It’s been a big week at Three of Earth School, by which I don’t mean spacious. Tuesday was a pretty terrible day. Elliot got up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed; one mom—I could hear at the edge of patience already—had her first Zoom meeting of the day at friggin’ 7:45, meaning the other mom had to be late to get prepped for her online teaching day. I skipped my quick walk in the woods to breathe in a measure of phytoncides—those airborne chemicals that plants emit that help protect them from shit like rotting insects, and also seem to help protect humans from high blood pressure and stuff—so I could be on duty early. Also it was raining. The day went downhill from there. I cried. In front of the boys. Whatever. It was a Two Trader Joe’s 72% Cacao Chocolate Bar Day, which is a day roughly equivalent to Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Except with chocolate.
I was so tired, and tired of little boys, I had dinner in my quarters that evening and watched MSNBC while I ate. That didn’t help the worrisome tightness in my chest. I switched to something fictional. I was exhausted and thought I would sleep like the dead, if I didn’t actually die. I did not, I slept like crap, and got up too late for my woods walk, again.
Enter Wednesday, the short school day. And the Littles were nowhere near moving all their cotton balls to earn a movie in the afternoon. I preemptively texted a couple friends and asked them to light a candle for us. This day was sure to need help.
It fell apart at 8:55. Adrian got himself (and me) involved in building with one of the construction sets when Elliot got into his classroom, forgetting he had asked me right off the bat, as usual, if we could “do our pretend stories.” (Lately he has been coming into my apartment sometimes before daylight to ask. I consistently tell him, “We can! At 8:30!”) I am trying really hard—and with some success—to embrace his love of storytelling; but I have to say, it is terminally boring. So I was grateful on that tired morning when he decided on something that involved less talking.
But he really, really, really wanted to show Elliot what he made. He was so close to his brother and his iPad classroom, he was practically on camera. Elliot had been having a hard time staying in his chair. He is challenged by ADHD, as I have mentioned here. We are all challenged by his ADHD. But at 8:55, with the promise of two cotton balls if he could stay engaged with his class until the session ended at 9:00, he was trying hard. And then…Adrian. Several whispered admonitions from me and loud ones from Elliot were not deterring him. He was crazy determined to share his creation with his big brother.
The past few weeks, I have been taking him upstairs at 8:30 because pretend stories are understandably distracting to Elliot. Not so much because he is more interested in them than in class, but because he is so NOT interested in them. His brain is less inclined than Adrian’s toward make-believe—unless it involves Ninjas and bad guys. Talking stuffies and plastic sea animals and flashlights and paper cups just flat out annoy him; but ADHD is not capable of tuning it out. It was my error that we didn’t go upstairs. It won’t happen again.
Anyway, I picked Adrian up, writhing and screaming at the top of his lungs, and carried him to the foot of the stairs, then blocked him from going anywhere but up. He stomped up the stairs and crawled into the coffee table fort, screaming, “I NEED SOME SPACE!!!!” We were in full agreement.
And then, a miracle. Elliot got out of class in a good mood and invited Adrian to play. I didn’t mention to him the fact that he had “asynchronous” learning assignments to do (that is so not a cozy word), some of which, per our agreement, needed to be done before recess to earn a cotton ball. I just let them heal while I breathed. Then rewarded them with cotton balls for playing together well. It takes very little to earn a cotton ball, so not filling the jar by Wednesday movie time takes a lot of negative effort.
The rest of the morning went well! Adrian and I did pretend stories with Popsicle stick people on the farm being attacked by aliens. “Do they need masks?” I asked, drawing faces on the sticks. “No masks,” he said. “Stick people can’t get the Virus. Also there is no Virus in pretend world.” These are the times our children live in.
But lunch was over at noon, thanks to it being Woesome Wednesday for Pandemic School Guides so online teachers can have a well-deserved kid break to do other work, like discuss with each other how to survive being online teachers and stuff like that, and Elliot had only one more session with his class and then four long hours until the end of the work day with no break for me. And the cotton ball jar was still far from full.
But then, another miracle: despite the weather forecast for rain, the sun was shining! (You really can’t count on weather forecasts in Washington in the winter.) At recess they had started collecting colorful rocks from the graveled area under the deck stairs. Adrian and I set up a gem store and he was happily engaged in selling me stuff while Elliot finished school, after which he became co-owner of the shop, quickly changing Adrian’s pricing. They needed more rocks, and spent the next hour OUTSIDE! HAPPILY! ALONE! digging out stones, then washing them in a bucket and sorting them on a tray at the deck table.
It was pure bliss to watch them through the deck door, happy and engaged and without an adult. When they finally came in, exuberant about their activity, but done, I told them they could move all their cotton balls and pick a movie. I popped the corn.
I discovered a Covid-grandparenting blog a few days ago: Rivers & Roads. The author inspired me to try again to make the forest a classroom. Next week I may just skip the push to complete asynchronous learning and push through their resistance to my choosing an activity and get us into the woods for some forest bathing. Preferably without Ninjas.
Much gratitude to the friends who held the center for me, via text/prayer/candles on your altars on Terrible Tuesday and Woesome Wednesday. And all days even when I don’t reach out. I know you are there. I see you too. This is impossibly hard, but with each other’s support, we’ll get through. Make space for yourselves!