#84 Desks are the New Toilet Paper
#84 Family Matters
In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, August 30, 2020
So, did you know that following the big shortage of Clorox wipes and toilet paper, we are now encountering a new challenge – DESKS are the new toilet paper. Yup, if you live in California and recently realized ‘oops, the kids WILL be learning from home and oops, my spouse and I will NOT be going into our offices for, fill in the blank, weeks/months/years?!’ then you are not alone. No one has desks. And people selling them on Craig’s list or eBay are getting double what they are worth, because even IKEA cannot get enough of them. Because warehouses are having to social distance their staff to ensure safety, there are often less than 1/3 the number of builders who produce things like, well, everything – furniture, appliances, clothing and yes, desks. Unlike with the TP and sanitizer shortages, however, this is not due to hoarding (although, if ANY of you have hoarded desks in your garage, call me, I’m on the hunt!). We are demanding for the manufacturers to supply but in this new upside-down world, supplying our demands that were not anticipated is impossible. So, we’ll continue balancing laptops on laps while sitting on old recliner chairs in the den and pretend this is what ‘going to work’ looks like. Or, as many teens are doing, we will be sitting in bed, in pjs, with a tablet, which now constitutes ‘going to school.’ Please take selfies and save to the cloud because this is all going to be in the history books starting let’s say, next year.
The funny thing is that as the world revolves, our lives become simultaneously both smaller, and larger. Smaller as we stay indoors, primarily, or walk our neighborhoods, and larger, as we zoom with people all over the planet. Smaller, as our private space feels less private with family members observing (and commenting on) one another. Larger, as our life cycle events are now attended by relatives across many time zones. On a plus note, WHEN we remember to schedule social time, even virtually, we enjoy it. And WHEN we remember to take a drive up the coast, we enjoy it. Hiking, swimming, biking, scootering (the three-year olds on my block put us all to shame), surfing, rollerblading, yoga-ing, dancing, we enjoy it.
A new high or low for me has been the indoor games I play with Ginger the rescue dog. She finds something she’s not supposed to have (my fuzzy socks from the dollar tree, of which I am running low) and I chase her. My house has ‘flow’, so we have a circular path to take. At one point, I turn and go the other way and surprise her face to face. We have yet to tire of this game, and if I am really being good, I find a pair of shoes to put on so there is a loud clicky clacky sound, which makes the game even funner.
Smaller world. Bigger world. What begins with “W”?
Weird. Because now schools are starting.
I could write about school and education every day of the week, but there are others who do that for a living. (Check out firstname.lastname@example.org for instance, or https://www.edusourcedapp.com/ for great reporting and easy to digest information for educators and parents.)
But any which way, school is starting. Or, as the case may be with many a school, it has begun.
What is that experience going to mean to the littles, who do not have a bank of prior knowledge of ‘school’ – raising your hand, taking a turn, handling anger management, making a new friend, playing nicely, asking a teacher for help, learning by watching peers master things you have yet to master, playing on the yard, feeling praised for effort and success, being exposed to handball and foursquare and jump rope followed by kickball and tether ball when a bit older. How do six sessions of 30-minute zoom segments work for kindergarteners. Remember Sesame Street? The longest snippets are far less than half hour in length. And who is helping the five-year old get zoom up and running, then turned off, then turned on again, for the many breaks? And what about the other three plus hours they used to be in school? What to do with those hours? How do littles learn without the balance between ‘the yard’ and the classroom? Without ‘centers’ and ‘circle time’? How do they build a community with blocks when they are home, learning alone? How do they study ‘people in my neighborhood’ when trapped in their bedroom all day? And what about when the sound on the tablet doesn’t work, as was the case for many last week. And what about when there is not enough Wi-fi to go around for all four, five, six people working or studying at home? And what about when three students share one bedroom, and no one has headphones or ear plugs?
“What begins with W?” World, weird, Wi-fi. What if what if what if?
What about the experience for the kids who will now be deprived of building a California mission out of sugar cubes and then balancing it on the way into school? What will happen to that ‘special talk’ in 5th grade when the boys go to the auditorium with their dads and the gym teacher and the next day, the girls go to the auditorium with their moms and the gym teacher? (Perhaps this is an area where zoom classes will be helpful, in handling delicate discussions with more discretion, and less adult awkwardness. “Big Mouth” homework perchance?)
