Here’s the scene, and if you’re a parent trying to home-school your children in this age of coronavirus, it should be familiar:
The kitchen table looks like London after the Blitz. Damage everywhere. Papers and household items strewn about. Hopes and dreams in shards and bits.
Your laptop, if you have one, is open. It has been the site of daily, even hourly, skirmishes. There’s a yellow legal pad teetering off the table’s edge, four lines of an 8-year-old’s wobbly handwriting scribbled in black ink. The conversation, if it can be called that, with your son or daughter probably goes something like this:
Did you finish your paragraph of narrative writing?
(parent checks paragraph)
You didn’t finish it.
I don’t want to finish it!
WHAT YOU WANT DOESN’T MATTER AND NEVER DID WHY WOULD YOU SAY YOU FINISHED IT WHEN YOU DIDN’T FINISH IT I TOLD YOU TO FINISH IT FINISH IT.
You’re teetering, too, of course. You could use some help, a brief respite from the unrelenting pressure. You’re working from home, if you’re able, or you aren’t working at all and you’re stressed because there’s less money coming in – or maybe there’s no money coming in at all – and you just want your child to keep up, not to be set back when school, and everything else, returns to normal. Whenever that is.
One expert says that planning is the key. Stick to a schedule: first math, then reading, then downtime, then repeat. Is this realistic?
You hear in a recent conversation of a mother who drives her children to school every morning, even though the building is closed, then drives them home and has them recite the Pledge of Allegiance, just as they would on a regular school day, just to maintain the routine.
You wonder: Maybe the forced isolation broke this woman, or maybe it merely freed her to become the crazy-obsessive Claire Dunphy clone she was always meant to be.
Then you read an article from another expert, who says that there’s no point in trying to home-school your children. Forget the teacher’s handouts and apps and suggested syllabus. Let them relax. Let them be free. Let them eat Cheetos and not read and not do math because they’re young and it will all be fine in the end.
Yeah, right. That’s the ticket.
So what is the ticket?
It’s the old cliché: You take it one day at a time. No, you break it down even further. You thin-slice those long days of social distancing. You take it by the hour, even by the half-hour, and if there’s a way to fill one of those precious slots of time, just so you can pay some bills or send a work email or take a freaking nap, you’ll take that deal. You’ll take it every time.
Ryan Manion would. The president of the Travis Manion Foundation, headquartered in Doylestown, she has three children, all under the age of 13. And once the virus forced her employees to work remotely and closed schools around the Delaware Valley, the foundation couldn’t carry out one of its primary services.
In its “Character Does Matter” program, the foundation dispatches many of its nearly 2,000 mentors – all of them retired veterans or relatives of fallen veterans – to elementary and middle schools around the country to speak to students about the qualities that make up good character. Since so many schools aren’t open anymore, Janaia Harris, the foundation’s programming chief, suggested moving the content online: Have the mentors give their talks at their homes, then broadcast them online through Facebook Live.
Manion – whose brother Travis, a Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2007, is the foundation’s namesake – loved the idea. And she knew the perfect mentor to start the program, because Jimmy White would take that same deal.
Before he became a husband and father of three, White had grown up in Point Breeze, spending six years in the Navy as a nuclear electrician on submarines, including one that fired 20 Tomahawk missiles during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Last Monday at 1 p.m., he handled the opening Facebook Live session, incorporating Martin Luther King Jr. and dad jokes into a 40-minute monologue.
Forty. Minutes. Do you know how difficult it is to get a child to do anything productive for 40 minutes? Do you know how productive a parent can be in 40 minutes? Do you know how much peace of mind 40 minutes can bring?
“If I tell my kids about character and leadership and courage, they’re like, ‘OK, whatever, you’re my dad,’” White said. “But if another mentor is live-streaming, those are the messages that my kids can cling on to.”
The next day, Ryan Manion spent 20 minutes on the value of humor. The program is scheduled to run weekdays at 1 p.m. for another month, which might be just long enough to maintain the sanity of any mom or dad who takes advantage of it.
“I saw this great quote: Don’t force your kids,” Manion said. “Right now is not the time to say, ‘You must do your phonics.’ If they’re not into it, spend these days teaching them something new. My 5-year-old sat down with me and listened to Jimmy White talk about what it means to have character, and if he got nothing else from that day, it was a success knowing he watched that.”
Yep. I’ll take that deal, too. Sign me up.