Diary of My So-Called Homeschool Life

7:51 a.m.: We’re still in bed. Hazel, Oren and I. Typically, at this time on a Tuesday, I’m yelling at my 8-year-old to put on his shoes because our carpool is coming at any minute and he needs to be ready and out the door. But this morning Oren does not need shoes. There is no carpool, and no one is coming at any minute. Sometimes people do come, though — for a minute. To drop off homemade snickerdoodle cookies. Or tell us they found a salamander that looks like a snake. Or to just chat below our window, Rapunzel style.

8:07 a.m.: Breakfast is Josh’s meal. I escape for a run in the already-too-crowded park. Why is it only male runners who barrel ahead, center path, refusing to budge for pedestrians, while I make giant half-moons into the street?

9:02 a.m.: I return reluctantly, to find my kids engaged, actually engaged, in morning meetings, live Zooms our school started three weeks into quarantine. Hazel is upstairs in her room, on her laptop like a teenager instead of the sweet, 4-foot-6, fifth-grader she is. Shunning his new little makeshift desk in the kitchen, Oren settles into the beanbag, iPad in his lap. This is the 32-minute highlight of my day, and — I think — my kids’ too. They get to hear their teacher and see other kids and share their feelings about what they’re feeling. (“I miss my friends,” is a collective refrain.) I drink coffee and turn on my laptop: headlines, emails, Twitter threads, Instagram. This time is finite and I should not waste it, but I can’t help it: I do.

9:24 a.m.: “Why couldn’t the toilet paper cross the road?” Oren asks his classmates over Zoom. “Because it got stuck in a crack.”

9:30 a.m.: Hazel consults her schedule and keeps to it. Rarely online before homeschool, she now Gchats all day with friends. She also does whatever her teachers ask of her. I don’t even know what that is. I pretend she doesn’t need me.

9:33 a.m.: Oren logs off Zoom with good intentions. He will do all his work, he says. He just doesn’t know what he wants to do first. He wants to make his own schedule, he says, snubbing mine. I wish he would do reading first: 30 minutes of solo reading a real book every day. If only he’d do morning meeting straight into solo reading — that would give me a full uninterrupted hour. How about math? I ask. No, he wants to wait for Dad for math. I don’t blame him. Dad is working downstairs in the cold, dark, windowless basement. Uninterrupted. I’m envious.

Oren and I settle on social studies. He is studying changemakers, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We watch an animated RBG on the iPad. Oren liked watching RBG on “SNL” better. “Does she really lift AA batteries for weights?” he asks. My work is not done.

9:58 a.m.: Ah, Hazel does need me. She lugs her laptop downstairs to the dining room and sets it up an inch from mine. “The Armchair Historian” and its nine-minute segment on the British colonization of India is not making sense. The guy in a blazer and button-down is using big words. “What does subjugate mean?” she asks.

9:59 a.m.: “You said you’d read the Newsela article with me!” Oren wails, referring to the distance-learning education company that rewrites news articles for young students. He climbs into my lap, almost knocking over my third cup of coffee onto both laptops. “Let’s watch Hazel’s ‘Armchair Historian’ first,” I say. He doesn’t want to, of course. I don’t either.

10:04 a.m.: The Newsela article profiles a local changemaker — a woman who plays cello on her front porch during the pandemic. “Why did the woman play the cello?” asks a multiple-choice question at the end. “C,” Oren says. “To help people feel less lonely.”

10:09 a.m.: Writing. Biographies. Pick a family member to interview, the purple slide instructs. Oren picks me. I have a better idea. “Let’s call Grampy in Florida!” I prop up my phone at Oren’s little desk and let my father’s big face fill time and space. “Where were you born?” I overhear Oren asking as I leave the room. My heart warms. Grandfather and grandson connecting across the country and generations during quarantine. “Brookline, Massachusetts,” replies my dad. “How do you spell Brookline?” B-R-O-O … my dad spells as Oren writes each letter with care, and cross-outs. “How do you spell Massachusetts?” he asks. “M- A-… just abbreviate it,” my dad says, already over his celebrity interview.

