3 kids x 3 different schools = 9 billion emails

I attempted to write a post about having three kids in three separate school buildings this year, and how I’m feeling, more than ever, like I am going back to school alongside my kids. That post wasn’t good: it came off as whiney; it wasn’t entertaining; and its tone insinuated that the blame for parents being inundated with emails and homework belonged to the schools and the teachers.

While some schools and teachers are better than others at managing the information dump on parents, they are all following the dictates of a society that, yearning so mightily to make things easier, has made things more difficult.

The best way to illustrate this may be to compare school life today, with school life during the 1975-76 academic year, when I was in third grade (the same grade as my youngest child today).

During the 1975-76 school year, my mother became a single parent. She had seven children still in the public school system. There was no such thing as email. This, no doubt, prevented her jumping off a tall bridge.

CAR LINES

Our schools’ car lines block traffic in the streets around the schools. They allow parents to display the worst of their angry impatience or disregard for the time of other parents. Consequently, every school sends out a two-page email of car line procedures.

In 1975, the car line was three cars speeding up to the front door 15-30 minutes late. Only kids who had fallen behind schedule were driven to school. Everyone else walked or rode the bus.

LUNCH MONEY

The web site our schools use to keep track of lunch accounts changed. I must set up a new account and register each of my children. To do this, I need a student number for each child. I know one of them. My high schooler also needs a PIN number to access the money on his account in the cafeteria. I wish he could just be concerned with the numbers in math class.

My mom gave me enough money every Monday to buy a lunch ticket for the week. Each day the lunch lady punched a hole in the ticket. After five holes, the ticket was discarded. If I forget my money, they made a note in their book that I had “charged” lunch. The next day I got two holes punched in my ticket. There were no extras to buy; lunch was lunch, no more, no less.

Demonstrating car line procedures in the days before PDF diagrams and email.

PROGRESS REPORTING

Our schools use another website/app for parents to follow their kids’ assignments and grades. I set up an account this year. I was able to get one kid on it, but only the app accepts my login. Of course you can only add students via the web site (which doesn’t recognize my credentials). Also, you need a separate code number (different from the student ID) for each kid. This is another secret number I have for only one kid. Looks like the others will be monitoring themselves.

My mom monitored our progress by leaving things alone until she got a note from a teacher. She would address the issue and then go back about her own business. But things were far less competitive then, and she already had one child attending a state university, so she understood that not going to Harvard would not mean the end of the world to any of us.

RULES OF CONDUCT

Today I received an email with a link to the Orchestra Handbook for our middle school. My son and I are supposed to read the handbook together and sign the last page. This is just one of the multiple school activities where the rules need to be in writing and the parents must acknowledge receipt of them.

If any rules were in writing, it was most likely a placard on the wall of the classroom that read:

RULES:

Sit Down.

Shut Up.

Rules beyond that were based upon the general principles of proper decorum, and if the teacher had to explain them, it was already a bad day. When we broke the rules, we were punished, and if we whined about it at home, we were punished there too. However, we were almost never sued for breach of contract.

There are other examples, but this is already a long post. We shouldn’t be surprised that our schools reflect our frightened, angry, litigious, password-protected (without so much protection), ease-of-use (difficult) society. But nobody needs to carry cash, so that’s awesome.

It’s a training issue

Yesterday morning, I was working remotely from the back room of our house. Big Man, who should have been in virtual school by then, came in. “Mama needs more training on how to be a mom,” he told me.

My eyes widened at this strange, unsolicited assessment. “Oh, does she?”

“Yes. Buster is in school, but he’s got the TV on, and Mama isn’t even shutting it off.”

His mother was working from a different part of the house, where she could hardly know about the status of the TV.

I told him to use his energy to go shut the TV off and get back to school, instead of ratting out family members. I assume he carried out my instructions. My training on how to be a dad didn’t cover follow-up.

Mom isn’t the only one with training issues. My job has changed drastically in the past year. I’ve had to learn an entirely new, complex, and vastly more bureaucratic financial system at a time when all the training session were canceled due to Covid. Consequently, I’ve had to make some educated, and even more uneducated, guesses. A lot of time gets eaten up fixing mistakes.

I’ve also been trying to learn to be a baseball coach for 7th and 8th graders. It’s probably not the best year to begin a baseball coaching career. Our state finds it expedient to blame kids for Covid outbreaks this year. You wouldn’t want to blame people who can vote, after all. New, random rules are issued periodically that either pause youth sports outright or make it difficult to keep sports going. Even non-contact, outdoor sports like baseball are hindered by these edicts. It seems as if our state is serious about protecting our children from fresh air and Vitamin D.

It’s remarkable how much non-baseball information I’ve had to process to coach baseball. Occasionally there’s time left to teach the game.

No one in the world social distances like a bored right fielder.

