Remote Learning Results in Unexpected Closeness

This isn’t the school year we planned for.

My work partner, focused and in the zone

Instead of new shoes, piles of fresh notebooks, pencil cases, locker organizers, and backpacks, this year started off more with a tiptoe than a bang. Come to think of it, I never took a “First Day of School” picture like I usually do. On the first day of classes, two of my kids woke up, showered, and unceremoniously walked to the dining room table a few feet away from where they’d just grabbed the milk for their breakfast cereal. Our school, like many across the country during the pandemic, is starting the year out with remote learning, allowing students to stay home and attend classes virtually.

Whereas our house used to wait empty most days, now our entire life seems to play out in two rooms of our house. My son sets up his high school learning command center in our sunroom, while my daughter sits across the dining room table from me. As I clack away on my laptop working remotely for my job at a public library, she attends Zoom classes and reviews Google Classroom for her middle school assignments.

When I check social media groups, parents seem outraged, signified by the number of exclamation points they use.

“We are failing our children!!” writes one mom. 

“E-learning is not working!!” says another. 

“My son isn’t being challenged enough!!” says a father.

I understand the frustration during these times of frequent handwashing and canceled plans. Still, I can’t muster the level of anger some are feeling. In fact, I actually appreciate the surprising advantages of remote learning.

I look over my laptop to see my daughter with her head cocked at a thoughtful angle. She is listening intently to her teacher over a Zoom call as she lazily reaches over to a bowl of sliced peaches positioned between us. We’ve started a new quiet routine with unspoken rules: when heading to the kitchen for a snack, always bring back enough to share with your “co-workers.”

Her classes are the soundtrack to my day—I’ve become accustomed to the voice of her Industrial Tech teacher, who tells stories about his various summer jobs when he was a teen. The social studies teacher always sings “Good morning, Good morning!” before taking attendance. The English teacher affectionately calls the students “my babies” (pronounced BAY-bez).

How often do our plans really work out anyway?

Carol Pavlik

This isn’t the school year we planned for. But how often do our plans really work out anyway? I’m taking this year as it comes, holding on to the things I know to be true: We are safe. We are healthy (today, anyway). We get to be together when normally, we’d be too busy for more than a quick hello before going on to our next obligation. Instead, I get a front-row seat to the expression of bravery on my kid’s face when she pipes up to answer a question, or the way she furrows her brow when she doesn’t understand something. Sometimes, I know how to help her. Other times, her eighth grade curriculum leaves me in the dust and I have to admit that I don’t know.

Remote learning has brought a closeness to my teenagers that I didn’t know was possible. As much as I long to get back to “normal,” I’m trying to hold these days of togetherness close to my heart. I have a feeling I’ll kind of miss them when they’re gone.

Originally published Sept. 10, 2020 on MyHuntleyNews.com

IKEA Builds Character

Photo by Alexander Isreb from Pexels

The Swedish store Ikea might be known for its assemble-your-own furniture, but in my house, each project turns into what could only be classified as “Assemble-Your-Own Rollercoaster of Emotions.”

Since our family downsized to a modest 2-bedroom home five years ago, Ikea and its compact line of furniture with a minimalist mindset has been a crucial ingredient in our ongoing quest to live life in a smaller space. I have to admit that I love the way Ikea items come in compact boxes with just a booklet of illustrated instructions, an Allen wrench, and a variety of bolts, brackets, and pegs. Such a vote of confidence! It’s as if to say, We believe in you. We know you can build this!

Until recently, our four children haven’t had the luxury of their own room. But now that our oldest two are adults living in their own apartments, our two youngest, ages 13 and 16, are gleefully spreading out, one claiming a small but sunny bedroom on the main floor, the other setting up an impressive “man cave” down in our partially finished basement.

Reese is 16. His basement man cave consists of a favorite Van Gogh print, a record player for his impressive vinyl collection, a bean bag chair, and a video game system. All it lacked, it seemed, was a bed. He’d graduated from the bunk bed that served him well until a growth spurt catapulted him into the stratosphere. It was time for a real bed, replete with built-in drawers and shelves.

This was a job for IKEA — and Reese, who would have to assemble his own bed.

My son started the task with a certain expression of excitement, hope, and determination on his face. He tore into the boxes, quickly opened the instruction booklet, and set to work.

“Do you need any help?” I asked.

“No Mom, I’ve got this,” said Reese. “This is my challenge for the day.”

Two hours later: “Need any help?”

“Nope! This is going to take longer than I thought, but I’m fine!”

By lunch time, I hadn’t seen him emerge from the man cave. From the top of the stairs, I could hear muffled muttering. I tiptoed down the stairs. Did I just hear a curse word?? I wasn’t going to press the issue. I recognized the flush of frustration in my son’s face as his eyes darted back and forth between the partially assembled bed, the instructions, then back to the bed. His shoulders sagged.

“Why is this side a whole inch lower than the other side?” he asked me. The bed was unmistakably lopsided. We spent a few minutes comparing the structure to the line drawings in the booklet. We located an upside-down piece. Crisis averted. Sighing deeply, my son took up the Allen wrench and set to the task of disassembling a few pieces in order to fix the errant board. I decided to back away slowly. A few minutes later, I brought him some lunch and a cold drink. He was going to need nourishment for the afternoon ahead.

Thirty minutes later: “How’s it going?”

“Better, Mom! Thanks for lunch. I’m not going to let this bed win. I know I can do this!”

The afternoon progressed with occasional scuffling and banging noises coming from the man cave. On a bright note, I didn’t hear any more muttering or cursing.

This is the genius of Ikea. A humble item of furniture becomes so much more — it is transformed into an object of prey: Something that must be chased, wrangled, and dominated. My son went into the arena armed only with an Allen wrench and a firmly set jaw. He came out beaten, battered … but victorious.

Later that evening, I visited Reese in his man cave. He was surrounded by the trappings of his very own kingdom: the vinyl collection, the video games, and the beanbag chair. But there, as he proudly displayed the completely assembled bed, he looked different to me. His eyes were brighter, his shoulders broader. There was a swagger that hadn’t been there before.

He had assembled the rollercoaster of emotions, clung tightly during the twists and turns — and came out triumphant.

Originally published Aug. 20, 2020 on MyHuntleyNews.com