NEW YORK (JTA) — It’s 12:59 p.m. and I’m leaping into the 1 p.m. transition. There are five children and a cacophony of devices. My phone holds the compass in the form of an app with each child’s schedule and login info for each Zoom session — although only for the sessions set as “recurring.” Some teachers transmit new login info each day via email, text or WhatsApp.
Occasionally my phone gets handed over to a child when other devices fail, and then I’m really in a pickle. That said, when things run smoothly, at exactly 1 p.m., four sessions conclude and another five begin. If only I had enough devices to queue up the following session on different devices … hey, a girl can dream.
Ironically, I’ve occasionally fantasized in the past about homeschooling, adventuring around New York City and using the world around us as a living classroom. That clearly can’t happen now. This isn’t homeschooling; this is crisis schooling. I’ve accepted that some Zoom sessions will be more successful than others; some are downright disasters.
So what about all that yeshiva tuition we are still paying monthly? I’m incredibly grateful to the teachers who, without any warning or ability to prepare, suddenly brought their coursework online. Nevertheless, my husband, Mordechai, and I have been forced to oversee and supplement in ways we never could have imagined.
While we’re scrambling in this moment, we need to remember that our children are always watching us and absorbing our values. Even if they fall behind in academics, they can always catch up — but the environment we create around them will leave indelible marks on their character. Most of us send our children to school to receive an education, but this moment is reminding us that the center of Jewish life has always been the home — and there’s no more important message we can give our children, now and in the future, than how to make the most of uncertainty.
On that first Shabbat after the community entered lockdown, we sang and danced with the children — and then I brought the three oldest to the alley underneath a friend’s balcony, where they performed to her rousing rounds of applause. During previous visits, this friend has offered numerous treats to my children so that we could seize a rare opportunity to chat. This time, however, the kids starred in the show, adding real joy to an unusual and uncertain situation.
There have been tough moments, too. My 3-year-old’s teacher lost her father, a respected rabbi in the community, last week. I helped my son record a brief video for her, simply stating that he loves her and is thinking of her, without fully understanding the situation. One of my older children, a former student of hers, recorded his first actual shiva message, including reciting the traditional passage said to mourners.
As an antidote to isolation, we have sought connection. Mordechai and I run Tech Tribe, which connects and inspires young Jews in tech and digital media. The children greatly miss our Shabbat guests, so with our assistance, they have reached out — sending art or initiating video chats. These connections in some ways have deepened their bonds far more than sharing a few Friday night meals at large tables with many other guests ever did.
These experiences and others have shown me that more than shepherding our children through sessions of online learning, my husband and I need to guide them through crisis response. More than anything any teacher could tell them in a class, they are looking at us to model appropriate behaviors and responses.
Ultimately, some children are thriving in online school, whereas others are struggling. In both situations, even more than online classes, children most need our love, support and guidance. They need us to validate their fears and continue providing warm, loving and stable homes to the best of our ability. This is incredibly hard on parents who have nary a moment of respite, but it’s also a tempestuous time that our children will remember for a very long time — and one that has the ability to greatly impact them.
As our children watch us rise to the occasion, they will reach into themselves and discover inner reserves of strength and learn coping mechanisms. As they reach out to members of our community and spread joy, they are learning that no matter how bleak the news reports may be, we always have the potential to reach out to a friend, connect and strengthen one another’s resolve. This will serve them well through this crisis as well as the unavoidable bumps and disappointments they undoubtedly will encounter in the future.
Our “old lives” seem but a distant memory: The morning shuffle leading up to the school buses’ arrival at 8:30 a.m. and then welcoming the children home in the late afternoon. A quick snack and then endless homework, sorting through permission slips and other notes. Wrangling everyone into the bath and into pajamas, saying the Shema and going to bed.
Like other parents who have been forced to quickly adapt to our new roles, I hope that the hustle and bustle returns and our children can go back to school. When they do, I will enjoy a fantastic cup of coffee in solitude. Then I will reflect on these times, this era in which we were thrust into a situation we could have never imagined and how the news reports — and being forced into a near quarantine — could be terrifying for kids.
But instead of focusing on a deadly virus that we could not control, we chose to seize the opportunities available to connect with others — through happy messages and on time spent together as a family, as well as through difficult messages to those in mourning. And we played a lot of board games.