So, I’m taking inspiration from the Germans and connecting my nouns, except here I’m cutting them up a bit instead. For those who hadn’t worked it out, the three nouns combined here are: schooling – parenting – working, something many thousands if not millions are now doing on a daily basis all around the globe in this time of coronavirus. I’m writing here my reflections so far on this ‘experience’ let’s call it and why I’m cherishing the time at the same time as hoping it ends very soon – for all our sakes!
Stefi and her self-study book that I'm hoping will be never-ending.
It’s 4 am and here I am at the laptop. I should now be working but first I need to write. Some people read, some people jog, some people punch holes out of doors. I write when I need to vent. So, here I am writing my blog from our little upstairs lounge in an old French farmhouse built around 1809. Last night I had the forward thinking to put the kettle in here with a cup with a spoon of coffee and sugar so I could at least have a coffee when I woke up. It’s taken a week to get to that stage. Brain is already not thinking very logically, let’s say. We have two sleeping dogs in the room beyond the kitchen so unless I want the whole house to be up, the kitchen is a no-go zone for a fair few hours yet. And oh how I don’t want those other people I live with to wake up yet… a few hours of solitude, the best kind of chocolate treat in these crazy days. Moments of silence.
I’m going to break down the Schooparworking reality into what is ordinarily three separate activities done in at least two separate spaces, three for those who normally travel to work, and see how each of these elements is working out now that they are to be conducted simultaneously within the same space.
The day begins with schooling so let’s start there. I realise Stefi hadn’t quite realised I was a teacher until the first days of lockdown and I literally saw the lights shine in her eyes as she realised her mummy was a teacher. Cue 6 am a figure at my bedside, book in hand. Mummy, can we start our lessons now? Can we do that one we did yesterday, where you said the words and I write them down? Yeah, no problem. Can you just let me wake up first? Slight pause. Are you awake now? I’ve got my book. Can we start? Yep, can I have a coffee first? Yeah, OK, I’ll wait at the desk. We set up a little desk in Joe’s bedroom. We’ve recorded a few English lessons to share with friends around the world. Gives the kids something to focus on, and seems to be an effective way of getting them to sit. Not that that’s a problem with Stefanie. She would quite literally sit at that desk waiting for lessons all day long if she could, and if I had the time to teach her all day long. To be fair, Joe’s been very good at sitting down too, though he’ll inevitably end up zooming his cars around the bed frame whilst Stefi is finishing off her sums. The school work doesn’t arrive until late the night before or the morning when it’s supposed to be taught. So, there’s no time really to organise or plan the activities. It’s what we call in the teaching world, blind teaching. Thank god I’ve had experience of this. How the hell are other parents coping? My friend, for example, who has three kids of three different ages at three different schools. How would that day work? At least with mine there are only two school years between them so I can mostly get away with pitching activities somewhere in the middle or simplifying Stefi’s work for Joe. I’m also feeling grateful the Maths is at the plus and minus stage because anything beyond that and frankly, I’d probably be doing more damage to the kids by attempting it.
Oh, it’s back to the parenting. This is the schooling hours. Can we kindly separate the two? Nope.
So, we’ll start with the reading. Of course, it’s in French, so Stefi sets off, I attempt occasionally to correct her, where often she’ll yell at me that I’m wrong because my pronunciation is wrong. And half the time she’s right and half the time we’ll come to a later exercise and find I’m right. Joe’s scribbled on my book! Oh yeah, cue parenting moment in the middle of the schooling. Phone pings. Email notification for a meeting this afternoon. Can you join? Reply, yes, will be virtually present if not mentally trying to hide my head in the washing basket to drown myself in the clothes that have been piling up for days because now they’re outside playing in the mud most afternoons and not sitting in their clean classrooms so clothes changes are plentiful. Oh good. Back to Maths. Say the numbers in French. I’ve done all the sums on the page but Stefi wants some more. Joe’s counting in Occitan. That’s not right, yells Stefi! Yes it is, yells Joe! Oh, it’s back to the parenting. This is the schooling hours. Can we kindly separate the two? Nope. They’re still yelling and how can I say who’s right because I don’t know the numbers in Occitan (regional language of France). Defeat is inevitable. Leave them shouting. Pretend you need the toilet.
