Back to School 2020

I felt a little sad looking at the photos on my phone of the past 5 months – a continuous stream of the girls on bikes and scooters, by the river, half-way up trees. It was a pretty epic classroom.

This morning their uniforms felt all scratchy and wrong. They have lived in leggings and T-shirts and, sometimes, just pants.

Beside my breakfast I had a post-it note of times and reminders to correctly navigate drop-off. Among the labelled Pritt sticks in their (disposable) supplies bag were labelled hand sanitisers. Everything felt a bit rigid.

We followed the rules and the footprints toward school and were welcomed by music and a sea of bubbles.

‘You are the peace in my troubled sea’ was the line we turned the corner to. After quick goodbyes they walked on in amid the bubbles as if they had just won a prize. Which they had, in a way. 

This is a place of pretty epic classrooms too.

Another Month

We slipped quietly into July.

Tuesday: last day of home-school.

Wednesday: first day of home-holidays.

We marked it with a chippy.

I’m wondering how to mark the weeks ahead? How to upgrade them. How to turn another day into a holiday.

We are not going to Switzerland. We are going to the park, again. It’s disappointing.

*

I’m keeping an eye on my tree climbing daughters when a passer-by nods approvingly, says “I didn’t think kids did that anymore”. It makes me feel good. It’s not Switzerland, but it’s something.

Later my daughters start rescuing sticks, fake-panicking that the sticks are dying. They yell out symptoms, make diagnoses, rush them to surgery. There is space for this, in these days we aren’t sure how to fill. 

We visit the cygnets and find them with their mother. They have grown a bit. We consider whether or not they deserve to be called “ugly ducklings” and decide they do not.

*

We slipped quietly into July and I have been reflecting on June. I have been sitting with these questions:

Where did I see God in June? What’s one thing I’ve learned? What is the best thing that could happen in July?

It’s another way of marking the calendar turn, I suppose. It’s a way to close and a way to open. To pay attention. 

*

It rained hard today and there was no tree-climbing or stick-surgery or cygnet-spotting. 

There were pancakes and baths and, in a minute, early nights.

There were things, today, that marked it as Sunday for us. I love these things.

The school holidays stretch before us. They do not need upgraded.

Let’s look for sticks and for God and may we be blessed with the occasional nod of approval.

Week 10 and a half

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

 

The daffodils are gone but the world is still yellow, with buttercups.

For the first time since lockdown we find the park strewn with rubbish. The bins overflowing, the grass dotted with plastic packaging, chippie papers, tin cans.

We see the heron, of course. Always in a slightly different spot. He must see this place from every angle and perspective.

As for us, we vary our route but it’s  the same footpaths, the same fields and gates and river. The same day, on repeat.

We double check what day it is, what week number, as if they can no longer be differentiated

But I think of the words my friend Libby sometimes quotes, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Our perspective changes. We see a new angle. It is better. It is worse.

We are generous in how we view others, and then we are not.

We get used to things. They change again.

We are accepting and content. We count our blessings. We take it day at a time.

We are suspicious and outraged, we measure and compare. We are afraid of days to come.

We pay attention to any strange gifts this time has given. We note which cancellations made us feel lighter, freer. We know, now, what we do not miss. And what we do. We vow to choose more wisely,  “when all this is over.”

Outside of our control to choose, though,  the river journeys on. The landscape has shifted. Some things will not return.

The daffodils are gone but the world is still yellow.

I wonder where the heron will be hiding today?

 

Week 7

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’

[Soren Kierkegaard]

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Some days, the things that always help don’t help.

Bad moods prevail outside. The birds sing and the the girls argue by the river. We can’t settle into our books. Quiet time is not. Even bathtime sours.

We’ve had better days, and worse.

Our behaviours vary.

Things rise internally, different for each of us.

There is a lot to learn, different for each of us. We pay attention, or we numb it all out. There is no quick solution, for the world, or our family.

It’s going to take a village, it’s going to take some time.’

There is no quick solution, no perfect posture we can hold day after day. I’d like to adopt the healthiest attitude, follow the right routine. I’d like a slogan printed on a hoody,  a verse, a totem, one word. I’m thinking of a new morning practice, maybe that will be the thing?

But there is no one thing. There are words that help, and tools we can use. There are practices that serve us well. (Sometimes). There is an invitation, ‘Come to the waters’. There is nourishment, physical and spiritual.

There are better days, and worse.

It’s going to take some time.

This side of the street /All the work is my own /Oh, but I don’t have to walk it alone

No I turn to the gold rule/ When I get stuck in my ways/ When I look at the impasse/ And start to lose faith

Every stranger is a neighbour/ I just don’t know his name/ I have to love local/ For the world to change.’

