Parent Teacher Employee

I read a book recently that began with a character riding in a car along a sunny, forested road, watching the trees go by. She was getting a headache watching each individual tree flash by the car window so she decided to take the longer view, picking one tree and watching it slowly approach, zoom past her and then recede into the distance.

The past couple of years of fatherhood have been like that. At the beginning, I was paying attention to every detail the moment it happened, experiencing the headache of struggling to make it all work with little time for rest or introspection. Time and experience has allowed me to take the longer view, focusing on major landmarks ahead, letting the them arrive and whiz by, perhaps writing about the experience as it fades away behind me.

Then along comes a global pandemic that shakes my life schedule and suddenly I am forced to pay attention to every minute again. New information and new social instructions seem to arrive with each sunrise. The headache has returned.
Across the country parents are struggling with what they might have taken for granted, being able to send their kids to school and handing over the burden of educating them to an organization. Schools are closed in my home state and now if school-aged kids are to continue any growth in their education, it is primarily the parents’ responsibility to maintain daily momentum.

My children’s teachers and the school district have done an outstanding job of providing instructional materials necessary for parents and caretakers. In addition, other parents have stepped up with social media to provide support and examples of how they are coping with this new reality. All of it has created a community of people helping others through whatever this is.

Yet even with all of the materials, the math worksheets, the daily emails and social media groups, there are some challenges that I have to face alone. There is only so much they can do for me.

The school district doesn’t broadcast strategies for coping with the sudden lack of ketchup for tater tots. I am fairly certain the cooks at the school cafeteria, when serving up a lunch, don’t get a scowling request for sushi. My method for multiplication is vastly different than what they teach in class now.

One role I did not consider was school nurse. Consider the possibility that while you’re “having recess” and quietly reading a book on your bed, two kids may end up roughhousing in the kitchen. One of them could fall face down on the floor. Then his sister could land immediately on top of him smashing his face on the kitchen floor again. You’re in the middle of that rare, quiet moment and suddenly you might hear two thuds and screaming and cries of “I’m sorry!” Then your son – I mean, some kid might quickly walk toward you screaming and bleeding out of his nose and his lips. Will you be going to the ER, knowing hospitals are already overloaded and probably a coronavirus playground? What do you do if you discover one of that kid’s fairly new adult tooth is now being batted around the kitchen floor by the cat? It could happen.

OK, it did happen but just not the tooth part, thankfully.

This incident brought in to sharp focus the need for planning beyond just the daily challenge of getting them to pay attention to another episode of Night on Earth. A quick trip to the store for a few things is now not an option. Orthodontist appointments are online. Work meetings can and will be interrupted with requests for help logging on to school work sites, for snacks, for son to give daughter her pencil back. We might need to rethink what qualifies as an emergency room visit.

This is as far as I will go with the humor. I am one of the fortunate ones. I have a job that has, for now, been deemed “essential and within the scope of their authority in engaging in critical in-person work activities”. I even have a letter I carry with me now that says as much. If I am feeling the headache of this extra burden now, I cannot imagine adding the weight of job loss and worse.

The days, like those trees in the story, are coming by so fast and we have to pay attention to all of it at once. We will get by without ketchup and lunches at the sushi restaurant. We may come out of this with a new appreciation for our social systems and how quickly our lives can be disrupted. If parents with school-aged children don’t appreciate teachers and their school districts at the end of all of this then they never will.

You can always have the kids learn how to make their own ketchup.

April 13, 2020 at 9:00 am 2 comments

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