School is in session

On top of everyone’s level of unpredictability rising, we have had a month of tumultuous change at our house. Joy moved out to do grad school, Bianca headed to her next family, Flora joined the family, we spent a lot of time up north, and somewhere in the middle of all of that four of our kids started virtual school.

Those changes are a challenge for adults to digest, but they are untenable to little kids. We’ve discussed them at nausea him, put them on the calendar and sticker form, prepared, celebrated, you name it! And our kids, as they always do, are rising to the occasion. For months, I have seen our Labor Day weekend at a favorite lake is the end of the change era. As we returned home last night, I realized that the many months of upheaval are coming down from this point forward. It’s weird to think about back to school as an improvement in that regard, as we are all still cooped up in the house! But it is.

Our school and teachers have worked really hard to bring structure to the madness. This is only our second week, and I know we are all feeling better than we were in the spring. Thinking about how much work goes into any simple opera performance these days makes me well aware of the blood, sweat, and tears that these teachers are putting into every hour of class they are providing.

The big kids were nervous to start a new grade, which I suspect is tied to feeling like they didn’t really finish the last one. Griffin was crushed, as this was the year he was finally supposed to go on the school bus. But he is so intrigued by his teacher and by so much computer time that I think it will be quickly forgotten. And we had worried about Sylvie having tons of time as the youngest at home without her siblings around her – clearly no longer concern!

Tess is still heavily into art, although she is now also chasing caterpillars and tadpoles. It’s fun to see our girly girl get her hands dirty with such glee. Remy is still heavily into bikes, superheroes and Legos, although he is also becoming a big bookworm as his reading gets stronger. Nothing could make me happier! Lilou loves playing in the water and following the big kids, but she has become the biggest helper in the house. She’s an amazing big sister, and is always aware of what other people are doing and how they are feeling. She is right there with Tess with nature, although her current obsession is frogs. Griffin is excited by anything with wheels! He also loves to be in the water, but if there’s a scooter or bike nearby he will be on it. He loves to play games where he can create the rules as they go, and he’s always grinning when he gets to play with a group. Especially now. Sylvie can’t get engrossed in anything, but she is adding handfuls of words every day, in English and French. She loves Elmo and is obsessed with the music from frozen. Hearing her try to sing the songs is hilarious and awesome.

So we read, ride bikes, play outside, dress up as superheroes and have unplanned sing-along’s. The dance parties continue, as do the kids skill sets in gardening, cooking and cleaning. All of that can be done at home, and together. Our rules are less strict, our time less structured outside of school and work. And we have decided as a family that whatever brings us joy that is feasible will be tackled. We don’t always know what that means, but we do know how hard so many months without friends can feel like. When we look back, we want some happy memories mixed in with the weirdness. And that is a great goal to strive for.


A change of scenery

So we’ve pushed through the frustration and worry, built a reasonably functional plan for the school year, and are doing everything possible to focus on enjoying the quality family time looming on the horizon. We decided that, if we’re all trapped in virtual lives, we can spend some of our together time somewhere else. So we’re in the early days of working remotely from Green Lake – a place we plan to be at frequently over the coming months.

Uprooting a household as large and unwieldy as ours is a challenge: so much packing, yelling, fighting, forgetting…but when we finally got everything sorted, drove through beautiful countryside we haven’t seen every week, and pulled up to the lake, we realized how right we were. The kids marveled at fish in the water, walking down the long dock with the dog, and swinging on the swings. As I watched them take turns, I realized they haven’t been on a swing since March. That may not sound like that big of a crisis, but they can swing for hours. The freedom to run, ride bikes in slightly bigger circles than they can at home, and play games in a new space meant the world to them. And therefore, to us.

It’s a clunky transition. I set out to make dinner and realized we had no can opener. Pivot. The baby is not digging the napping in a new environment. Patience. Our timing is goofy, so bedtimes have been laaaaaaaaate. We’ll figure it out. But when we sit down to a meal altogether, looking out at the boats and trees, it feels good. And frankly, anything that feels good and isn’t bad for us is the right choice these days.

So we continue to discuss the drawbacks to seaweed, as the weeds here don’t get cut this week. Minnows mean shrieks of discovery, and demands for adults to focus on the miracle of fish swimming in water. We’ve already had to go to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

It may not be perfect or even pretty, but it’s a new experience. This doesn’t take away from our existing sanity plans, but it certainly gives us a new outlet. So our zoom background will alternate as we move from place to place, and the likelihood of us forgetting homework somewhere is exponentially higher. So what? We’ll figure it out, somewhere in the cornfields between there and here.