 

 

 

Week 6

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The cherry blossoms in the park seem to be blooming and falling at the same time. Does this always happen? Or are they in sympathy with the world?

The daffodils have over run the place, oblivious to the pause.

I notice things about my daughters. They are not new things, exactly, but I have more time to notice them.

They have daily ideas to send in to Blue Peter including a lake (which they believe they are building) in the stones at the front of the house. Imogen has 3 recipes lined up to bake.

There is loss, great sadness for people I know. Coronavirus takes, lockdown exacerbates.

People are ready for this to end now. We scan the news, looking for clues. We just don’t know.

It’s been raining, making some things harder, others not. We go for a walk, get soaked to our skin. Six times my daughter declares it to be the best day ever.

It’s the weekend, again, and we try to treat it as such. “What do you want to do today?”, we joke. We will find something, I hope. The same things, slightly different things. We will go for a walk and play a game and wish we could go to Nana’s. The girls will say something hilarious and I will be grumpy by bedtime.

There is opportunity, here, and there is struggle. There are cherry blossom, dancing in the wind.

 

Week 4

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I got carried away with my egg decoration this year and felt a little sad about the inevitable end of my Narnian masterpiece. Egg rolling down a not-really-hill nearby was certainly not Lady Dixon’s with the grandparents, but it was something.

Our eating pattern is croissant, bagel, hot-crossed bun, chocolate egg.

We’re still hungry. Anyone want a slice of toast? Everyone wants a slice of toast.

I am reliving my childhood a little more each week. I WhatsApp my family to check the rules of Spit (with UNO cards). My dad can only remember playing “Spit” with cherrystones, which is exactly what it sounds like. He sends hilarious photo evidence.

We watch Catchphrase and eat Rich Tea biscuits. We are peckish and have a slice of toast.

My husband and I blow the dust of the Amish playing cards. (A Vonderful Goot Game!). Set up. Get competitive.

I perform a complicated ‘bin dance’ on the road side (kick out bins with foot, grab handles with wipe in hand, repeat). I realise I am being watched by an amused passer-by and we laugh at the absurdity of it all.

The man who lives across the road, whom I had been hoping to help, maybe shop for, gives *me* a bag of food. Recurring Life Lesson #25.

Yale researcher, Erika Christakis, says that children don’t need more creative opportunities; they need more opportunities to be creative. I write this down. Repeat it to my husband. Remind myself daily.

The LOL house stands empty. It’s residents and furniture all relocated to a new sprawling residence made out of cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes.  Case in point. (And also, Recurring Life Lesson #39).

*

We who are sheltered clap and pray for those who are not, although it does not seem enough. We who are sheltered are changeable in our spirits and our moods. Our energy and gratitude rises and wanes. We are being schooled in living in the present.

It is a beautiful morning. We clap, and we pray.

Week 2

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We turn the calendar page to April and it mocks us. I have written ‘Edinburgh’ not once, but four times. It is scrawled joyfully in everyone’s column. There are wiggly arrows.

My bullet journal mocks me. So does my phrase for the year.

We made plans. We didn’t know. We are adjusting, or not.

I am rearranging things inside the house. The things we need easy access to have changed. I store away school uniforms and shoes. I store away my new bag for the trip we aren’t going on. (I eat the chocolate that was hidden inside).

My daughters ask many questions that begin with “When will…” , and we tell them we don’t know.

It’s not a bad answer, actually. We don’t know when.

We know about today, which looks like curry and ice-cream and Malory Towers. They are shielded, currently. The radio stays off when they are about and this gives my head some space too. I catch up on news in the evening. I check social media when they aren’t around (they are nearly always around).

Getting outside helps.

Not long ago that sentence would have been illustrated in my mind with a picture of a forest or a beach. But the same is true for the Sixmile river and the lone early morning duck. The same is true for the patch of stones at the front of our terrace house, the small space out the back. After a morning that became a little bit fraught my daughter dances past the kitchen window, embracing an outdoor brush and spinning joyfully with her ‘partner’. The day is saved, along with our sense of humour.

Some mornings are fraught, some afternoons long. Yet, overall, I put them to bed with a growing realisation that it doesn’t take much to make them happy. They are happy with the pile of stones and the brush, with the curry and the ice-cream and the “We don’t know when”. They are happy with the small house and the ordinary plan for the day. Some mornings are fraught, they always are.

Our kitchen clock is stuck at twenty past five. It seems apt. We wonder is there time to do this, or that. Yes, we decide with a grin, sure it’s only 5.20…

We eat a lot, just like the Italian writer said we would. The complexities around grocery shopping are too surreal to describe.

There are protests at bedtime, “It’s only 5.20pm!”. They awaken too early (5.20am!). We get ready for church in the kitchen, clothing optional. It will not be enough. It will be everything we need.

