Missing kids, a lost kitten and an MMA fighter: this is ...

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Missing kids, a lost kitten and an MMA fighter: this is homeschooling

The emotional minefield of being a working mother is easy compared with the torment of homeschooling

Margaret Harris
Image: 123RF/Jose Antonio Meza Andrade

I have been a working mother since my daughter (now 20) was about a year old. I know all about the elusive balance that I need to strike so my life does not become unmanageable. I know the particular brand of heartache that overwhelmed me when I went back to work after maternity leave, each of the four times I left an infant at home. I know, too, that the madness has stilled, a little, as the children have got older and less dependent.

But in many ways being a working mother is the opposite of mindfulness – I am never where my mind is. When at work I wonder what the nine-year-old asked me to get for a school project or whether the 12-year-old will make up with her former BFF. At home, enveloped in the special hell of homework, I wonder about the tasks I had to leave incomplete as I dashed off to fetch the children from school at the end of the day.

But all of that was easy when compared with the torment of homeschooling – where I am trying, mostly with little success, to be a supportive parent and productive worker in the same space (my home) at the same time (all day).

To get an idea of how this doesn’t work, a schedule:

7am: I sit down at my laptop at the dining-room table, ready for a day of work.

7.15am-8.15am: the children wander downstairs for breakfast and to ask me where various “extremely important” items are.

8.30am: Grade 8 begins her first class in the garage, away from her tiresome siblings and parents.

9am: Grade 3 begins, but only after the Grade 3 child has been located and talked into joining the Zoom class.

9.30: Grade 6 begins formal Zoom classes (but only after child has been located and agrees to join the class).

A dog barks in the Grade 3 teacher’s house – it needs to be let in, it needs to be let out; no one knows, not even the dog.

Yes, it’s only 9.30am and I am exhausted – though not because I have got any work done.

And so the Zoom classes continue in 30-minute blasts – I am getting to know my children’s teachers and peers better than I ever wanted to. The children are loud and excitable; obviously the ones you can hear are the ones who have found a way to unmute themselves, and the teachers sound as exhausted as I am. We are all trying to do our jobs while facilitating the education of our children. A baby cries just as the Grade 6 teacher begins discussing fractions, a dog barks in the Grade 3 teacher’s house – it needs to be let in, it needs to be let out; no one knows, not even the dog. And I dream of escape – which is impossible, obviously, because we’re locked in lockdown.

Back to the schedule, and it’s about lunchtime:

The 20-year-old is making toasted sandwiches, causing the lights to trip and everyone to be booted out of the wifi – Zoom classes splutter and the urgent story I am working on sits unattended.

Just when the power is back on and the wifi rebooted, the kitten (small, black and bent on freedom) disappears. She is in none of her usual haunts – not in the garage, not under any beds or inside any cupboards, not even inside the seat of the chair in the lounge. We all troop outside where we find her – she has climbed extremely adeptly to the very top of our willow tree. Her climbing-up skills are not matched by those needed for a descent. She is stuck, she tells us in long, sad meows.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter who lives with us saves the day, and Gracie the kitten. He climbs up the tree and carries her to safety. 

Back to the schedule: By this time there are a few more Zoom classes and assignments for the children to complete and I have to finish the last few tasks of my working day, and we can relax. This is where the strange magic of lockdown is found. I don’t enjoy homeschooling, I find it enormously stressful to try to work while reminding everyone to stay focused and excited about school, but the time – the long hours of being with the people I love the most – is wonderful. As lockdown level 3 beckons and schools prepare to open for some grades on June 1, I am committed to finding ways to keep that magic alive beyond the pandemic.