Sinead O'Connor, singer, artist, inspirational activist and these days, like many of us, a locked-down parent, recently started a conversation on Twitter called #ILoveMyKidSoMuch.
She kicked off the thread by saying she is watching Dungeons & Dragons beginner tutorials with him on YouTube. “So far the tutor hasn’t said if I can poke my eyes out,” she clarified.
Here’s one for the Coronavirus Confession Box: I love my kids so much I have decided to abandon the impossible, painful and head-wrecking home schooling while working from home (WFH) farce.
It’s my twin daughters’ 11th birthday tomorrow. Metaphorically burning down the school, we decided, was the ultimate pandemic gift to them.
And, being very honest, to us.
I always thought I'd make a brilliant teacher
The home school was supposed to be back open today after two weeks of Easter holidays. But both “teachers” have gone on permanent strike, reasoning that ours will be a far happier, not to mention far less stressful household without it.
In our home, the educating small people at home while also WFH had three distinct phases:
Phase 1: The zoo of the new
What larks! I always thought I’d make a brilliant teacher and now is my chance to truly shine. Come, dutiful daughters, examine the detailed, action-packed schedule I’ve created from 9am until 3pm, including breaks for lunch and exercise. I’ve also set up a pandemic-parents WhatsApp group to get inspiration from other mothers and fathers of our close acquaintance. One of them suggested that on top of the regular schoolwork – which of course will be a doddle to supervise while we also WFH – you, biddable offspring, could learn a new word a day: specific, vicarious, anthology. And complete a project on a well-known person: Mary Robinson. Rosa Parks. Houdini. Perhaps you’ll never have to go back to real school even when it’s all over. (I am actually amazing at this.)
Phase 2: Not now, I have work to do
Listen, I have two deadlines and I’ve forgotten how to do long division, so stop asking me for help I am not equipped to give. And when I said “project”, I didn’t mean the first three paragraphs from Houdini’s Wikipedia entry copied out in fancy joined up writing. Feck sake. Can you keep the noise down? I am trying to ruminate existentially up here about how life has changed during lockdown. And I’m also on a Google Hangouts trying to sound productive, and anyway, no, I can’t remember how to do long multiplication either. And I am recording a podcast so KEEP THE BLOODY NOISE DOWN. What? Can you do what? Yes, okay you can watch Clueless/Pretty in Pink/Sixteen Candles/Twilight. (The pandemic-parents WhatsApp group has by now mostly evolved into organising the finer details of our Friday night Zoom drinks. Plus memes.)
Phase 3: Burning down the home school
That’s all there is to this phase, just the school smouldering metaphorically and the pleasing, imaginary stench of charred copybook in my nostrils.
We've burnt down the home school, but for one hour a day we have enrolled the children and ourselves into another institution. And that has made all the difference. I wrote recently about how we all need solid pandemic pals at this time and one of mine is Trevor White, the director of the Little Museum of Dublin, which along with other cultural institutions has had to close its doors because of the crisis.
The idea is that we should use this time to help our children learn things that they wouldn't learn at school
A couple of weeks ago I asked Trevor how his home-schooling was going with his two primary school-aged boys. He didn't just tell me, he forwarded on the details of what he is calling Mr White's College of Much Further Education.
It might sound posh, but I honestly think every home in the country could benefit from enrolling in Mr White’s College. For us it has been the most satisfying family experience of this pandemic.
His idea is that we should use this time to help our children learn things that they wouldn’t learn at school. Each lesson consists of: a few minutes of meditation, 10 press ups or star jumps, a memory trick, a short educational film, learning a new skill and writing down three things we are grateful for. We’ve been doing it for a week now and it’s become a daily habit we all look forward to.
The girls have a special notebook for the lessons where they’ve learned about positive psychology, touch typing, how to write a thank you letter, sudoku and the mind changing power of gratitude as proven by a Harvard professor. We’ll never burn this school down.
The sickest joke about this pandemic is that it's a great leveller. Of course, it's not one bit true. I've been thinking about a boy I interviewed recently called Ryan Mpofu from Zimbabwe, who spoke to me for a feature I was writing about the lives of children in lockdown.
While my kids are delighted to be off school and I am happily burning down down our home school, Ryan, a teenager who lives in Mosney direct-provision centre, is struggling without the guidance of his teachers, especially with subjects like Irish.
He told me he had no laptop and no printer at home, so he couldn’t print out the lessons being sent from the school. And the wifi was patchy in the centre at the best of times. I had a little cry after talking to him, hearing the anguish in his voice, the worry about how much this crisis will set him back in his ambition to get good grades and make a better life for himself and his family.
Ryan rang me the other day but he couldn’t talk because he was crying so hard. It was a video call, so I could see he was trying to open a huge parcel that had just arrived for him at the centre.
His mother Percy came on the call, to tell me that somebody had read the article in The Irish Times and sent her son a new laptop and printer.
The message just said “from an Irish Times reader”. No name, no desire for praise. But, lovely Irish Times reader, I put you on the top of my gratitude list today. You and all the other people doing random acts of great kindness around this country, brightening up these darkest of days.
We are all doing what we can to get through this. We can only do what we are able for.
So burn your home school down. Or keep it open. Ultimately, it is kindness and gratitude that will see us through.