My Kids Are Failing and I’m Trying To Be Okay About It
The routine does not change.
8:25 am: “It’s time to get up.”
8:35 am: “BOYS, it’s time to get up.”
8:40 am: Deep breath. “I’m getting REALLY annoyed. GET. UP.”
The older two eat quickly and then retreat to their rooms to start the day. We make breakfast for the 3rd grader, usually bacon and maybe an egg or two. We have to be careful to not burn the bacon, and make the egg right, or he won’t eat. I’ve already reached my patience limit. I’ve been awake for 20 minutes.
8:45 am: “M, it’s time to get on your Zoom. Make sure you do the ‘Question of the Day.’”
M’s, at the dining room table, twenty or so feet from where I’m working in the living room. But I cannot focus on my work. I’m listening carefully for the “entering Zoom” chime.
I wait for a few minutes. No chime.
8:48 am: “What are you doing? Did you do the question? Are you on your Zoom? Is your video on?”
For the next two hours, I ask variations of these four questions to my 8-year-old.
“Why are you standing up?” (“What are you doing?”)
“Where is your whiteboard?” (“Did you do the question?”)
“Why can’t I hear the teacher?” (“Are you on your Zoom?”)
“Why isn’t your video on?” (self-explanatory)
By noon, I’m exhausted and he’s crying. My own work sits on my computer, undone.
The 8th and 9th graders escape this hovering, away from my eyes and ears. But I still know what’s going on. And what’s going on is not good.
In pre-pandemic times, I checked their grades online at least three times every day. It wasn’t healthy. I told myself I’m doing it so I can address problems as they come up. But in truth, checking distracted me from my own failure to focus, a procrastination tool masquerading as parental attention.
My kids used to be A/B students. Now I’m seeing letters I have never seen before, big red letters that frantically indicate, “THERE IS A PROBLEM.”
I’m trying to be okay about this not being okay.
None of us signed up for this. When I became a parent, it was with the certain knowledge that I would never homeschool, that both day care and actual school was best for me and them. Learning at home works for some kids. Learning at home works for some parents. It does not work for my children. It does not work for me.
They are distracted. They are anxious. They are unhappy.
I am distracted. I am anxious. I am unhappy.
The pandemic and distance learning is turning children who once loved learning to now see learning as a painful struggle. The screen is a poor substitute for the physical classroom, and Facetime and texting cannot approximate seeing, touching, hanging out with and hugging friends. In spite of the pandemic, I continue to hear teachers tell teenagers that their grades matter for future prospects, the amount of work and expectations no different from normal times. While many parents hope that colleges, having already dropped the SAT as a prerequisite to college during the pandemic, will recognize that grades this year — and maybe next — are not indicative of a child’s intellectual abilities. But there is little to suggest that Black children will receive this benefit of altered expectations. They never do.
In normal times, I hear White parents say, “It’s okay if they fail.”
Black people cannot fail. A pandemic does not change that. We don’t have the luxury of doing less. Even the most privileged among us must fight to stay where we are in the social hierarchy. We must fight to get the crumbs of “the good life.”
I wish my children could fail. I wish that everyone could put their words into action. More than acknowledging that it’s hard being a child and a student and Black right now, I want someone to DO something. I wish my children could ride out this pandemic with compassion from those around them: their teachers and coaches and friends.
And me. Especially me.
I cannot let them fail. I cannot ignore the red letters.
But I can let them do less.
For the 3rd grader, that means no afternoon asynchronous learning. For now, we focus on reading and math, with some writing. The basics. Social studies and science and gym and art happen if we feel like it. We rarely do.
For the older two, we have an understanding that every class needs to end the semester in the “B” range. B-s count. No absences.
Video games on school days are permitted if we can just get through the day. Our goal is survival.
We all want our kids to come out okay on the other side. We want them to be able to pick up where they left off before the pandemic. But that won’t happen. They are young, still growing both in body and brain, and this will affect them forever. We don’t know how. But for now, the least we can do, as parents who love them more than anyone else, is offer them grace. And worry how to pick up the pieces later.
Home used to be a place of respite for them, where they felt safe and cared for. This is especially the case for Black children who experience a hostile world outside of their home. They are constantly subject to the “socially transmitted disease” called racism, a disease that is exacerbating the COVID pandemic, a disease that will persist long after COVID is no more. But now that home encapsulates their entire world, home should be even more of a soft landing, a place free of hostility, a place of love, compassion, grace and empathy.
Going forward, I hope to be able to practice these words, giving myself grace when I slip up, recommitting to give my children the same.
Wish me, and them, luck.