What we are missing

Oh global pandemic, how we underestimated you! Around this time last year I was commenting with some bemusement on the panic that was spreading around me. There were no bombs dropping! We were safe at home, it was novel to have a go at home education, this was fine. I had no idea. None at all. Perhaps there are corners of the world, lightly touched by the pandemic within which people still feel like this.

I take it all back.

This has been horrible, and in ways I could never have anticipated.

Perhaps this is where we can find a silver lining. There has been a lot to learn. And that’s just for me, sitting in my comfortable house with a lovely garden, for which I have been very grateful. There are those who have been through the same thing with a lot less space, and that must have been an awful lot more difficult.

When our children (the first two) were very small we considered home educating and decided against it for a variety of reasons. I appreciate that what we have experienced has not been like real home education. The first time around, we had a single sheet of maths and one of English for the children. It took all of five minutes to realise this wasn’t going to be enough so I devised all sorts of other things. There were daily debates, a permaculture project, learning to draw caricatures paired with a prime ministers project. We were creative and engaging, the Wall of Work looked great. It was exhausting, life sapping, draining. It was entirely consuming. I was eaten up by it and that was just about all there was to life. We could go no where, see no one. It was up to us to provide for our children’s needs.

In the winter lockdown Red had started secondary school and his day was filled 9am-9pm with the work he was expected to complete. I will be forever thankful that he was able to tackle that mountain independently because there wasn’t much of me to spare. Myrtle had a lot more work to do, but not much more teacher input which meant that we needed to provide the input so that she could learn and do at least some of the work set. And there was Birch.

On the plus side, our children were never anxious or fearful. They learned and grew and kept going. And we managed, just about.

The thing that I found really interesting, beyond just how difficult it all was (in an “I don’t know if I can do this” no joke, can’t see the way through, kind of way) was that the thing we all missed was the same. And we couldn’t provide it for our children or for ourselves.

What we all needed and couldn’t have, was other people just to be alongside. The children didn’t specifically miss playing with other children, or learning with them although they did miss these things. They just missed being with them, which was exactly what Ben and I missed too. Whether it was to work, play, talk, be silent. Our children were fortunate to have one another but they had friends who withdrew and became terribly sad because there was no one alongside. We all had each other, but there was no coming home at the end of the day ready to share what we had seen and done and thought. And that was really sad.

When we thought about home educating we were concerned that we couldn’t provide the social interaction our children would want. Now I realise we couldn’t have provided the interaction they needed, every day. Once a week isn’t enough. Twice, three times. Not enough. They, even more than us, need to be alongside others. Every day. Because that every day holds so many functions. There’s the learning and the playing but there’s also the shared experiences: when there’s two that’s twice as many, but when that’s more it’s so much more. And then there’s the times when it’s about just being there, together with a friend and not with me, so that at the end of the day you and I can share what you’ve experienced and figure it out together. I still don’t feel I’ve really captured what it was that was so crucial but whatever it is, it’s more essential than I had ever envisioned.

This year has been so much more than I ever imagined. More painful and lonely, sad and empty. Life is so much more when there are others alongside, who we can go out and experience, come home and understand together.

On that last day of school in March 2020 the senior lead teacher stood on the playground waving goodbye to the children. He couldn’t speak for the emotions that were shaking his body. I wondered what he could foresee that created such powerful feelings in him. Now I know what I was missing. He was right, and I know what we are missing. It’s not over yet but I’ve had my first jab and I’m looking forward to getting my second. There are risks associated with vaccination but they are nothing to what we have missed.

I really hope this is over soon.