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Category: Parenting

(Not Quite) Back To School

Here we are at the end of the summer. Along with other parents, I’ve been holding my breath as to whether we’re doing in-person schooling in the fall in the midst of COVID-19. After reflecting on last school year, it’s become more apparent that the distance learning didn’t work at all in our house – not for lack of effort by the school, our great teachers, or by the parents – we all gave it our best, but it just didn’t work for our first grader.

Now we’re T-minus 10 days from an already-delayed start of the school year. While our district has maintained that they will be doing in-person learning for elementary students, they’ve already walked secondary schools back to a hybrid model (rotating cohorts of 2 days per week). This week we’ve seen neighboring districts announce the suspension of in-person learning until October, with the announcements leaving a lot of ambiguity about the date.

During that time I’ve seen a lot of people take to social media (especially Facebook) to publicly express their concerns and fears about whether to return to schools, on both sides. While I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject, discussing it with my wife (who has been in logistical discussions all summer about how to safely open and operate a high school during COVID), I’ve purposefully avoided discussing this on social media. Facebook more and more just seems more toxic.

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Parenting in COVID-19

As we’ve finished the fourth week of the “Stay At Home” order, with schools and businesses closed, I wanted to reflect on the experience in parenting under COVID-19. I’m putting this here not because what we’re doing particularly stands out from anyone else’s experience, but that I can capture some of the fresh memories before they start to fade.

Home and Routines

In the last four weeks, we have not all driven to any places. In adhering to the “Stay Home” order, Bethany and I have tried not to venture out more than once per week, and only to go to the store to get groceries, cosmetics, and household goods. After filling up the gas tank a month ago, we’ve not even a quarter-tank into it. The girls have been in the car with me to do food pickups (as the schools are offering snacks and some meals for kids), but aside from that have not left the house.

With spending so much time at home, we’re lucky to be in the midst of spring and that we’re able to spend more time outdoors. The girls are at an age where they can play in the backyards by themselves and take advantage of that. We do venture out to the front yard at least once a day, where they ride bikes and roller-blade in the cul-du-sec. When things calm down at work, Bethany and I take turns being out there with our laptops so that we can try to both supervise and still get some work done.

The first week while home full-time, we tried to establish a more rigorous schedule, but had the luxury of Bethany on spring break and able to be present to the kids each day. As Bethany returned to work the following week, we had to let go over the rigors of the schedule and allow it to flow into a routine. That’s changed again now that Clara has started school again.

Our typical day starts with breakfast, now followed by school/remote learning, then they spend the morning either playing inside, watching a show, or playing outside in the backyard. During lunchtime, we may be able to sneak out front and get some more play, followed by afternoon “quiet time”, which consists of spending 1-2 hours in our rooms with our tablets. At that point, one of us can take a break from work and be a little more active in their play before we start making dinner.

Education and Enrichment

Clara Remote Learning

As for school, we’ve familiarized ourselves and expectations with remote learning. With an elementary-aged child, I would argue that they’ve had the most severe disruption in their education, as they probably benefit the most from in-person instruction and interaction with their peers. Our school district has taken an approach that I most appreciate: we’re going to give you some guidance and structure for each day and week, allow for some check-in and interaction with the teacher and class, but for the most part you’re on your own. Grade-wise, the school work is considered optional, leaving it up to each family to do what they can.

I think there’s a tacet concession that we’re trying to avoid educational regression. We’re lucky that Clara was a little ahead in her subjects, but I really do feel for the kids who needed more intervention, especially as their parents probably may not have the luxury of time to provide that extra support. It does make me wonder whether there’s going to be a lasting impact, or if this too will just a blip in their educational career.

We’ve also become accustomed to virtual extra-curricular activities, such as dance class. Again, we’re at a difficult age because our kids are aware enough to realize the change, but are not old enough to appreciate or understand why we’re in this situation. The result is that getting them to start the activity can be like pulling teeth, but once they start they feel a sense of normalcy and even enjoy the experience.

Explaining the Virus

With our kids being 6 and 4, we’ve been very cognizant about how we explain the situation and the information being exposed to them. Rather than watching the news, we end up reading it through websites and hearing it on podcasts, so I think the girls are insulated from overhearing about it too much. I’m sure that they’ve probably heard the terms “corona-virus” and “COVID-19” without knowing what they mean. That said, they obviously are aware that things have drastically changed, with all of us being home.

Rather than talk about COVID-19, many of our conversations have been couched with the “germs” term: We’re staying home because there are some germs out there that can make people really sick, especially if they’re older or are dealing with something else. They’re asking us to stay home so we don’t spread more germs out there. To the extent, I think especially Clara knows at a high level, why her life has been so disrupted, that things are generally closed and that we’re staying home, but hopefully hasn’t heard about all of the hospitalization and death that has been surrounding this pandemic. That said, we’ve been really intentional about not raising their anxiety level.

Maintaining Sanity

The biggest challenge has definitely been trying to find a balance between our responsibilities as parents, the reality of both of us now working from home full time, coupled with the fact that our kids are also home all day. As a working parent, I have valued being able to segment my time, pouring into work while the kids are at school and daycare, then working to be more present to my kids when they’re home. However having the kids home has blurred these lines, requiring context-switching in a matter of minutes, challenging our ability to be effective at anything. Ultimately it has come down to stringing together good days, and accepting that rough days happen and that tomorrow is an opportunity to start fresh. Our biggest blessing is that the weather has been mostly nice and the girls have been able to be outside, you can definitely feel the tension when the weather is cold and we start to get cabin fever.

In the end, it’s still important to put all of this into context: we’re currently healthy, in a safe home, all together. We’ve learned to live through some of the chaos and understand that a home that has everyone present 24×7 is not going to look immaculate, we try to reset at the end of the day and start over again.

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Clara’s Laps for Learning

Clara is a first grader and is absolutely loving it.  On Friday, October 4, her school is hosting their large fund-raiser of the year, Laps for Learning.  Clara is looking for sponsors that would be willing to make a flat-rate contribution towards her running of laps.

Any contribution, no matter how small would be appreciated.  If you would be interested in giving, there are two ways you could contribute:


Update: 10/8 – Thank you to everyone that generously gave to Clara! She raised $175 for her school and are so grateful!


Thank you so much for your consideration and your help! Clara is excited to run for her school and for you!

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Baby Monitor Phone Hack

BabyMonitor

At our baby shower we were lucky enough to be gifted with an awesome baby monitor: the Samsung SEW-3037W, which features Pan Tilt Infrared video.  Aside from the annoying startup sound that can’t be disabled (that every Samsung device seemly has to have), it’s been the perfect device for keeping an eye on Clara. However a few weeks ago, we realized that the microphone –  the most critical part of the monitor – stopped working.  Samsung was really good about fixing it for warranty, but we are without it for a few weeks.

We had a few options: move Clara from her secluded nursery to a closer (and noisier) part of the house, buy a cheap baby monitor that may not even work well (and probably set us back another $50), or figure out how to cobble together a baby monitoring system with what technology we have.  Luckily we were able to use our phones to have a decent monitoring system that set us back $4.

We actually have my old Droid Bionic permanently docked in Clara’s room, that streams music and white noise at night.  After installing IP Webcam on the phone, we have an instant video-streaming server. From there we installed tinyCam Monitor PRO onto my Galaxy S4 and have been able to consume the stream.  I played with the free version of tinyCam Free to set up a proof of concept, and opted to spend the $4 so that I can get the prolonged audio streaming (the free version only allows a minute of streaming).

As far as an interim solution, this has worked really well over the last week.  There is a tiny bit of a lag (about 1 second on average), but I’m wiling to live with that.  The Bionic’s camera has always been pretty poor in low light, but I can make Clara out pretty well (we have a lamp with a red light bulb in the room).  The angle isn’t the greatest because the camera sits in the dock on her crib, but it gets the job done.  The benefits of this is that both Bethany and I can monitor Clara at the same time, and I actually can use VLC on my computer to watch the video as well (where this screen shot came from).

ClaraCamera

All things being equal, I would choose the Samsung monitor due to the responsiveness and nighttime performance – but if you don’t have $200 to spend, and happen to have an old Android phone lying around, this would definitely be an option that would get you by.

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