“How are we supposed to hold it together?”
My 7 year old son’s question stopped me. I knew he didn’t want it to be such a loaded question – but it’s 2020 and most questions come loaded at this point.
He actually asked about the two long rectangular pieces of wood that I had clumsily squeezed together for his desk that we had been putting together in the last 30 minutes. I was determined to build this thing before his school started, which was in 4 days.
The idea of virtual home learning sounded “doable” at first, if not ideal given some of the risks inherent in face-to-face learning. The past few months had forced us on the path of unexpected changes, but I was determined to stick with the decision of which mental vehicle to take with us on this journey.
I wanted an answer to that other Question – the ones my son didn’t want to ask, but I heard it anyway. How are shall we hold it all together? I know what I’m doing are we ready for school? What do we lose by choosing virtual learning?
Before the pandemic, my wife and I had decided to send our son to a new school, largely because of the opportunities it offered. While these options are still available, not being there physically is obviously different. As a family, we had put up with the last few months of COVID life, but our son was especially strong – he kept his optimistic spirit and found that he can’t go where he used to go or see his friends that way as he used to.
Still, at his age, he doesn’t have to weigh the short-term and long-term consequences of our decisions. Up to this point we have tried to maintain as much “normal” as possible. But that doesn’t mean he won’t feel the immediate effects.
I still Not I have the answers – a fact that has been both frustrating and terrifying for me to admit. Changes are not usually easy, but this was a big change in a number of them and there was no instruction manual.
However, for parents, instructions are not as easy as trying hard truths on a given day. And that day when I was doing a project with my son, four particular parental truths came to light in ways I hadn’t seen before.
In my opinion, there is no point in giving a lot of advice to parents as the Parenting Guide says otherwise. It can also change from one day to the next depending on the circumstances. So I’m 100 percent sure that impossible decisions have to be made.
I’m talking about all of the nuanced choices you need to make in order to prioritize your child’s health over their comfort or even their social development.
As a parent, some things have to be sacrificed, some things have to be postponed, some things have to be picked up in order to survive. And a lot will not feel good.
The thing is, thinking about all of these decisions at once can be overwhelming.
To make the impossible decisions feel manageable, we have to practice the art of zooming in on the details and shrinking the bigger picture when necessary. When the trip feels like a bit, focus on what keeps you posted.
“How do you know the piece isn’t backwards?” my son asked once while assembling the desk. He pointed to the piece of wood in my hands that looked identical on both sides.
Zoom in: “Do you see this hole here?” I said, pointing to a corner. “Here the bolt goes from the inside.”
“Oh,” he said. “This big piece is one of the sides?”
Zoom out: “Yes. If you look at the picture here, it’s the same. So we are on the right track.”
I wouldn’t necessarily refer to myself as a “handyman”, but I can follow the directions – at least good enough to have a desk built in 2 hours or less. Ask my child what is it thinking? Well, that could be a hammer for the whole plan. Not because I fear it won’t be helpful. But his point of view could reveal details that force me to slow down or pan.
Children do not have fully developed filters for adults, which allows them to still be brutally honest (emphasis on the brutal). What it also allows them to do is see things more clearly than adults at times, and that can be a little scary.
“Hey, do you think daddy is strong enough to hold those two sides together with one hand while I screw that leg to the floor?” I asked him.
“Well,” he began. “Do you remember when you tried that with my dresser and the top slipped off and crashed into your knee? You were really hurt and you almost broke my dresser … “
“Because of me.”
Establishing an open communication trend with your children (namely, asking simple questions) is probably one of the most helpful things we can do as parents. Yes, it’s revealing, which means it can show where the cracks are. But growth comes through the truth, and giving your children space to tell them the truth can build constructive bonds of dialogue together.
Don’t ask the questions just about you, either. Asking your child to share their thoughts about themselves can help them process and contextualize things that we may not have a clue about that are carrying something else.
So back to this virtual learning matter. I understand that even this option is a privilege that many families do not currently have. But the idea of my wife and I adopting much of our son’s educational experience is daunting.
I am married to a professor who has to master new challenges with her own students. I have “taught” children in a summer camp before, but I am not a teacher. I’d rather teach my son to use the Google calculator than dive into his math workbook.
But this year highlighted a few areas where abbreviations (no matter how badly we want) might not prove helpful. We are all there. It’s a disturbing challenge that we have accepted.
However, that’s the story of parenting, isn’t it? Accept challenges. If you make a plan according to your manual, you’ll need to tear out that page and write a new plan. Is it always the right way? We hope it is. Is it uncomfortable sometimes? Absolutely.
“Dad, do you think this is going to be another good school year?” asked my son, handing me one of the little silver bolts.
I let him drop it on the palm of my hand before answering. “I honestly do not know. But we will do the best we can every day. “
I had no idea if that answer comforted him, but I hoped that at least he trusted that we would try.
Getting used to unpleasant answers doesn’t mean we have to learn to like them all. It means we need to understand that parenting, like life, is a process. Not everything will be fine. We can only do our best and hope it will pay off in the end. Even if all of the answers are not convenient, make sure they are honest.
“Dad, can we take a break?” asked my son as we neared the completion of his desk.
“But we’re almost done,” I said, not as annoyed as I might have sounded.
“I know,” he said. “But you said we could see a movie in an hour. It’s been an hour. “
((Thank you, small digital Lego Movie clock)
As I am sure with many others, the days have been really blurry since the pandemic changed them. The weekends still go by, but only because you squeeze into work that you couldn’t accomplish during the week because you didn’t have childcare. In the past few months it has been easy to slip into the autopilot and not arrive until tomorrow, until “normal” returns.
But we have no idea when it will be normal if it will come or what it will even look like when it gets here.
Even so, we’ve tried not to take the opportunity to be together as a family for granted. Especially for me, the importance of looking after the day we have is not lost. As a black man raising two black sons, seeing until tomorrow has an added meaning in our reality.
As a parent, staying spiritually and emotionally present is what my family needs – and that is what I need to keep my sanity. So we wanted to be there every day to be tomorrow.
Yes, you need to be prepared for what is on the horizon. However, if you look too far ahead, you will be missing out on some important things right in front of you.
I glanced at the desk (95 percent done), tossed the last bag of dwindling screws onto the flat surface, and put an arm around my son’s shoulders.
“Okay let’s go,” I said. “We’ll end this later.”
DeVonne Goode is the lifestyle editor at Greatist in Search of Creativity through Wellness and Wellness through Creativity. Find him on Instagram crossing the water.