School on Screens

Well, it’s happening. God only knows how it will play out, but this train won’t stop now.

Online schooling begins tomorrow.

Even though I haven’t been a real Catholic for 30 years, I have an impulse to cross myself when I make that statement, or even when I think about it.

The emails have been coming fast and furious from the middle and elementary school administrations as well as individual teachers. We’re drowning in informational attachments.

The boys have all gotten their schedules. Big Brother’s 7th grade schedule contains an elective called “The Great Outdoors,” which was not one of his top choices. The schedule was silent about the irony of learning all about the outdoors from a computer screen inside his house. His schedule is the most detailed, which is good, because he’s going to have to manage his responsibilities largely on his own.

The Great Outdoors, transformed into screen time for educational purposes.

His little brothers will need lots of help.

It used to be that 3rd grade and 1st grade schedules looked like this:

Morning: Drop them off at school

Afternoon: Pick them up from school

This year we have a day-long schedule of live and taped events the children must access on the computer every day. I am happy to see there is a break each day at 10:15 for the students to have a snack and the parents to crack open a bottle of wine. We weren’t in the habit of drinking in the morning, but as they say, welcome to the new normal.

Lunch is at 11:45, which is just about the time we will be realizing that wine is insufficient to our needs. A couple shots of something a little more robust should help us prepare for the afternoon sessions

Preparing our learning devices for the big day.

I think whoever made up the schedule gave up on it once they hit noon. The afternoon is a hodge-podge of pre-recorded sessions, which seem like they could be done in any order, but also seem to leave the administration entirely in the parents’ hands.

As daunting as this is, it may not turn out to be a bad thing. Parents have been lulled by our system into believing they are not ultimately responsible for their children’s educations. Some have leapt onto that slippery slope to the point where they don’t feel responsible for their kids’ emotional development.

Maybe this experiment will bring some parents back to their responsibilities. It won’t be fair to all parents, but nothing ever is. How fair it is to my family is not our top concern right now. Our top concern is that ourchildren progress, in all the facets of their lives. This, we are determined to see them do.

Maybe there’s a silver lining in online schooling, if it gets parents more involved in their children’s development. Or, maybe it’s just a train wreck in the making. Maybe it’s both. I was always partial to D: All of the above on multiple choice tests when I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Grow tomatoes, they said

Back when we first moved into our house, and I was trying to build a garden that wouldn’t be raided by wildlife, people told me: “Plant tomatoes. The animals won’t touch them.” I didn’t plant tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes. I like lots of things made from tomatoes: pizza sauce, tomato soup, marinara, but an actual tomato has just the right texture to make me flinch when I bite into it. I’m a freak, I know, but there’s just something about the feel of a tomato that makes my tongue want to retreat down my throat.

Instead, I spent lots of time fortifying my garden. The effort paid off. I made my garden impervious to rabbits and groundhogs, etc., just in time to abandon gardening in order to take up the hobby of raising children. Through all the years my garden lay fallow, I took pride in knowing herbivores could not get at the various weeds filling the space.

This year, my wife took an interest in gardening. Men familiar with wives will understand this means she did a lot of pointing while I did an equal amount of digging around in dirt. The pointing was crucial; without it, I may not have understood which dirt I was to play in.

In our refurbished garden, we kept it simple, planting only cucumbers and peas. The cucumbers went wild, overrunning the peas as well as the garden fence. It’s a good thing we didn’t plant tomatoes in there; they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the invading cucumber hordes.

Cucumber plants going over the wall to carry their conquest into the back yard proper.

My wife likes tomatoes. She likes them a lot. So, we planted some tomatoes in a pot on our deck. They prospered well, until the fruit started to turn red. Then we began to find bites taken out of them. The Internet cast the blame at squirrels. The Internet casts blame for a lot of things at squirrels. I’m sure some of it is justified, but I bet some of it is thrown at them based solely upon reputation. Squirrels have a PR problem.

I wrapped chicken wire (or as the chickens prefer: flightless bird wire) around the pot. The depredations continued unabated. A friend suggested it must be birds attacking our tomatoes, but I’ve seen the mouths on the birds around our place and I doubt they’d leave teeth marks.

