“You’re used to homeschooling your kids. What’s your advice to other parents who are now in your shoes?”
In a Zoom meeting recently, I was asked this question by an acquaintance. Taken aback, I found myself struggling for a good answer. I rambled something incoherent about how it’s different now during the global COVID-19 pandemic, but I couldn’t properly articulate my thoughts, which left me terribly frustrated. As I write this, I am still struggling to make sense of all of this.
This isn’t normal. Even for us homeschoolers. Yes, we’ve had five years of experience homeschooling our children. But none of this is normal.
I find the word “homeschooling” to be problematic. My wife and I view the world as the kids’ school. Although yes, academic work—French, science, history, geography, English, math, etc.—tends to take place at home, it is usually condensed into two or three hours per day. Meaning that until COVID-19, the kids had lots of time each day available for outside activities. Home was where we started and ended each day, but we were never “stuck” at home for long periods of time. Until COVID-19, there were piano and swimming lessons to attend, forest school each week, Girl Guide and Scout meetings, acting classes, Sunday school, and so many playdates, playgrounds, and parks. There were field trips to museums, visits with the grandparents, and the list goes on. Our calendar, normally full of activities to look forward to, is now full of crossed-out plans. This void is the new normal.
Yes, we still keep up the “home” part of our homeschooling routine. It is a blessing that we can continue following the curriculum that my wife designed at the beginning of the year. That helps maintains a sense of normalcy for us.
Whereas I would be out many afternoons, teaching poetry, creative writing, and essay writing courses at different venues and institutions, I now find myself housebound, with all remaining work shifted online. We often find ourselves claiming different corners of the house, attempting to do our own thing in peace, but sometimes end up stepping on each other’s toes. There is a large void in our daily lives. A sense of loss and grief permeates our days. A cloud of anxiety hangs over us. When will this end?
At the same time, now that the kids’ activities are cancelled (or in most cases, moved to this new world called Zoom), we have noticed that they have a remarkable ability to keep themselves entertained and educated. They make up the most amazing imaginative games with their toys. They make treasure hunts, create board games. Our eldest wrote a chapter book. Other days, they argue and scream. But then they make up. They are taking on more chores and clean up after themselves with less complaining than during the “pre-COVID” days. We are often in awe of their resilience and creativity. Those are the good days. Of course, not all days are good. But we have learned to trust that our children will learn even without a roster of outside activities.
As a writer, though, I find it very challenging to write during this pandemic. Normally, I would put pen to paper, jot lines and notes on my phone, or type something up on my laptop. I find myself doing that less and less.
My new book, Ghost Face, was supposed to launch this year at DC Books’ Spring Launch, scheduled during the 2020 Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival on May 2nd. It was something I had been eagerly awaiting. Ghost Face is my most personal book and I had been working on it since 2008. But Blue Met was cancelled, including the launch for myself and my fellow DC Books authors. I don’t know when Ghost Face is going to be published. Most of my teaching contracts, planned readings, and events that I was eagerly anticipating have been postponed or cancelled. Many of my writer and artist peers find themselves in similar positions.
So, do I have advice for others who are new to this housebound version of homeschooling? I would say: start slowly and start gently. Even for those of us who have homeschooled for years, it is difficult to adjust to the new psychological climate. Perhaps you could consider “homeschooling” as just spending time with your kids doing something you all enjoy. It’s bound to be educational, but more importantly, stress-relieving. You could dust off a board game. Get out the pencils and paper, and just draw together. Read a book out loud or listen to a podcast together. And listen to what the kids have to say. Lots of times, their ideas are better than anything we could come up with. No matter what, be gentle with yourselves. Don’t expect to be able to do what you would normally do (or what veteran homeschoolers would normally do). Because things simply aren’t normal.
And for the writers among you, the words will let you know when they’re ready to come out. Write to your friends and family. Write your grocery list. Write what you’re grateful for. Keep a journal. Or don’t. This is new for all of us. Again, the words will come.
No matter where you fall on the homeschooling or writing spectrum, know that all the feelings are okay. It’s okay to grieve and mourn our losses. It’s also okay to go bonkers and dance on the coffee table or binge-watch The Mandalorian on Disney Plus. And of course: stay safe. Wash your hands. Take care of each other.
Greg Santos is the author of Blackbirds (2018), Rabbit Punch! (2014), and The Emperor’s Sofa (2010). His third full-length poetry collection with DC Books, Ghost Face, is coming soon. His writing has been featured in a range of Canadian and international publications, including The Walrus, This Magazine, and World Literature Today. Santos is the Editor in Chief of the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s online magazine, carte blanche. He lives in tio’tia:ke/Montréal with his wife and two children. As part of the National Arts Centre’s Canada Performs initiative, Santos read excerpts from his forthcoming book on May 2, 2020 on Facebook Live. View the performance in its entirety here.
Photo credits: Mollye Miller (headshot)