When my kids’ district voted to start the school year out remotely, we decided to book a half a week in northern Michigan in our happy place to see the fall leaves. When our school board voted two weeks later to return to a face-to-face hybrid model with our kids attending 2 hours and 40 minutes four mornings, we decided to keep our reservation. I’m constantly searching for silver lining to this challenging season of life and we figured we could do most of their school on the road and keep them caught up while taking breaks in the cutest little town, and enjoying the fall leaves. The kids all have full remote days on Wednesday, so we left right after their morning zooms. We talked casually about our trip for a few weeks prior and I added chrome books, back packs, pencils and school supplies to our packing list. I had prepared the kids, I thought. What could go wrong??
Well, much like any day during our pandemic life, the days on our trip have been a mixture of feelings, ups and downs, highs and lows. The first day my third grader had an absolute melt down when I told him it was time to do schoolwork. “But we are on vacation!!!” he screamed loud enough for the whole condo complex to hear. Hmm, did he not know we were doing school while up north? I was annoyed! I explained it, didn’t I? Yeah, I answered questions, I mentioned it here and there, but I probably didn’t do a good enough job breaking it down to each kid with exactly what would be expected. When we would be “schooling” and when we would be vacationing. Ok, I forgave myself. I’ll do that better next time. I looked at my whiny 8-year-old and validated his feelings. “So I see you’re frustrated because you’ve never had school work to do up north before. Usually we are just on a vacation. I also know that you like school in person or on zoom better then you like the independent work, because it feels like lots and lots of homework. You are in third grade and your work needs to be turned in on time. I wish you could be in school like normal as well, but this is what we must do to keep ourselves safe. When you are done whining and crying please join me upstairs to start school.”
Then I left to make coffee. Three minutes later Mr. 8 was ready to get started and I had a hot cup of coffee! Once we got through the first assignment, I heard no more whining (from him that is.) I praised him for his efforts and perseverance, and we got through all of his assignments. I say “we” because, let’s be honest, school is a group effort these days! We took a break in the middle of the day for taffy shopping, browsing an independently owned bookstore, and mommy’s favorite coffee shop and more oohing and ahhing over the fall leaves. We ended the day with our favorite pizza carry out and lots of smiles.
The next day the forecast called for rain, a lot of it, a whole day’s worth! So we took advantage of “vacation mode” and I let the kids have screen time in the morning, a big no typically on a school day in our home. I was very clear this time about what my expectations were for the day. “Let’s have a lazy morning! You can have screen time if you are getting along and quiet so Mom and Dad can work. At 11:00 you will go on google classroom and work on your assignments. We will take a break for lunch from 12:30-1. After lunch you will continue to work.” As I sat down to jump into my own work, I was mentally giving myself a pat on the back for my stellar parenting. Could not get any clearer than that, right?
Cue the next melt down, this one from Miss 11. “Mom, this is in-class work, not remote afternoon work! I’m not doing it!” In her defense she typically goes to school in the morning and then finishes work that may be left over from face to face class and does the remote/asynchronous work in the afternoon. Because there is no streaming option at her school, all we could do to make up for her lost class time is do the assignments the best we can. No, I had not anticipated prepping her for that. I thought it was a duh. But you know what, I was wrong. I’m cool with that because neither Miss 11 nor I have lived through a pandemic before. We got into a power struggle over it, which wasn’t super fun or helpful. But it happened. What I am proud of is I stopped it. I paused and looked at her and said, “I think you are really frustrated because you’ve never had to do work in this way before, and you didn’t know you would have to. I get it. You do have to, though. It’s our family policy that if we miss school we do everything we can to stay caught up. If you refuse to do it, I can’t make you. However, we won’t do ‘after school’ screen time or outings until it is completed. I have some fun ideas for later so I hope you won’t wait too long to get started.”
Her arguing was time consuming and I lost some of my work time. I also shared that frustration with her calmly, when she insisted on knowing exactly when we would be going to the pool. “I understand that you want to know exactly when we are going to the pool today. Unfortunately, you and I argued and discussed these assignments for a long time and it put me behind on work I have to have done before we leave the condo. So I can’t give you a time. I know that is annoying to you, but I don’t know how long it will take me to finish. I am done having this discussion with you now so that I can concentrate on my work.” Approximately two minutes later as I type this blog post, Miss 11 is at work.
I find myself calm, centered, and so much more at ease on this trip. I desperately needed a change from my pandemic life of long days in my bedroom/home office juggling work, school and the kids. The next moment I find myself frustrated and wishing we were just home. As I type this I’m smirking. Isn’t this what all trips are like for parents? I used to call our family vacations business trips when my kids were toddlers, because, let’s be honest, I’m not exactly off the clock if the kids are with me. So would I take advantage of this crazy year and do this again? Yep, I would if I was so lucky. Yep, I’ll continue getting the kids donuts for their remote learning lunch from time to time at home, too! If it’s a beautiful day they may be doing schooling in between playing at the park or “take a zoom” in the car in between ski season. Because you know what? The world is just too darn heavy and sad right now and I need to lighten it up for them and for me!
Here are a few things I did well to prep for our trip that I suggest:
· I packed a bunch of sticky notes. These helped me to organize my third grader’s tasks like I would at home, so that he could work his way through them more independently (I say more, because let’s be honest it’s never perfect). This was essential as I still had work to do for FAAB and my graduate program.
· We are lucky enough to be staying at a family member’s condo (beyond thankful for this). If it’s feasible I would suggest staying in a space that allows you a little separation if you are doing school and work. It was great to be able to send my husband to a bedroom since he spends much of his workday on the phone.
· Talk about expectations, trip structure and what you are not doing ahead of time and throughout the trip. Like I shared above there is always room for improvement in this category. However, a great example of this is that I made sure my kids knew that we would not be eating out, a favorite activity of ours up north. Due to the pandemic we have decided not to eat indoors and now that it’s chilly that meant we’d do carry out at our condo. This is no biggie and we are lucky to be able to do this and take a break from cooking. That’s a parent perspective though! So I needed to make sure my kids knew this before we came.
Are you sneaking away for any Pandemic Style adventures this year, tell me your tips!