One day I noticed movement inside the wire. As I came closer, the movement noticed me. Up the wire scampered a dirty little red-faced chip monk. He leapt from the wire to the deck railing and was gone before I could do more than stomp my foot and yell at him to get a job.

What a nice chap. He left half of the only ripe one for us.

We slid the pot away from the railing and removed the accommodating wire. The thievery continues unabated.

To date, the tomato arithmetic has worked itself to a ratio of one tomato for us, one tomato for Chip. I guess that makes us Nature’s perfect socialists.

Conversations with my wife: Vitamins

Back when we were first preparing for stay-at-home orders, we, like many people, scrambled to make sure we had a good supply of the family’s prescription medications. On one of her trips to the pharmacy, my wife picked up a bottle of daily vitamins for each of us. I hadn’t been in the habit of taking general vitamin pills, but it wasn’t a bad idea to keep the levels up, with pathogens potentially lurking around every corner.

A contrast between the bottle of Women’s vitamins and the bottle of Men’s vitamins was immediately apparent. I thought perhaps her pills were larger than mine, because maybe the vitamins a man needs are smaller than the vitamins a woman needs. I don’t know how big an individual vitamin is. Or maybe she needs extra supplements to give her the strength to deal with me in isolation.

A vitamin gap?

These notions were dispelled when I read the labels side by side. Her bottle had 200 daily doses, while my bottle held only 120.

I found interesting the theory that I would not need to be kept in optimal health for as long as she would.

ME: Your vitamin bottle is bigger than mine.

WIFE: So it is.

ME: Yours has 80 more pills in it that mine does.

WIFE: Yeah, I know.

ME: Why did you get me fewer pills?

WIFE: Women live longer than men. You don’t like it when I waste money on things we might not need.

 

How we’re spending our early, and extended, summer vacation

Hello, Blogosphere. It’s been a while. The last time we talked, the world was kind of almost normal. That seems like years ago.

I’ve been keeping busy over the past four months, or ten years, or however long it’s been since the good ol’ days. I am fortunate to have been fully employed. Keeping three boys academically engaged has been a challenge, one upon which my wife and I hope never to be judged.

Fortunately, our 7th grader has been more than willing to coach our 3rd grader and our 1st grader. Consequently, they are now all playing Fortnite at grade level.

Big Brother has been honing his basketball skills in the driveway. He can almost dunk on an 8.5-foot rim. The standard basketball rim is 10 feet high, so once he gains a foot and half of lift, he’ll be able to show the world how he can almost dunk.

I don’t know if the boy will ever get beyond almost dunking. I’m afraid he inherited my farmer’s legs. If you don’t know about farmer’s legs, try to imagine the last time you heard a sportscaster mention Old McDonald’s amazing elevation on his vertical leap. That’s all you need to know.

Buster and Big Man have been reading with me every day. Never have pride and pain worked hand in hand as they do on me when I listen to the boys read. Did you know a kid can read a word perfectly four times in a row and then be completely baffled by it the fifth time his eyes meet it? Did you know his slightly old brother can tackle a serious of four-syllable words with aplomb before being defeated by a single-syllable word with no phonic irregularities?

The reading is easy compared to the paperwork the school sent. It’s not particularly difficult work; it’s just hard to find motivation to do schoolwork when the TV is so close, especially when you’re sure there is at least one channel showing Sponge Bob, regardless of the time of day.

When you are distracted by the thought of missed cartoons, you make mistakes. When my children make mistakes on their papers, it is sorely aggravating to me. It’s not that they made a mistake, or even that they made it from carelessness; what drives me up the wall is the way in which little boys erase their pencil marks.

erasing

What number is this? Whatever number answers the problem.

I have three boys, and not one of them can erase a pencil mark worth a damn. They take two half-hearted swipes at the paper with the eraser and then write the new answer overtop the mangled result.  After the first attempt, I must assume they found the correct answer, because something in the tangled carnage of pencil scratches is bound to be right, at least approximately.

The big takeaway from the current situation is I should not be the one charged with educating my children. They don’t respect my credentials, and I’m not as engaging as Sponge Bob. That last part stings.