October 9, 2020
In Scotland, where I live, the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in March. Soon afterward we went into lockdown. The worst news was when they said they would close the schools. Panic filled my mind and I thought “How will I go to work and homeschool my kids at the same time?” Luckily, I remembered I was unemployed, so that wasn’t going to be a problem. (Technically I wasn’t unemployed; I was a freelance writer. Potato, po-tah-to.)
Two weeks into the first lockdown I asked a friend how it was going homeschooling his two young daughters. He said that if he had a choice of homeschooling for another month or being held captive in Guantanamo Bay, he would choose the latter.
I wondered: Why was every parent finding this so hard?
I think I knew the answer. Most parents aren’t good at math, so the idea of teaching math to their kids scared the living daylights out of them. Personally, I’m rubbish at math. I was watching a TV show where they were building a house. The narrator said “Each brick costs three dollars and 75 cents; multiply that by 11,000 bricks. You do the math.” I was like, “I don’t know… a million dollars? 10 million?” I literally had no idea. Under no circumstances should I ever teach math—and there was no scenario in my mind where I would have to teach math, before the virus knocked the earth off its axis. Now, locked in the house with my kids, I had no choice.
My boys are five and eight years old. If I had to explain how much energy they have, the best way to describe it would be to combine 10 cans of the most powerful energy drink with an atomic bomb.
I knew my kids had enormous potential. I also knew if I could harness that potential they would learn an enormous amount during homeschooling. The only thing I didn’t know was HOW to harness that potential. That was, until my kid asked me how many super heroes there are in the Avengers. Without thinking I said “seven”. Then it hit me: I would use super heroes to teach my kids math.
I said to my kid “If Iron Man got bored in the Avengers and quit, how many super heroes would be left?” He said “Why would Iron Man get bored in the Avengers?” I told him that wasn’t important. Then he said “If I was Iron Man, I would never be bored because I would have repulsor rays, I could hang out with Captain America, I could….”
I rudely interrupted him and said “OK, I take that back. Let’s say instead of Iron Man getting bored, let’s say he dies.” I was about to ask how many Avengers would be left when my kid said “WHAT? Iron Man is dead?” and burst out crying. This was the first day of homeschooling. Class dismissed.
I knew my boys needed structure, or anarchy would rule my house. With this in mind, I created a timetable that was exactly like the one they had at school.
At 8:50 AM, I got my kids to line up outside the front door to wait to go inside. They actually thought this was fun. What wasn’t fun was when I accidentally locked us out of the house. I thought maybe I could turn the situation into a math lesson: I could ask them how many hours it would be before the locksmith showed up, or what percentage of Dad’s pay was going to go to the locksmith, who viciously charged him nearly $200 to open the front door.
We finally got inside the house an hour-and-a-half after the homeschool day was scheduled to start. I said “OK boys, we are going to start the day with literacy.” My eldest son said “Dad, it’s 10:30, it’s recess.” My kid couldn’t tell you what day of the week it was, but he knew 10:30 was recess.
The day before I had gone to the supermarket, where I bought some flavored potato chips for my kids’ recess snack. My five-year-old went to the cupboard and grabbed the first bag he could reach. He ripped it open and ate literally one chip before he started coughing like a man standing in a dust storm with tuberculosis and who has been smoking cigarettes for 30 years. I got him some water and looked at the chips he was eating: Chili Hot Lava Chips. On the bottom of the bag it said Not recommended for children under 12. I felt awful that I gave these chips to my five-year-old. I would have felt worse, but then I remembered the chips were half the price of the leading brand.
We got through art class and music class unscathed. Next came my favorite part of the day: lunchtime. Already exhausted, I had planned to collapse on the floor when my youngest told me that I needed to play football with him in the front yard. I begrudgingly got up and kicked the ball with all the fake enthusiasm I could muster.
During lunchtime, my eldest sat on the grass and didn’t really say anything. I asked him what he usually does during lunchtime at school. He said most of the time a kid at school gives him a hard time. When I asked what the kid does, my son told me the kid does a dance and makes the letter L on his forehead with his finger and thumb. Apparently this is called the ‘Loser’ dance. In the universe of kids, if you look at the person doing this dance, you become the loser. That seemed kind of backwards to me, but what do I know? I told my son I’m going to buy him a small mirror that will fit in his pocket. When he asked why I said “So you can hold it up to the kid who does the dance.”
After lunch, we had drama class and Physical Education. Once those were finished I rang a bell (actually the timer on the oven) to signal the end of the day.
If I had known I would have to homeschool my kids for six months, I would have paced myself that first day. Physically and mentally, after one day of homeschooling I felt like I had sprinted a marathon. I was exhausted, incoherent and I may have pooped my pants.
In closing, the one thing I can’t work out is why school teachers aren’t paid millions of dollars. Seriously: teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It took 100 percent of my mental energy to teach two kids who liked me. How can a school teacher teach 30 kids for an entire day? The one thing I do know is I’m definitely a lot nicer to my kids’ teachers now when I pick my boys up from school.
I also understand why a lot of teachers have a look in their eye as if their soul has died.
Magesh is a freelance contributor to publications in the US and UK. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM.