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Distance Learning Has Made My Teenagers Happier & I Have No Regrets 

 

Name and occupation: Annette Benedetti, Portland editor at Red Tricycle

My parenting partner’s occupation: Business Owner

City: Portland

Age of kid(s): 10-year-old son, 15-year-old non-binary child, 18-year-old daughter

School set-up in 2020: My son is in 5th grade at a nearby elementary school. My 15-year-old attends an arts-focused charter middle school and my 18-year-old just started college here in Portland and lives at home. All of my children are attending school online and distance learning as Portland schools are all remote at this time.

My job is a work-from-home position. In the past, I would drop the kids off at school and work in the silence of my home office until pickup time. The new school-from-home setup has changed the rhythms of my home and work life significantly. In many ways I have come to love it. The morning arguments and begging my son to get dressed and in the car on time are gone (as is the early wakeup). And, having to deal with the school traffic, drop-off lines, and the inevitable interactions with other parents long before I’m ready to be social are thankfully gone! However, so is my alone time. And my household upkeep expectations have severely changed. With five people at home around the clock, I spend a large amount of my time cleaning and tending to my kids as opposed to working or pursuing my personal interests and hobbies. Most days wearing an apron from dawn to dusk would make complete sense (and probably cut down on the non-stop laundry). And while I don’t have to wash my face and put on real “day clothes” to go pick my kids up from school anymore, my new stay-at-home life has me feeling just a smidge like a 50’s housewife.

Mornings

My parenting partner is an early riser. Seriously. He gets up extra early for fun. So, I sleep in while he wakes the kids and makes sure they have breakfast before he leaves for work. This is really one of the highlights of the new online school format for me. I’m a night owl, and early mornings bring out the worst in me.

By the time I wake up, my son is at his desk in his room attending class. I bought school organizers that help him keep his space nice and tidy…for a while at least. Both of my other children work from their rooms as well. The older two have their own laptops and are allowed  to have their room set up however they like. For the most part, they tend to work from their beds or join each other in one or the other’s room to work together. I think it helps fend off loneliness. My primary job in the morning is to make sure none of my children have crawled back in bed to “skip school.”

A lesson I learned real fast was that none of them appreciate me looking over their shoulders. They are all tech savvy and capable of managing their class schedule and work on their own. It took me a bit to realize that I wouldn’t be able to interrupt their school day if they were in an actual classroom, so I needed to extend the same courtesy…for the most part.

Once I’ve made sure all of my kids are on task, I clean up the horrendous breakfast mess that has inevitably been left for me, feed the dogs and then walk them. This takes up a surprisingly large portion of my morning. At this point, I have just enough time to check e-mails and respond to any work concerns before the crew gets hungry again.

Lunch Break

My son has lunch at the same time every day: 11:30 a.m. I usually take this opportunity to offer to make him something he likes. Half the time he takes me up on his offer, half of the time he says he wants to make his own lunch. Who am I to argue with that? Around the same time, my teens meander into the kitchen to scrounge for their own midday bites. If they don’t find something they like, they pile into the car to venture out for for food. I imagine this helps them fend of cabin fever.

Lunch time is a good time to check in with my kids and gently prod about assignments and where they are in their studies. I’ve learned quickly not to ask too many questions…or I’ll likely get my head bit off for being naggy. I typically eat a light lunch with whomever is in the kitchen and then workout. My weekly workouts are non-negotiable. If there’s one thing that COVID-19 and quarantine has taught me, it’s that my mental and physical health are a top priority. If I’m going to keep my head on straight and my temper in check with three tween/teens in my home, I have to workout my anxiety and stay healthy.

I usually get a quick run in and then put on a workout video. My workout lasts anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. By the time I’m done, my kids are back in class.

School Work/Work Work

Once the kids are back in their rooms, I’m reminded exactly why I am so grateful to not be a 1950’s housewife. With the kitchen in disarray from the storm of children who blew through it, I set back to work cleaning while my kids attend class. Once the kitchen is clean, I sit down to pound out as much work as possible before the kids break free from their studies. Sometimes a child will wander in to ask questions or beg for attention. That’s when I’m most thankful for the workout I chose not to sluff off as I pretend to be happy to give them attention instead of staying focused on my work task.

I have to admit, while I try to give my kids space and time to attend class on their own, I do sneak around a bit and listen in to make sure they doing what they are supposed to. And when I hear my son’s teacher talking to him, I pop in the room and pretend I’m doing something meaningful so she knows I am paying attention.

At the end of the school day, which usually comes at 1:30-ish p.m., my kids get to do what they please, though I often assign them a chore or two. As you can imagine, they hit the kitchen for snacks and then head out to “hang out.”

I clean up after them.

End of Day & Bed Time

My primary “work day” happens in the afternoon, and sometimes well into the night (like now). It’s when the house is the quietest and I can focus. My son has to be in his bed by 9 p.m., which sometimes stretches. It’s the only time of day when we do have little squabbles. Living through a pandemic has changed my feelings about strict bedtimes and meal times. We play it fairly loose these days. I think the kids have enough stress in their lives. I just can’t see the point in making an already stressful situation worse.

My older kids are on their own at bedtime. I’m not going to lie, oftentimes as I’m heading to bed at 11:30 p.m. (if I’m lucky), I hear them giggling downstairs. I ignore it. The laughter in the house is needed.

There are things I love about this new school schedule. I appreciate the loose rules and the reprioritization of what is important in my household. For example, my older children value their relationship with one another more than ever before. And homework is no longer a thing for my son (his teacher doesn’t assign it) allowing for more screen-free play and family time after school. Additionally, mental health and stress reduction is now prioritized over school performance.

I also like seeing how my son’s day is going and knowing he won’t get in trouble with a teacher for wiggling in his seat, moving too much or talking out of turn: a regular occurrence over the past couple of years. Now he can wiggle and spin in his chair as much as he wants as long as he’s listening and getting he work done (I just shut the door and it doesn’t bother me a bit!). And, I love how much closer this has brought my older kids who seem to love sharing the school day with one another.

Probably the biggest benefit of distance learning is that my children no longer come home with stories of being bullied. My oldest no longer has to deal with racism in class, my middle doesn’t complain about kids teasing her about her hair, and my youngest can’t get in those foursquare squabbles.They all now have a carefully curated group of friends who are all supportive and kind. And I no longer have to constantly be prepared for emails from PPS informing me there was a gun brought to school or the school was in a lockdown because of some threat nearby. Best of all? All of my children actually seem pretty excited about school, and that’s an entirely new experience.

In general, I could keep doing this forever…as long as they eventually learn how to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher now and again.

—Annette Benedetti

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