My 8-year-old conspicuously but silently army crawls across the carpet. I glance to the side of my laptop as casually as possible to avoid an inevitable distraction. With a slight grunt, she drags her body past the glider I'm sitting in and disappears.
I turn my attention back to the Zoom meeting on-screen. In the small video window featuring my face, a blonde shock of hair slowly rises from behind the chair, followed by a pair of curious eyes. She sneaks a speedy wave to the camera and ducks out of sight. I completely miss a chunk of the conversation, and, of course, it's my turn to ask a question.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges like time management and distanced learning. A month after I gave birth to my second child, that’s when it hit the hardest.
I had already planned a semester of fully online classes that made it possible to continue the spring 2020 semester while on maternity leave from work. All went according to plan until my daughter's elementary school abruptly closed on March 12.
Suddenly, I had my own classes, a second grader’s schoolwork and a one-month-old baby to juggle. In the beginning, we took it slow and didn’t do any elementary school work for a week. Once my daughter’s school closed, the lack of structure and guidance was the greatest obstacle.
I was left to my own devices to schedule her learning, not at all prepared for how time-consuming and harrowing it would be. We both cried over basic arithmetic but found joy in reading, language and taking care of the baby.
Despite the difficulties, I have gained wisdom from the pandemic. The first lesson I learned was that it’s not necessary to drill my daughter in traditional methods or topics. Cooking became a useful tool for teaching practical skills and introducing fractions while drawing with chalk outside on the cement helped her remember details of the solar system. As long as she was engaged for a few hours a day, “school” was a success.
I realized the importance of scheduling my leisure time. Luckily, the transition for my classes was nonexistent since they were all online already. Despite virtual schooling, this semester has been more demanding of my schedule.
Lesson number two: find a consistently quiet space for online meetings. I need to be on Zoom at certain times, which can be difficult to coordinate between a 40-hour work week and kids at home. I have been able to complete the last few classes for graduation and maintain a full-time work schedule. However, finding a quiet moment for Zoom calls has proven to be the most challenging.
We live in a one-bedroom apartment at the moment, the bedroom belongs to my daughter and the common area is always boisterous. My quiet space has become a corner of my daughter’s bedroom.
My boyfriend entertains the kids in the living room while I meet on Zoom. Yet, at times, my daughter, who cannot resist a camera, finds her way into the bedroom to ‘get her skateboard.’
Pandemic lesson number three: communicate with my family when and where I will be on Zoom and what I expect from my daughter during these times.
After the stress-filled lessons brought on by the spring 2020 semester, this fall has been a breeze by comparison. My daughter is now attending school two to three days a week and tunes in to Zoom from our family friend’s home-based daycare that reopened in the summer.
I squeeze in interviews, Zoom calls and homework time during my work break, on weekends and after the kids are asleep. My boyfriend has been instrumental in tending to the baby when I have to take a test or be in a meeting. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows but through loving support, we are successful, together as a team.
Through this whole experience, I learned the need to love myself and my family through the process. This pandemic and the wreckage of its path affects everyone in the world.
If I find myself losing patience, I look inward and see what I am missing from my life, what normalcy can be restored and how. Perhaps I need a moment alone or a walk. If my children are acting out or having trouble focusing, they are trying to express an emotion they may not have words for. I have learned to be tender with my family and myself.
It’s imperative to love each other and be kind through this time of chaos and inconsistent change. No one is expected to fend for themselves. The way to succeed and thrive is to show support, empathy and kindness.