Mom and Dad aren’t the only ones facing training issues these days. Big Brother’s class has stumbled into algebra. He comes to me regularly for help with math homework. After one toilsome tutoring session he asked the inevitable question: “Will I ever use this in real life?”

“You’d be surprised,” I answered. “Every so often, I use it at work to help solve a problem it would otherwise take much longer to solve.”

“I don’t think I’ll have the same kind of job as you,” he said. “Will I use it for anything else?”

“Lots of times,” I assured him. “Mostly when your kids come to you for help on their math homework.”

“Oh,” he said. I think that decided him never to have children.

So, if you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted in months (I hope you’ve got better things to wonder about), it’s a training issue. And I haven’t even mentioned the updated WordPress editor yet.

Time on their hands

You may wonder what elementary school aged boys, stuck at home with no school to attend, do with the large part of their days in which there is no online learning happening. Very possibly you don’t wonder this, never have, and never will, but I have a post to write, so let’s pretend you’re yearning to know.

The favorite activity is to distract Mom and Dad from their work-at-home worlds. This is a fun and interactive pastime, but it sometimes results in excessive scolding, because, to a child, any amount of scolding is excessive.

When they can’t bother their parents directly, the next best thing is to fight with each other. Specialists in the field sometime refer to this as indirect bothering of parents. Eventually, this will also lead to excessive scolding. 

Too much parent bothering can lead to lockdown within a lockdown, a condition known as double lockdown, wherein the brothers must separate, not only from general society, but also from each other.

During double lockdown the kids must look inward for quiet forms of self-expression. As parents of boys must learn, quiet is not any kind of synonym for non-violent.

One afternoon, I stumbled upon one of Big Man’s quiet, self-expressions.

I found this out of context, so there is no way to know the backstory. We don’t know why Spidey and Ironman needed to be restrained. For all we know, these are not the real Superheroes, but their evil twins instead. Then again, maybe they just distracted their parents from work for one minute too long.

Buster’s masterpiece of quiet self-expression has been growing over time.

I can imagine some childless child psychologist insisting this represents repressed anger. While I would agree that children have plenty to be righteously angry about today, I recall that I also drew war scenes in 3rd grade. So far, I have made it through without ever using a weapon in anger. As long as none of the soldiers getting shot at are labeled “Dad,” I’m not going to worry.

Besides, I think this depiction demonstrates some childish brilliance.

Why would this pilot say “999”?

I’ll give you some hints:

  • Note: the colors of the plane.
  • Note: the back of the plane has burst into flame (terrible news for the pilot).
  • Note: the artist is an eight-year-old English speaker, who knows only one word of a particular foreign language, which he has heard, but never seen in print.

Got it? If you’ve cracked the code, feel free to put your answer in the comments.

I’d hate to risk all this artistic expression, but I still think there should be someplace kids could go, four or five days a week, to be among friends and maybe learn a thing or two. But maybe I’m just a dreamer.

What’s your superpower

Our two elementary school boys are going through a Superhero phase. Big Man often asks me, usually when I am working, what superpower I wish I had. He wonders about the ability to fly or to turn invisible, but tops on my superpower wish list is the ability to make children turn silent when I am working. I will never attain this power fully, but there are times when I have come close, through my secret weapon of the computer tablet, loaded with video games.

Even the good guys need to use their powers for a touch of evil when they need to catch a break.

Big Man, being a normal Superhero of six, sometimes falls asleep watching TV. These occasions make me wish I had the superpower to be 20 years younger, when I could carry a heavy sack of potatoes up the stairs without wheezing.

One morning, after he had been carried, unconscious, from the couch to his bed, Big Man announced that he had teleported from living room to bedroom during the night. This was concrete evidence he was a genuine Superhero. Teleportation is a bona fide superpower, and people possessing superpowers must be Superheroes. This is especially true of children. It’s all in the Superhero employee handbook.

Way back when Superheroes knew how to play outside, some of them even teleported into their beds from the baseball diamond.

This is his superpower now: he can teleport, with certain caveats. The first caveat is that he can only do it when asleep. Caveat 2 is that he has no control over the destination of his teleportations, except that they most often end in his bed.

Caveat 3, which he has not yet encountered, is the weight limit on teleported matter, and the age limit on the fathers of those who may use this superpower. When he gains a few more pounds, or his father gains a few more years, whichever comes first, his teleporting days are over. Until then, he is free to teleport in ignorant bliss whenever he falls asleep in an inconvenient spot. In the coming years, he will have to wake up and climb the stairs himself, unless he chooses to meet the new day in the same awkward position he left the old one.

Perhaps his true superpower is being a sound sleeper. Even when I have to tussle his body into a totable position, he is not roused from his teleportation. The more I think about it, the more I think being a sound sleeper would be an excellent superpower. With all the miniature Superheroes fighting crime, peace, and quiet in my home, I think I’ll choose this as the new superpower I wish I had.