What of starting middle school and mastering, after much trepidation, both your hall locker AND your gym locker? Or the onset of high school with photo ids and sports teams and clubs, like robotics, or community service, or Key Club? What of orchestras and marching bands and jazz bands? What of teacher office hours? Yes, they are offering them virtually, which would seem ideal, but – I wonder, how many students are going to take advantage of those?
Then also, what about basic learning, rudimentary skills and critical thinking? How well does it happen when there are rolling black outs due to the heat wave, sisters having PE on zoom in the same bedroom as another sister studying Algebra II, and brothers practicing their recorder in the kitchen with the other siblings practicing language drills in the den?
If there is a parent who is rocking this, I want them to have a platform like the speakers at the political conventions and tell us all HOW DO WE DO THIS? On the other hand, if you saw Brayden Harrington give a speech while overcoming a stutter, you realize, we really can overcome all kinds of challenges, even if they seem unsurmountable. (If you have not seen this, please google it AND have your children watch it. Amazing.)
As a psychologist, I’m lightly tracking it all, wondering how the intersection of learning and mental health (or mental illness) is developing. The stressors are impossibly high for every part of this algorithm – teachers, administration, parents, children, grandparents, community members. We are all certain we do not want to put anyone in harm’s way by being together in person too soon and we are also certain that for the good of the whole community and society, in addition to medical health, we still need to raise up our next generation into people who are literate, thoughtful, reflective, critical thinking humans. We need the youth of today to have both breadth and specificity of knowledge that comes not just from enriched home and cultural dens, but also, from graded, sequential, well developed and well tested curricula, so they can grow into the leaders of our future who will better handle crises like pandemics, wild fires due to climate challenges, disparities, and violence.
What begins with “W”? World. Weird. Wi-fi. What if. WE.
We are not actually ‘in this together’ on the one hand, as we each struggle with our own unique challenges. On the other hand, from the larger perspective, we are all in this together, in that we are living in a pandemic and sharing the planet/country/state/community/neighborhood during these troubling times.
At this point, all I can figure is that we have to do a few things at the same time:
1) Lower our expectations for ourselves as parents and quiet the inner critical voice we hear AND quiet the critical voice we are using when addressing spouse or parent partner or in-laws. Cut yourself and the other members of the village some slack, assume positive intention (API!) and keep in mind that saying snarky things, albeit gratifying for a few seconds, is better saved for talking back to your tv, and not to your people.
2) Raise our expectations. See, that’s where the ‘do a few things at the same time’ comes in – lower your expectations in one regard and keep them high in the other. Keep your expectations high when it comes to practicing kindness and patience, when it comes to using humor (levity and brevity) in your interactions with those with whom you share space. Expect yourself and your family to learn things during this time and do not give up on that objective. Use whomever and whatever is available to you – niece who is now doing college remotely? She likely has free time on her hands and is stuck at home going nowhere and seeing no one. Hire her. Next door neighbor who is 70 and healthy and going nowhere? She may be helpful to you and yours. If you don’t have easy access, try signing onto Next-door – a free app for neighbors to share ideas and resources.
We do not have to understand all the terminology (synchronous versus asynchronous instruction??) but we do need to know that in the local public schools, our littles get 180 minutes, 1st thru 3rd grade kids receive 230 minutes and grades 4-12 will have 240 minutes of instruction a day. So that’s three hours for littles, less than four for middles, and four hours for bigs. Thus, requiring us as a society to make up the difference.
We can do this. We can take deep breaths and know our limitations and ask for help when needed. And then teach our children, reach out for help when needed. Warning signs things are going poorly are when your children withdraw, want to sleep all the time, revert back to old behaviors (bedwetting, thumb sucking, fingernail biting, temper tantruming) and when they look ‘checked out.’ Take those signs seriously and look for them early in the semester so we can try to help them sooner than later. They may not learn all the advanced math you’d like this year, but we need them ok for next year, and the year thereafter, etc.
We have to succeed in this. There is no other option. Not for the world. Not for one another. We must not give up. We have one another, and that’s going to have to be enough.