Quaranteens OR Mom Schedules the Pandemic

A MiddleWeb Blog

This is not a post about online learning.

I have teen kids, a son and a daughter. School-adept, kind, funny, thoughtful and helpful. They have kept up these qualities despite this harrowing week where their worlds turned upside down. (“There’s no school until when? There’s no state tests why? The ACT and the SAT cancelled WHAT?”)

I thought I wasn’t doing too badly either. I am an introverted homebody by nature, so being “on pause,” as our Governor Cuomo puts it, isn’t hitting me as hard as it could.

Sure, I cried on the way from closing the school where I teach, trying not to think about how our lives may have radically altered when we see each other again. But I had a job to do. No use wasting energy over speculation and panic when I and my family were going to need every ounce of energy I had. Or so I was telling myself.

Takeaway: It’s hard to walk the line between being honest with yourself about how you’re feeling in a time of crisis and not losing control. However you do it though, don’t sacrifice the former for the sake of the latter it’s just going to come back and bite you in the butt. You need the same care you would shower on your students and family.

Many of my digital friends and colleagues now have elementary-age ones at home, and it’s been simultaneously hysterical and horrifying to witness them trying to put together daily routines and activities for their kids while also, in many cases, trying to negotiate their own work on line. I think this can best summed up by this line I saw a poet post on Twitter: “I always suspected that Legos tasted like blood.”

I was also inspired by those friends and colleagues: their withitness, their puzzles, their color coded schedules. And so I spent a morning drawing up a schedule for my own teen kids while they were at home. I labored to include choice (“bike rides with masks are fine!”), autonomy (“FREE  SCREEN TIME”), and a balance of work and play (“Household Contribution Time: 3-4 PM”). Last Wednesday I sat them both down after breakfast and proudly presented the schedule to them.

It did not go well.

My son shrugged in his good natured way and said “Okay, Mom,” but did not kneel down to kiss my feet and say “I can’t believe what an incredible parent you’re being in this terrible time. I could not live without you.”

My daughter burst into tears and fled to her room.

I called my husband before I chased after her and gave her a stern (read: very, very loud) lecture about people dying in overloaded hospitals. I recalled that line about Legos.

Takeaway: If you have someone to lean on who’s filled up your marble jar, do so. You need the same care you would shower on your students and family.

Later I went up to my daughter’s bedroom. She apologized for “being a brat.” I apologized for “being an overcontrolling jerk.” We walked back through several important (mis)communications: that while she was old enough to make her own scheduling decisions, we could not treat this time like an extended vacation.

That while she understood she couldn’t be online all the time, it was in fact the only way she could communicate with her friends right now, and one of the ways she managed some of her anxiety about the current situation. That despite my best intentions, I was not taking her reality enough into account.

“I loved my Dad and he was a great father, but he used to commandeer my labor without warning for hours when I was a teen,” I told her finally. “I hated it. I thought with a schedule you could always know what’s coming.”

She looked at me and smiled. She said softly: “I’m not you, Mom.”

And so the teacher becomes the student.

Takeaway: Not only do you need the same care you would shower on your students and family, you need the same self-awareness. How do you handle uncertainty? Do you embrace it? Do you double down on certainties? Do you mistakenly go back to what irked you as a teen and avoid it without first asking what your kids actually require? (I’m asking for a friend.)

In the end, we came up with this.

MONDAY-FRIDAY:

SATURDAY/SUNDAY:

I’m sharing our schedule not because I think it’s perfect – it’s not – but it does represent the best of a compromise between parents who need (and ought) to be captains of the quarantine ship, and teens who need to be respected and loved as individuals, given the autonomy, relatedness, and competence they need. And the shower time.

This is not a post about online learning. It is a post about the things our teens and tweens need for any learning to take place.

Hang in there, readers.

Dina Strasser

Dina Strasser is a veteran educator of 19 years, 13 of those as a middle school ELA/ELL teacher. For six years she worked in many capacities at the non-profit group EL Education. Now she's back in the classroom! Her early experiments with dirt have progressed into a lifelong love of the outdoors.

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