Spiritually surviving substandard schooling

After lunch, I make my afternoon cup of tea. I sit down to write my latest essay. I’m relieved to have found time. My productivity has taken a nose-dive since the pandemic began. After about 10 minutes, I am in the groove, pleased with how the piece is coming along.

My uncle’s 5-year-old daughter suddenly sits across from me at the kitchen table. I try to ignore her and continue on with my writing. I can feel her big, bright brown eyes trying to burn a hole through my personal space in an attempt to get my attention. 

Sometimes she reminds me of Drew Barrymore’s character in the old Stephen King movie Firestarter. 

“Don’t look up,” I say to myself. I keep my head down and continue to write — hoping she’ll take the hint. She keeps staring.

Finally, I make eye contact. I politely ask, “Can I help you with something?”

“I’m bored. Do you want to do something with me?” she asks.

It’s only been 30 minutes since lunch has wrapped up. Tears start to well in my eyes. I want to reply, “No, I don’t. I’m a grown-up. Play with someone your own age!” Luckily, I have the self-awareness to keep that suggestion to myself. 

Instead, I smile sweetly and suggest a walk to the town center, bike ride or a baking project with her brother. She looks at me with something that resembles disgust and walks away.

My writing spell has been broken. I can’t help but think about all the parents whose careers have backslid since the pandemic.

Then the guilt sets in. I feel guilty for wanting to work on my writing. I feel guilty for not having more engaging activities planned for my little cousin. I feel guilty for feeling guilty. I want to usher these little souls of light and love through this pandemic with their spirit and curiosity intact. 

But, unfortunately, that seems like just one more thing I need to do after I fold the laundry, unload the dishwasher and meet my deadlines.

My 5-year-old cousin and my 6-year-old cousin have been out of school due to COVID-19 since March 13. Their school will begin remotely this year. I’m suspicious as to whether they’ll return in person at all. Some psychologists claim the typical student’s attention span is about 10 to 15 minutes long, yet most university classes last 50 to 90 minutes. It’s natural for student attention levels to vary according to motivation, mood, perceived relevance of the material and other factors. 

I had talked to my uncle. He was telling me about his kids, how it’s hard for them to pay attention. Now he has to sit down with them during class time to help them stay focused.

On top of worrying about the pandemic’s effect on the country, I worry about the long-term effects school closures will have on the kids — specifically their ability to interact with others and whether they will stay motivated and inspired. I worry about the long-term effects it will have on me. I have a lot of projects I’ve been excited to kick off or complete. Where I once dreaded a standard work week, I now dream about having 40 hours dedicated to my endeavors.

I miss the structure of school days. The kids and I knew what we needed to accomplish each day, and we had something to talk about at dinner. We looked forward to seeing each other.

I miss the confidence I felt knowing that my cousin’s education and social needs were being met.

I miss the lunch time when it was peaceful. I miss alone time. I relish and require time to myself. It seems like this behavioral pattern shouldn’t apply to being away from one of my cousins, but sometimes it does.

In retrospect, life was good.

If I were more dramatic, I might be raising my fists to the heavens shouting, “How is this possible? How are my baby cousins going to learn and build social skills? How am I going to get anything done?” Or I could lock myself in the bathroom while I write on my paper, “Remote school sucks” over and over again. 

I am not that dramatic.