up.

Tip 4: Create a goal system for little accomplishments during the day. We use buttons and the kids can pick something out from the $5 store or candy store at the end of the week.

Tip 5: Put a chair next to your child, especially little ones. They will need our help, a lot.

Tip 6: Ask your teachers to make checklists for work that must be turned in. That way parents can review with their kids and not hover and try to navigate their workload. This has been awesome.

Tip 7: Install a voice to text app onto your computer, especially for younger kids, so they don’t bug you with spelling questions and typing woes. “Read&Write” app works great on Chrome.

Tip 8: Typing lessons for the kids, seriously. She recommends

Tip 9: For the parents, “just pat yourself on the back. A lot. Like all day long,” Peterson says.

And lastly, take it from me, be kind.

We’d love to hear your tips and how the school year is going for you whether virtual, in-person, pod, or hybrid. Email [email protected] with your updates.