Our kids’ school, the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn, is very on top of things. The attention to detail is really something fine, and it’s reflected in the number of emails they send me, some of which I manage to read. It sometimes makes me, a working mom with average organizational skills, feel a bit ashamed of myself … But mostly, I’m grateful. The school is a safety net.
Our communal encounter with coronavirus is a case in point. They were on it early. I’m talking late February; President Trump was promising the whole thing would “disappear.”
Nicole Nash, the head of school, wasn’t having any of that. The school asked every family that had traveled internationally during the break earlier that month to self-quarantine for two weeks. So we got exposed to the idea of quarantine really early and ever since, we’ve just been waiting for the announcement that finally came Thursday afternoon: Classes were cancelled.
Distance learning would start on Monday, after the teachers spent Friday testing the technology. And test they did, thank goodness. Our Day One went pretty smoothly, all things considered. If only this was a one-day experiment instead of the beginning of a new normal.
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Here are some notes from one day-school mom’s diary:.
8:15 a.m.: I wake up my kids, 12-year-old Avi and 10-year-old Sarah. My daughter doesn’t see the need for pants. She’s right, of course, but I convince her that she needs to get dressed like a normal person in order to make her day feel normal. Actually, I don’t convince her, but she does it anyway.
8:30 a.m.: The day starts in the kitchen, the heart of the home. We grownups drink coffee, the children scarf cereal and my husband holds Nicole’s disembodied head in his hands as we watch her digital message to us all: “I hope that everyone is adjusting to some of our new norms including social distancing. I encourage you all to remember, it’s not emotional distancing. So please, call each other. Use technology. Reach out to one another. Care for one another.” It’s very sweet and reassuring. Monster that I am, I wonder queasily if it is live. That would be Orwellian, I think? Pre-recorded, phew!
8:30 a.m.-9 a.m.: Now’s the time the kids are supposed to daven shacharit, or morning prayers. Nobody even looks at me when I say this.
9: Three of the four of us — my daughter, my son and me — have online meetings that start exactly now, except theirs are classes and they are young and used to life online — plus, the Hannah Senesh faculty is there to guide them through it. They log on and start learning. Mine? A Google-supported horror show in which we all interrupt and apologize a lot and I have to stare at myself in the unforgiving light of morning. I try and fail to forget that this is my face at 46.
9 a.m. to noon: We all start out in the same location, our living room, silent and grim. Then, my daughter starts oohing and aahing at her friends on the screen, which human moment of course the rest of us can’t abide, so she takes her ChromeBook into another room. Someone in one of my son’s classes unmutes in the middle of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (“Easy come, easy go …”) It feels very symbolic, but all we want is for it to end.
The learning? Among other things: a passage about Helen Keller in Hebrew for my daughter, and a reflection by my son about whether gladiators are heroes that he wrote and submitted online. I learned something, too! The most recent interest-rate cut has had the unintended consequences of freaking out the citizenry even more, and trading has been halted. What am I to do with this information? I have no idea.
Noon: The kids grudgingly accept an uninspiring lunch of eggs and pasta. For me? Cake, because I deserve it. My husband: Cheerios, food of his childhood. The kids go to the playground, where, per usual if they’re not at school (and even sometimes when they are), they start to bicker and flounce home, fortunately before it gets physical.
1-3 p.m. My daughter’s still doing her thing, i.e. studying, and in the way she likes best. In bed, listening to Taylor Swift. She’s singing along to “Style” and learning about hieroglyphics for a unit on Egypt. O.K., she didn’t need pants.
But in my son’s virtual reality, it’s getting a bit more real. In math class, some kid figures out how to kick the teacher off the chat. When she reemerges, she justifiably tells them all that if they do it again, they’ll have to figure out percentages on their own.
Soon all the kids are talking and laughing and blaming each other nervously. It starts to sound like Lord of the Flies in there. My son checks out and finishes up the work on his own. He also gave me no arguments about getting dressed. Typical older child.
But when the day is over, he’s pretty bummed out. He doesn’t have any friends in the neighborhood, and there isn’t enough time left in the day to get him to a park for a suitably socially distant playdate. He doesn’t think gladiators are heroes and won’t explain why. I can tell already that this is going to be hard for him, and I’m 100% sure that even though I don’t know yet in what ways it will be hard for the rest of us, I am going to learn.
It will get better, and it will get worse. Nicole will fix that glitch by which teachers can get kicked out of the virtual classroom. A “long-term plan for tefillah (prayer)” is promised. The school has told all of us by email that it is “proud of our grit, determination and kindness!”
But I keep thinking, this is kind of like when you have a baby, and you realize your focus on the details of labor and delivery and layette was totally misplaced. Understandable, but misplaced. That was just the beginning.
Diary of a Day-School Mom: No davening, no pants
Helen Chernikoff is the Forward’s News Editor. She came to the Forward from The Jewish Week, where she served as the first web director and created both a blog dedicated to disability issues and a food and wine website. Before that, she covered the housing, lodging and logistics industries for Reuters, where she could sit at her desk and watch her stories move the stock market. Helen has a Master’s of Public Administration from Columbia University and a BA in History and French from Amherst College. She is also a rabbinical school dropout. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @thesimplechild.