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Not going to sugar-coat it — the first day of my twins’ kindergarten was kind of a shitshow. (BTW, I took the above smiley photo of my husband and our kids an hour before school started.) On Monday, August 24, Zoom conked out just as millions of other kids tried to log on for remote learning during the Coronavirus pandemic.
My daughters’ teachers pivoted to Google Meet — but not everyone got the memo. I watched as my daughter Lydia’s teacher, Mr. Perez, took virtual roll call, his mouth slightly obscured through a shiny plastic shield. Attendance took like 45 minutes, in part because only a few of us figured out how to change our screen names from the generic “User x 834” to our kids’ actual names.
We spent the next hour playing a game of Flashing Faces because no one, including Mr. Perez, seemed to understand that we all need to be muted unless you’re the designated speaker. When Google Meet senses the slightest flicker of sound — a word, a grunt, a sigh — it shows that sound maker’s face. Everyone was making noise — it was a nauseating free-for-all, a visual overload of 20-some kids’ faces in less than 10 seconds, over and over again. I don’t recommend playing Flashing Faces on the first day of kindergarten.
I didn’t mention that we enrolled Lydia in our district’s dual language program. She’s part Hispanic, but only knows about seven words of Spanish, because we speak English at home. Though my husband, Martin, grew up speaking Spanish at home in Brooklyn, he hasn’t taught Lydia.
Lydia’s struggling to understand Mr. Perez — he speaks Spanish 98% of the time, with no English translation, and muffled audio doesn’t do anyone any favors. Thank goodness for Cookie Monster — Mr. Perez uses a puppet for visual cues — to signal, for example, that mouth is boca and that eyes are ojos.
This week, I’ve been sitting in on the first hour of Lydia’s class before I start work, and am piecing together my thoughts on remote learning. Thanks to Abuela, my husband’s mom, I’ve learned some of the basics of español. My mom, who’s Lydia’s right-hand teaching assistant, is frustrated because she didn’t know a lick of Spanish, but five days in, I’m impressed with this Scottish lady’s pronunciations of buenos dias!
I’ve seen Lydia’s classmates’ very real lives this week. I saw parents hovering over their kids’ tablets trying to figure out how to mute and unmute. I saw a kid laying face-down on his couch. I saw another picking her nose. I saw parents cleaning their kitchens and toddlers running about. One kid said, “I need to poop.”
Hey, when you gotta poop, you gotta poop.
Meanwhile, our daughter Isabel is in remote kindergarten for children with special needs, at a different school than Lydia. Isabel can’t walk or talk and is developmentally delayed, so she needs a lot of assistance. In a non-COVID world in an actual classroom, Isabel would have a paraprofessional, who would make sure she doesn’t fall out of her chair, wheel her to therapy sessions, change her diaper, and feed her at lunchtime.
During COVID, we drive Isabel daily to our daycare provider’s house, where Miss Marianne leads remote learning for Izzy and two other kids, one of whom has Down’s syndrome and, luckily, is also in Isabel’s class. Honestly, I don’t know how Marianne does it. She has way more patience than me.
Isabel has cyclical vomiting syndrome, and her usual monthly episode came four days earlier than usual this month. Quick pivot: Martin canceled plans to work onsite at the hospital (he’s a social worker) and instead worked from home. Martin and I took turns caring for Isabel in between work meetings.
Now that so many companies are embracing remote work, I’m grateful that work cultures have shifted.
I’m highly aware that it reallllllly take a village to raise a kid, and my village is working hard every day just so that I can work hard every day. I’m also aware that Martin and I are among very few lucky parents who have so much support.
And Lydia will learn Spanish. How? One day at a time. This week has been stressful and tear-inducing. In addition to school and childcare woes, we’ve dealt with childcare pick-up and drop-off woes, mid-presentation Internet outages at work, and for Martin, the challenges that come with social work in Chicago.
The bright spot? Family dinnertime, when we all sing “Wheels on the bus” with Isabel and Martin and I recap the day’s Spanish lessons with Lydia. “How do you say ‘red’ in Spanish?” Rojo. ¡Muy bien!
Are you surviving remote learning, too?
We’d love to hear about your experience. Sound off in comments below.
Amy Cuevas Schroeder is the cofounder and Chief Content Officer of Jumble & Flow, the new lifestyle brand that empowers women to thrive in midlife. She started her first business, Venus Zine, in her dorm room at Michigan State University, and later sold the company. She now lives in the Chicago area, and is raising twin girls with her husband, Martin, a social worker. She’s worked as a content leader for Etsy, Minted, and Abstract, and has written for NYLON, Pitchfork, The Startup, and more.
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We're on a mission to empower women 40 and over. We're redefining midlife like nobody's business.
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