To those parents out there still working outside the home, stocking shelves or taking care of patients, patrolling our streets or delivering our mail, I first wanted to thank you. Unlike those every day heroes, I am now one of millions of people working from home. While it has taken me a week or so to get used to, my household is starting to sort it out. We do the best we can. That’s sort of the mantra these days with everything.
While I don’t have children in the schools yet, both my twin sons attend preschool three mornings a week and they adore it. So it goes without saying as I watched my employer move us to work remotely, I knew it was a matter of time before my sons would be staying home too. Like most parents, I panicked a little. I am not a preschool teacher. Some days I barely pass as a good parent. I decided right away to stick to my shaky identity as a parent, and I would do the best I can with at least attempting to keep them busy enough so I can work in the mornings. I am not going to suddenly put pressure on myself to be something I am not trained to be, and throw out whatever education expectations there might hypothetically be.
My kids definitely miss school and their teachers, naturally, and I knew they would miss doing their art projects the most. That is the one thing they have always proudly shown us when we pick them up, and we have a house full of those projects for proof. For almost two years, I have picked them up and been shown the result of their creative minds. But until this week, I have never really put that much thought into why or how they create what they do or their process to get there.
Oh, they have processes! Creating with them has been really neat. You see, I don’t feel like I have ever had enough time to soak it all in and be completely present. Life tells me that, under typical circumstances, I can’t. I am usually busy with the calendar on my phone, or checking my email, but right now, I don’t have a rigid schedule. I can watch my sons create their own lion manes in their own way for as long as it takes. As long as it takes — a concept not normally in my parenting tool belt because we seldom have that sort of time to spend with our kids. Which in hindsight, makes me a little sad to think about.
But in this moment, I am really studying my sons and getting to know them in a way that has, until now, been really reserved for their teachers. This is a whole new world, and while the one outside our house is very uncertain and scary right now, I can be present for this.
Sharing My Undivided Attention
I was fortunate to have parent-teacher conferences about my sons right before the break. We are so lucky to have had great teachers for our sons, and I have always appreciated their honesty and insight since they see our kids in settings we rarely, if ever, do. It’s always fascinating to hear someone tell you things about your kids you don’t know — but it happens every time. I may have seen my sons color hundreds of coloring book pages, but until this week, I hadn’t really watched their wheels turn in the moment, say, when asked to create or make something up entirely on their own.
I have hovered, watched for a moment, even sat near them with a pile of crayons–physically present but not mindful in watching their efforts to create. It’s almost embarrassing to admit what I realize now I have been missing out on. We give them experiences and places to go and moments of our time, but our full, undivided attention? In the middle of the day? This is an entirely new world, and it feels like I’m suddenly the most aware parent on the planet.
Revealing Parts We Rarely See
For school-aged parents, maybe you are watching your children listen to their teachers via computers for the first time. We typically aren’t present in the classrooms with our children, and suddenly our classrooms are at our dining tables. Maybe you are watching your kids take notes, take quizzes, ask questions. I think all of us would love to be a fly on the wall sometimes to watch our kids in a day of school. What subjects do they lock down their focus for? Which ones make them think about anything other than what the teacher is working through? We have all the time in the world to make make new observations now.
Remember, distance learning isn’t the only way our kids are absorbing information. I firmly believe, in the end, our kids are all going to be okay. Do I worry my son is missing speech appointments? Of course. Regressing with the alphabet? Possibly. But finding out I can build amazing forts outside and make up some wild games to play? I can’t wait to deliver on that. My wife just start Geocaching with the boys, and believe me, they are all in! Maybe much of the way our kids are learning right now is actually through us being present and giving them what parts of ourselves we can.
We’re All Learning Something New
Parents, used to splitting their attention a hundred different ways, are being forced to be more present. Nothing we were doing in our recent past matters, and our futures are in a state of suspension. This here and now with nowhere to be is going to teach ALL of us. It’s going to allow us to see with new eyes, and after begging time to slow down for most of our children’s lives to this point, we have finally gotten our wishes, as inconvenient as it may feel right now.
When this is all over, our kids are only going to remember how much time they got to spend with their family. When we return back to our normal, whatever that may be, we may really miss this forced opportunity to share so much space with our kids. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and those of us who aren’t teachers certainly aren’t going to suddenly become them. But we can put a lot of effort into learning about our children in this new presence we have been given with them. An effort we can continue to make come what may.