There’s papers everywhere and I don’t know if I’ve got through everything on the list but it’s nearly lunchtime and Daddy’s still in his damn garden so let’s think up what culinary delight we can have with tins and frozen food today. It’s not past the two week mark yet so we’re not risking supermarket trips until we know we won’t be killing our elderly neighbours in the process. Of course, a trip to the supermarket could set that clock back again and mean we have to do the two week thing all over again. And so we go on… Put the washing in the washing machine. Daddy’s convinced the electricity is gonna go off so best keep on top of the washing because we don’t want to have to wear dirty clothes when the apocalypse arrives. In my head, are we not already in the damn apocalypse? Somebody must have given the kids a tip-off that we are because I think they’ve raided their own bedrooms by the look of it. The house already looks like an apocalypse and I’m feeling distinctively zombie-like.
Let’s go to work now. For me, in that sense, not too much has changed. And yet everything has changed. I’ve been working mostly from home for probably around 5 years already. I’m a teacher/ proofreader/ education consultant/ test writer/ dissertation supervisor/ moderator/ essay marker/ syllabus writer… oh yes, the ‘joys of portfolio working’ aka give me any job you’ve got, I’ve got bills to pay and kids to feed. This has meant that even the day I came back to my apartment after my little girl had been born to find all my family there to greet us, my mum had to gently remind me that there had been a proofread waiting in my inbox for a few days now and I probably needed to do it that night. Cue baby in arms, eyeballs rolled back in head through exhaustion, tracking changes on a dissertation about the recycling of car tyres in Tunisia – yes, I have a wide and interesting range of topics! And no, statutory maternity is not really enough to live on. But I know, at least we get it, unlike my teacher friends in the US who went back to teaching high school when their baby was 2 months old. What the f**k? I know for a fact I was still walking into walls with tiredness at the two month stage and my head was just fog. Apologies then to the students whose dissertations I proofread during those months… I probably added a few exclamation marks and yawns throughout the text.
There will be ‘before the Coronavirus’ and ‘after the Coronavirus’.
But this does mean I’ve had some experience of working whilst parenting, and of working from home. But not really Schooparworking of this degree. Working from my home in France, I have to say, has been blissful (until these past weeks). We are in the countryside, the last house in the village, surrounded by trees. We are next to a main road so we get the rushing past of cars and the chugging of tractors but above all else, there is the sound of birds singing in the trees, the geese squawking from next door but one and the dogs occasionally doing their howling song as the motorbikes grind past with their raspy engine. Honestly, the howling song is quite impressive, noses to the sky, long deep howls like some kind of call to the wolves. And me, normally on the couch, or in the chair outside, laptop in hands. Tea or coffee break every few hours. Toilet break just to stretch the legs. A little visit to see the dogs. Oh, those were the days… before Coronavirus. And maybe that’s how we’ll always talk from now on. There will be ‘before the Coronavirus’ and ‘after the Coronavirus’. Who knows what the next months will bring but it certainly is proving to be life-changing already. Could we please fast forward to the ‘after the Coronavirus’ days?
It’s not like I’ve not done work Skype meetings before with the kids around. My two have made regular appearances on my meetings with university colleagues. Actually, I think my colleagues have come to expect it. The kids are curious. But now, with my other half preparing for the apocalypse and preparing his veg patch with enough food to feed an entire village, I’m left to fend off the kids through most of my meetings. Last week brought a circus acrobatics act behind my chair at my desk where they’d turned over their beanbag chair and laid out all their pillows so they could do roly polys in a line. The background to my meeting therefore consisted of shrieks of delight as feet went into the air, arms came back up, and they challenged each other to do more. Yes, yes, I can add that document to the document sharing space. Joe be careful, please don’t break your bones at this moment in time because we can’t take you to the hospital. Yes, next Monday will be fine for that deadline. In my head, if I don’t go to sleep at all, Monday will be fine. Stefi, let Joe go first before you go so you don’t smack him in the head. We can’t go to the hospital right now so please don’t hurt each other. Sorry, yes, I think those learning objectives look great. I’ll get them typed up this afternoon. In my head, shit it’s already nearly afternoon and I don’t know what we’re gonna feed them for lunch. They’re used to three course meals at school. A plate of pasta with a bit of tomato sauce just isn’t gonna cut it. Sure, I’ll make those adjustments to the report and get it back to you tomorrow morning. In my head, if I stay up until midnight tonight.
Circus show behind my desk.