 

 

 

 

Week 1

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My muscles hurt from exercise (thank you, Joe Wicks) and my head hurts from all the words that have been spoken to me all day. In this week in 2020, I count these as the blessings that they are.

We pull our clothes on before 7 every morning and head outside while there will only be a dog walker, or 4, to avoid. I have told the girls that the interlocking paths in the park are like a computer game, they cannot share a path with anyone else. They cycle joyfully, swerving left and right. “I’m on level 12!”, Imogen yells.

They spend an hour one morning scooting through puddles and under drips. Water is filling Olivia’s hood and running down her neck and she is happy.  Last week I might have discouraged her.  This week I see no better way to start the day.

They wonder at the early morning strangers I suddenly seem to ‘know’ – the ones who smile at me as they step off the footpath, the distant nod of solidarity, the wave across parallel paths.

My husband leaves for work, which is to say, he gets out of bed and sits down at a desk pushed beside the wardrobe.

My mum misses my phone call because she was on a Zoom meeting. These are very strange times.

The Art trolley becomes the Home School trolley. Imogen organises it. She is our commander-in-chief. Her teacher’s voice plays into the kitchen, giving her her instructions for the day. Olivia veers off topic every other minute, but we get there, in the end. They upload their work and sneak in emojis to their teachers before I catch them. They check the iPad later to find coloured ticks and stars and encouraging comments. On Friday they watch a video of their teachers on repeat.

I leave WhatsApp groups every other day. Feel guilty. Apologise. I learn from a friend that they can  be muted. I didn’t know.

This is not a time to judge each other as we figure out our rhythms, our routines (or lack of them), our capacity for virtual interaction. This is a time for permission, and the distant nod of solidarity.

Stay in your cell, the Desert Fathers said, and your cell will teach you everything.

We do not know yet, all the things we will learn. But we stay, and nod, and pay attention.

(And maybe today, I’ll figure out Zoom).

 

 

 

Dwelling

It feels like there is a gap between almost everything.

There is a gap in deep, profound and spiritual ways. The gap between now and not-yet, for example. We sense the weight of the world, the hard stories, the grief being walked through by friends.

’A weary world rejoices’ seems like too much to ask.

There is a gap in tiny, personal ways. The gap between how I write and how I am. The gap between my ideas and my capacity, between the vision and the actuality.

*

’The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’

Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it, ’The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood’.

I think of Jesus dwelling. Among heartache and loss, among our clutter and contradictions. I think of him in the neighbourhood, in this house, maybe.

I imagine Jesus dwelling among these so-called-gaps. I imagine that all of it is welcome, and safe.

*

It feels like there are gaps.

But there is room, actually. For weary rejoicing. For wise words and wonky living. For dreaming and stalling.

I think about what it might mean to be a person who dwells among, who inhabits their neighbourhood, who is present, not pessimistic.

Some people, like me, tend to dwell in their thoughts instead of their bodies. We dwell on the gaps. We dwell on contradictions and disappointments and uncertainties.

I am trying, this week, to dwell with my people, in my places.

It feels like there are gaps.

But there is room, actually.

 

The Cost of Homework

‘The claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.’

(Charlotte Mason, 19th Century Educator)

Driving to work last Friday I heard an interview on the radio with the lovely VP from the primary school in Cork that has hit the headlines for replacing formal homework with ‘Acts of Kindness’ for the month of December. The initiative has been widely praised as heart-warming and innovative and has been described as spreading the true meaning of Christmas.

I enjoyed the interview and the promotion of a positive school culture. The VP explained that the children were given Kindness Diaries with a suggested focus for each day – these ranged from spending time with an older person to helping with the dishes at home. I was particular pleased to hear that one day focused on being kind to yourself. The VP spoke of mental health and encouraging children to do things they enjoy such as reading or drawing.

I enjoyed the interview, but I was also frustrated –  not with the school – but with the fact that we consider this to be innovative.

Surely these activities are the stuff of normal life that homework actually prevents families and children from having the time to do? We should not need booklets to introduce the idea of drawing, helping in the kitchen and spending time with people in our community. After six hours in school, this is simply what a child’s afternoon should be like.

Ordinary life is not an initiative and  the entire  month of December is not long enough.

Well over a century ago the educator Charlotte Mason warned of our  endeavours becoming ‘fussy and restless’ when it comes to our children and suggested that ‘we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.’

Kindness Diaries sound lovely, but ‘wise and purposeful letting alone’ sound like words to live by.

Homework costs our children connection and rest, leisure and relationship, creativity and variety and fresh air. We wouldn’t need good ideas to replace it if it wasn’t a bad idea in the first place.