10: 21 a.m.: “I’m hungry,” Oren declares for the third time since breakfast. He helps himself to another mini-bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, which my husband bought in bulk, because when he thinks school snacks, he thinks 1987.

10:50 a.m.: Live Zoom PE with the PE teacher! We love the PE teacher. “How’re you guys doing?” she asks the kids. “Good,” Oren says, sprawled in his beanbag and sounding like he’s stoned. For exercise, he flips through the anamoji options on the iPad.

11:01 a.m.: Raz-Kids. Oren likes Raz-Kids. A woman’s voice reads “A Job for James.” He listens, looks at the illustrations, and “turns” the pages, sort of like a real book. I turn to my laptop.

11:08 a.m.: The woman’s voice has gone quiet. I suspect foul play, as in: Oren surreptitiously switching from Raz-Kids to Pixel Gun 3D. Because I have a deadline, I pretend he’s still e-reading.

11:32 a.m.: “Oren, what’re you doing?” I call from the next room. “Raz-Kids!” he lies. I let him.

Noon: Lunchtime. Leftover pesto pasta and Hazel’s hand-rolled bean-and-cheese burritos. She’s got serious burrito-rolling skills. I decide she will be OK. Josh emerges from the basement. Everyone eats. I do the dishes.

12:18 p.m.: Josh and Oren descend to the basement. It’s MATH TIME. They do math! Hazel and I go for a walk up and down the street. The same street we’ve been walking up and down every day, sometimes three times a day, for the past six weeks. At least I love this street.

12:40 p.m.: Josh has a work call. Oren reappears. We do math. 7 x 8 = 56. It’s all coming back to me.

1 p.m.: It’s only 1 p.m.?

1:02 p.m.: Hazel sequesters herself in her room to draw the digestive system. She will work on this for the next few hours — while on Google Hangouts asking friends for advice on how to convince her mother to get a dog — until every part, from esophagus to anus (her word), is sketched and labeled and every last bit of large intestine is colored pink. Oren will work on nothing.

1:04 p.m.: Well, technically he is practicing his stealth ninja skills as he makes several attempts to sneak into the dining room, slip quietly under the table and reach his hand up to steal my phone. I urge him to practice ukulele instead. He plays “You Are My Sunshine” once then throws his uke like Eddie Van Halen and storms the pantry for his fourth mini-bag of Doritos, which he stuffs in his sweatpants so I don’t see. Except I do.

1:10 p.m.: I spy two bruised bananas on the counter. Activity opportunity: banana bread! Oren mashes. I mix. We pour the batter into a pan. He licks the spatula clean. It’s a cute, quality 18 minutes.

1:42 p.m.: Oren challenges his friend Zagnut42 to a game of online chess. He loses, too quickly. Rematch? Zagnut42 disappears.

2 p.m.: Desperate measures mean: It’s documentary film hour. “Can we watch ‘Marvel’?” Oren asks. No, I say, this is homeschool. He cries and whines and says then he will watch nothing. So, watch nothing, I reply. Read instead. He agrees to a matinee. “March of the Penguins”! I proclaim. (I love “March of the Penguins.”) “Pumping Iron!” Oren counters. (“Pumping Iron”?) We watch the 1977 trailer starring a young, bronzed, bulging Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He used to be the governor of California,” I say. Oren is confused. “March of the Penguins” it is. The penguins are so not social-distancing.

3:51 p.m.: It’s cold and gray and drizzling. Whatever. I’ve got to get him outside. We’re going for a run, I inform him. Yes, I know I already did.

4:12 p.m.: Oren finally puts on his sneakers. We head down the street, the street I love, and over the grassy knoll and down the creaky wooden steps. It’s wet and slick. “Don’t touch the railing!” I yell. Oren touches the railing. We hang a left and wind up and up, flanked by the lush electric-green hillside, as we walk-run through the middle of the double-yellow-lined road, toward a Twin Peaks devoid of cars and tourists. I hope, post-corona, neither come back. Oren pulls ahead. I watch his ever-longer hair flop in the mist as he plods along the pavement. I decide: He’ll be OK. We all will.

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