Back in March 2020, when Vermont schools announced they would not reopen before summer break, I felt a combination of panic and optimism. Panic over having my two squabbling children at home together for the foreseeable future (not to mention over the virus about which we knew so little back then), and optimism over how great I would be at homeschooling said children.
In those early days of extreme togetherness, I set out to create Pinterest-worthy, color-coded schedules filled with enriching activities. I assigned book reports and nature projects; planned healthy meals we would cook together; coerced my children into group exercise adventures. It was all very unlike me, and of course it was both short-lived and a complete failure.
Almost two years later, I look back with wonder at that version of me, who at least briefly had it in her to TRY. Now, as my 11-year-old son flops down in front of the TV for his seemingly nightly South Park marathon, my husband and I look at each other with tired eyes. “Do you know if he did his homework?” “No.” “We should read with him.” “I just don’t have the mental energy.” “Is South Park even appropriate for him to be watching?” “Probably not.” It’s definitely not.
My 13-year-old daughter is more subtle, in the way of teens. She and her phone hide out in their room, likely not applying themselves to their studies. I can’t rouse myself to actually look in and check, but when I call up to her, she assures me she’s “DOING HOMEWORK.” I can’t see the eye roll, but I can hear it. It’s probably documented on Snapchat. Maybe TikTok? I’m so tired.
My son has a phone, too. He wasn’t supposed to have one so young, but we also didn’t anticipate parenting through a global pandemic, so he has one. I know parents who are doing better at sticking to their guns, upholding their morals, powering through all this, and so on. I commend those parents. Around here, we are not even doing the best we can.
I used to make my kids eat vegetables. Now I consider hotdogs with a side of ramen to be an acceptable meal. Not really. But at least they can make it for themselves.
It’s easy to forget, in a world where any sniffle or cough is met with suspicion, that the common cold still exists. But it does, as both my sneezing, runny-nosed children can attest, and it’s apparently still as contagious as ever, despite the masks. What’s changed is how we respond to it. Notifying a school that a child is out sick prompts an immediate call from the nurse to go over the ever-changing protocol for returning to school. It used to involve a negative PCR test; now it seems to be more along the lines of: “We trust you to use your best judgment in this matter.” Everyone is so tired.
Where do we go from here? A piece like this can’t end without addressing the silver linings only revealed due to the pandemic, right? I’m tempted to end it that way, but even I can’t deny there are plenty of bright moments that rupture the COVID doldrums. And many of those moments are so minor or fleeting that in the pre-pandemic world, they may not have mattered enough for me to pause and take stock of them. But now, when so much isn’t happening, the little things get their turn in the spotlight.
Just this morning, my daughter (who is apparently a masochist) told me she is rereading the tearjerker classic, Where the Red Fern Grows, “for probably the seventh time!” Once, I would have admonished her to “read something new, already!” Nowadays, I am simply happy she’s reading for pleasure, and glad she feels such a connection to a book I also loved (through sobs) as a child. As for my son, for whom reading is an unpleasant chore, we just discovered a new-to-us text-to-speech app that is an invaluable tool for his homework assignments. Seeing the frustration in his eyes replaced with excitement was one of those small moments I’ll savor.
It’s in those brief moments, I know we’ll be alright.