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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

Is This Really School?

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Two neat computer work areas were arranged in my dining room. One at each end of the table. Both computers were surrounded by carefully arranged note books, pencils, crayons, markers, reading and math books, chapstick, hand cream, and computer glasses. All set for school to start at 8am sharp. Anticipating the lack of in-person stimulation, I ordered two hundred dollars worth of games and arts and craft supplies from Amazon.

Only missing, were two students, second and third grade. They were waiting until the last second to engage – stalling with breakfast, an iPad game, some nutty Netflix show – you name it. Anything but jumping into their chairs eager to start a full day of learning in the virtual classroom.

You may be wondering why I had two little girls in my home. Well, being the Bubbie I am, I was excited to have them for a week (once fully quarantined, disinfected, tested and the like) while Mom and Dad escaped for a long needed respite in Paradise. Last year I also watched them for a week, and was exhausted by the pace they kept – a full day at school, homework, snack on the run and activities every day. And those after school activities took them from one end of the town to the other – including Irish Step - deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. OK, but since when does a 25% Jewish kid take Irish Step? Then, a hastily made dinner, baths, books, back and foot rubs and finally, lights out. I claimed I needed Bubbie boot camp to train for that.

Beware the adage, ‘be careful what you complain about’, (or is it wish for…) because last year was a picnic compared to (drum roll followed by a spooky musical overture)….Virtual School. Good God, their day could actually get worse. And, frankly, not just their day, MINE! Not to mention how impossible it must be for the teachers. This past week, by the end of the day, I was marine crawling to my 5pm bourbon. Having binged, The Crown the week prior, I was play-acting the young queen sipping her two fingers of some caramel colored, delightful cocktail.

By the end of each day, the perfectly arranged dining room classroom was transported to multiple locations, including the couch, floor and yes, the toilet. I wouldn’t have believed it, but I was summoned for the wipe. To push them through the day took at least 4 juice or water drinks, a minimum of three snacks and frequent assignment and visual checks to see if they were actually in class – apparently, there are several video games and friends IM'ing on their devices, offering deadly distractions.

There was also the gum chewing incident when Mom, in Paradise, decided to conduct a visual check on her oversight computer to find one daughter with a mouthful of sugarless gum (Bubbie isn’t completely neglectful) and then text Grandpa a thousand miles away in virtual court in his home office and ask him to instruct the child to spit it out. Fortunately, the Judge had a sense of humor.

Where was Bubbie? Unhappily trapped in a MRI machine on a last minute assessment of gallstones. During that same short interval – I mean I was only gone an hour and a half, the teacher texted Mom in Paradise to ask where the second grader was – apparently not in class – but, on one of those video games.

The rest of the week, I stationed my computer in the dining room and attempted to oversee what the children were doing. I heard exceptional teaching – dynamic, energetic, impactful – the third grader, who complains the most, was truly engaged and participating. I also witnessed some of the most dreadful, wasteful classes imaginable – to the point where the second grader demonstrated how she could move her mouth during singing in Music and fake the teacher out. Since when does a second grader get so jaded?

Needless to say, this is a very poor substitute for in-person learning – a complete last resort. And I haven’t even begun with the social deprivation – I'll spare you. The last night, her aunt, also in Paradise, asked how the week went at Bubbie's. The eldest looked at me, and said with resignation, “Boring.” 

A wave of remorse raced through me. Was it that bad? I thought a moment more and said, “You’re right. It is boring. Everyone is bored and tired of this pandemic. There is no substitute for seeing your classmates, playing with friends, activities and getting out more.”

She nodded and gave me a delicious hug. She already understood the subtext.

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