Then there were the two meetings I did with teddies jumping on my head. A game Nanna and Grandad like to play on their video calls where Grandad has a teddy hopping around Nanna’s head and Nanna pretends not to know about it. Hours of laughter for the kids with this. Except now they’ve taken it upon themselves to be Grandad and I, unfortunately, am Nanna, with a stuffed rat toy jumping around my shoulders and Minnie the mouse in front of my face whilst trying to discuss planning for the months ahead. However, this of course isn’t quite as bad as the, “Mummy, I need a drink, and I need it now” where inevitably you have to make a mad dash to the kitchen, hope nobody has noticed you weren’t there for a minute and then the other one screams, “Mummy, you didn’t get me a drink. I want a drink as well.” Cue mad dash back to the kitchen for drink number two. Slump back down in front of the computer. What have I missed? Only then, whilst you’re in the middle of scheduling the next sure to be fun meeting, the dreaded shout comes from the darkness, so loud that surely your work colleagues can hear this. “Mummy, can you wipe my bum?” Oh, shit, literally. And just to rub salt in the wound, here comes the added sentence for explanation and just to make sure everyone on the call has definitely understood… “I’ve had a poo, can you wipe my bum?” Yes, coming. Sorry, back in a minute. In my head, why the hell can’t you wipe your own damn bum. No, keep calm. It’s not their fault you’re on a work call and they decided to have a poo right at that moment. They can’t help their bowel movements but honestly, why does this boy have three poos a day? He’s not getting those three course meals anymore. We need to ration. There you go. Wash hands. Rush back to laptop. Great, see you all next week then for the next meeting. Can’t wait! Not.
And then, there’s no time to get that email written because, without those blissful former tea/ coffee breaks, it’s straight into parenting time, oh how seamlessly the day flows from one activity to the other, a project planner’s dream. Schooparworking, the new norm. It’s going so well. Mummy, can you play cars now? Yep. I’ll just finish this email and then let’s play cars. OK, can you come now, Mummy. I’ve got my cars all set up. You said you’d play this morning but you didn’t. Is it afternoon already? Check time. Stefi says, mummy I’m hungry. Where’s your dad? He’s in the garden. In my head, for f**k’s sake, we definitely watched too much Walking Dead. Dad’s planning for the apocalypse and full societal breakdown, which is still a very real possibility at this moment in time but we won’t think too much about that because we wouldn’t want anxiety to kick in. There definitely is not time for that. Cue screams from the bedroom. Have the zombies arrived? Nope, it’s just the fighting game again. Stefi hit me. Joe’s in tears. Stefi’s in tears because she didn’t mean to hit him but he wouldn’t get out of the way. OK, conflict management head. Why didn’t I do a course in conflict management? Would have been much more useful than Sociolinguistics or Bilingualism or whatever else it was I studied when I used to have coffee breaks, in the time before the Coronavirus. Right, Stefi, before anything else, you need to tidy your bedroom. You too, Joe. God, our house was a mess before this. And now, are we after the Coronavirus or is there a period called in the Coronavirus? I don’t know. But the house is an utter shit tip. There’s washing up to be done. There’s shoes scattered all over the hallway because they have to wear a different pair each time they go out, in the mud, bringing it all back through the hallway. But it doesn’t matter, because the dogs have got 8 feet contributing to that mess. And the bedrooms. Well, let’s just say, you can’t see the floor. Recall those serene social media posts of people saying now’s there finally time to clean the house, get those DIY jobs done, sort out that cupboard. Here’s some great arty activities to do with the kids. Sticking bits of card together. Make a toy spider. Paint a rainbow. Sleeping lions. Yeah, that’s a good one. Want to play sleeping lions, kids? Can mummy play it, just on her own for a bit? Nope, cue scream from downstairs. Joe hit me in the face. OK, Joe what do you say to Stefi? Sorry. But she hit me before. She did, yes, but that doesn’t mean you hit her back. OK? OK. Can we play cars now, mummy? Er, yes, but we can’t actually see the cars because they’re currently lost in all the mess in the bedroom. Stefi made it a mess. No I didn’t! Yes you did! I didn’t do that, you did! In my head, breathe. You’ve got this.
