by Melissa Bauer
“I DON’T WANT TO DO SCHOOL ON THE COMPUTER!!” my five-year-old daughter shouts at me while catapulting herself onto the floor in the hallway, right outside of our kitchen. I agitatedly glance at the clock on the microwave; her virtual class starts in five minutes. Five minutes to try and rescue this sinking ship. “I know,” I say, and walk over to try to soothe her. “But you have to,” I add. As if knowing you have to do something ever makes doing it any easier.
We’ve been in virtual schooling for about two weeks now. The novelty, like my positivity, is wearing off. My daughter’s friends and classmates from preschool have chosen not to go the virtual route for kindergarten. “You can’t do kindergarten on the computer!” they all crooned in my ear, spewing their seeds of doubt. So off to private school their kinder went while we forged ahead apprehensively with public school. The pandemic, it seems, wiped clean all of our familiarity. It feels as though we are navigating this alone.
Still lying on the floor, but crying now, my daughter continues to shout “Noooo! I won’t!” Exasperated, I walk back into the kitchen. My eyes immediately dart towards my candle burning on the island, bonfire and spun sugar filling the air, but I can’t smell it. My irritation is mounting. And now my three year old is on my heels looking for a snack. “Alexa” I yell to my echo dot “play Freeze Dance” in hopes to change the energy. But as the rhythmic beats penetrate the air, things only get worse. Her crying has turned into sobs.
We’ve officially entered Emotionville. An unpleasant, foul little town where emotions are big and patience is small.
Here’s what I want to tell my daughter. I DON’T want to do school on the computer either! When I pictured my little, big girl going off to kindergarten, it certainly wasn’t through Microsoft Teams. When I imagined buying her school supplies, it didn’t include a desk and chair for her online classroom. Or where to comfortably place her desk and chair within our modest sized home. By a window overlooking our wooded backyard so she can get a glimpse of nature while she learns? Or will that be painful to see the open-air, verve beyond our four walls, just outside her reach. No, I didn’t imagine buying a “reading buddy,” a stuffed grey elephant that sits on her table, substituting for another child. Or how my back would ache from bending over her kid sized desk repeatedly when she needed my help completing her assignments. But I don’t say any of this. I swallow my feelings and pinch my eyes shut.
Breathe, I tell myself. Remember to breathe.
One minute. We have one minute now until class starts and my daughter is still lying lithe on the hardwood floor, her tears flowing, my anger rising. It’s becoming a living, breathing thing, my anger, panting down my neck with each second that passes. The smell of burning wood fills me now. I pick her up, whispering tersely in her ear “I know honey, you don’t want to do this, but you’re going to” and I carry her over to her chair. She sits begrudgingly, a limp and nimble rag doll, as the teacher’s voice rings through the speakers. “Welcome back class!” My daughter straightens up in her seat. I breathe in, and smell wood and this time, a little sugar too. I squeeze my daughter’s shoulder, an offering, I suppose. All is calm for an exhale, and then my three year old shouts at me from the kitchen “MAMA, I wannnaaa snack!
Our virtual school days continued like this, more or less, for nine weeks until we slowly transitioned to face-to-face learning. Phase 1 included a ninety-minute session, one day a week, for two children while the remaining ten classmates participated virtually. We were assigned to Mondays. Watching the other students participate in person while my daughter remained online was hard for her. “That’s not fair!” she’d cry out to her computer on her non-assigned days. “Soon it will be your turn,” I offered, silently counting down the minutes for both of us.
“Good morning sweetheart!” I chirped as I turned on the lights to wake my daughter up for her “first” day of school. Sleepy eyed, but smiling she dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast. “I can’t wait to ride the bus!” she squealed with a mouth full of cereal. To her, riding the bus was akin to getting your driver’s license. She could taste the freedom. “Let’s go!” I shouted and we hastily ran to the bus stop. Within minutes the bright lights of her yellow chariot rounded the corner. “Don’t forget your mask,” I said as she donned it on her face. “Bye mom!” she yelled over the loud engine as she entered the bus, one giant step at a time. But my excitement soon faded when I looked around and noticed she was the sole rider. Am I an irresponsible mom for sending my daughter to school in person? With her big, curious blue eyes peering over her mask, she looked straight-ahead and then at me as the bus pulled away. Her little hand went up in a wave, five fingers spread open. My lungs filled with the smell of exhaust as the bus drove away. My chest constricted. I was overcome with the urge to run and grab her off that bus. To take her home and cradle her inside our little bubble, where my candle burned at both ends, because at least there I could keep her safe.
“Bye sweetheart” I mouthed in the rearview.
I walked back into my house, and felt like I was missing an appendage. Our virtual schooling was tempestuous at best, but now I feared the silence. I hadn’t had a moment to myself since my children’s preschool shut down the previous year. Yet, I couldn’t relax. Instead, I padded towards the kitchen worried for my little girl out there in the wild. Will she have a hard time wearing a mask for 8 hours a day? I washed our morning dishes and thought about her. I stared at her empty desk. Her vacant chair mocked me, a silent reminder of “what if?”
The days slipped by and I held my breath as we transitioned through each phase. Slowly, more students joined her class in person. Turns out, my daughter didn’t mind wearing a mask all day or eating a socially distanced lunch in the cafeteria. Especially if it meant she could try the chocolate milk.
We settled into a new norm. After several months, she was finally attending face-to-face learning full time with her entire class. And I began breathing again. What once felt wildly terrible and wildly devastating now felt wildly normal.
“What was your favorite part of school today?” I ask her, our hands clasped, her mask shoved into her backpack as we walk home from the bus. “Recess!” she shouts, her lips curling into a smile at the mere memory of it. A take-a-picture-and-show-it-your-sister kind of smile.
I’m smiling now too.
Not long after face-to-face learning resumes, our town is hit with the after effects of a hurricane. Hundred-year-old giant oak trees are uprooted by the winds, and they’ve fallen on houses and power lines. They are blocking our roads. School has been put on hold. Again. I am looking at one of those massive trees splayed out across our roads, like an enormous carcass, lying belly up, and I can’t help but think this is a metaphor. This year stripped us bare; left our roots exposed. And yet, in our shared vulnerability, we learned that hard times don’t last forever. The wind eventually stops howling. Fallen trees are removed. And maybe, just maybe, we learn to love the view.
Melissa Bauer lives in Milton, Georgia with her husband and their two young kids. A former nurse turned stay at home mom; she has been writing about her journey through grief, loss, motherhood and healing since the death of her parents in 2010. An avid reader, podcast junkie, and mindfulness advocate she is passionate about living authentically and with gratitude. She values connection and the best compliment someone could give her is an honest ‘me too.’
Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.