As you can see, Schooparworking is going like a dream. I can almost see one of those wartime posters for women pasted on the wall, one of those red bandana tying up her beautiful brown curls, against her lipstick lips, blue shirt with collar to add a hint of masculinity, fist tightened and arm in the show-off muscles pose. Slogan says “Schooparworking in the time of Coronavirus. You can do this!” I can do this, I repeat to myself. And really, when you think about it, there’s parents and particularly women all over the globe who in the days before the Coronavirus would take their babies and kids to work with them, carry them around all day while they do their back-breaking hours of work for very little pay so we in the rich countries can eat or have our tea/ coffee breaks. And they would teach their kids as they go, teach them about nature, about food, about survival, about what matters. Schooparworking is their everyday reality. What privileged lives we lead here in the west. What utterly ridiculous lives we lead, in many ways too. Apparently, we are already realising that really what counts are essential service people like doctors and nurses, police and ambulance drivers, and oh yes, all those low-skilled migrant and non-migrant workers who earn sod all per hour and are not worth a visa. Those people who scrub our hospitals clean, drive our food about and stack supermarket shelves. Those people that have been looked down on, had their salaries frozen for years on end. Those ‘low-skilled, uneducated, less than £25,000 a year not worth a visa workers’ who came over here and nicked our jobs (that we didn’t want to do) are quite literally the people now leaving their homes each day, sometimes their families, so they can save the lives of strangers whilst possibly losing their own. So, those people have suddenly been seen. Apparently for the first time by many. And the teachers too. Schooparworking at home, some still going physically to school, trying to keep the world’s kids educated in the time of Coronavirus. Sick of that word yet? And the other things that are important: food. No, not that fancy watch, or the designer dress saved up for, nor the flashy car that is now sitting undriven on the drive – at least we aren’t polluting for a while, another good thing I’d say. Of course, we also realise how much we love our loved ones, how we beg them not to go out. Not to risk their lives. To please stay at home, we won’t hug them now because we want to hug them later. It’s a little like being cruel to be kind. All those essentials we are now re-discovering. That’s got to be a good thing to come out of this crazy situation (I’m resisting using the unprecedented word because anyone else so sick of that?) And then the musings are interrupted of course. Mummy, can you wipe my bum? It’s poo number two of the day and oh yes, here’s where we recall that other golden essential: thank god we got 20 rolls of toilet roll.
Oh sudoku, says Dad, looking at the school papers scattered over the kitchen table (the desk was too full of papers to face Joe’s bedroom today, and I couldn’t wade through the toys on the floor to get to the desk). I used to love doing those on the train, he says. Great, I say. Can you do this worksheet with the kids then whilst I try and get a few hours of work in? Maybe I’ll try to start on my theoretical framework for my PhD I’m already in my fifth year of and moving no closer to finishing any time soon thanks to Schooparworking in the time of Coronavirus. Doing small bits of the PhD doesn’t work for me. I need to immerse myself in it for long stretches of time to get into the theory, the thinking, to be able to write in the necessary style. Right now, I can’t see a day in the foreseeable when I’m going to get a long stretch even of an hour. But here’s a potential offer from. Dad that he’s gonna do some of the schooling. Yeah, he succumbs. I can do an hour or so with them if you wanna do some work. Thank f**k for that. The compost must be busy composting so he’s managed to tear himself away. Rush to laptop. But where to start? No schooparenting for a few hours. Just working. Great. I might get to have a pee in peace too. OK, don’t get ahead of yourself. Reply to emails first. Finish off that report and send. PhD I’m coming to you. Voices from upstairs. He’s got them at the desk. Great! Do that quick proofread. Oh yeah, you had an article to write for the French magazine too. And oh crap, you were meant to get the topic choices back for the next test sets. Breathe. Voices from upstairs. Daddy, I don’t know how to do this one, says Joe. Oh, it doesn’t matter, says Dad, just copy Stefi’s. She’s a bod. That’s what we used to do at school. OK, alternative kind of schooling but at least it’s better than nothing, right? Or is it? I do the proofread, send the invoice. PhD, I’ve not forgotten you. Write to supervisor. Explain predicament. Begin researching article. Message on Teams. Can you just look over this proposal and send some feedback before tomorrow? OK, do that now. PhD, I will get to you, I promise. 40 minutes pass and the kids burst through the door. I’m hungry, can I have something to eat? Erm, yeah, where’s your dad? He’s in the garden. What? Did you do your sudoku worksheet, Stefi? My what, says Stefi? Go into the kitchen. Sudoku worksheet is still on the table, still blank. Oh. What did you do with Daddy, Stefi? Dunno, she says, shrugging her shoulders. Can I have a cake?
Art activity, oh yes, we are full on Montessori/ forest school teaching here too.
Coronavirus has brought life to a halt, the media says. Roads are quieter, pollution levels have fallen, factory production is at an all-time low. But inside those houses, beyond the curtains and/ or the volets (shutters in French), there’s often a mad frenzy of schooparworking going on that’s anything but coming to a halt. It’s a life on fast forward without a pause button. Of course, it’s not physically risking our lives in the same way the heroines and heroes aforementioned are doing, and so we schooparworkers have nothing really to complain about in that sense. But we must have the space to rant and to express and to console one another too, so we don’t feel alone in this madness. Oh, to be alone! Schooparworkers, do you remember those days, before the Coronavirus, when you were often alone? There’s a bang from the bedroom. One of them’s fallen out of bed. Cue feet across the stairs. Can you put Peppa Pig on? Can I have a croissant? When can we start our lesson?
And here we go again… Lots of love to all you Schooparworkers out there! Remember the poster, flex your muscles. We got this!