Thursday, March 26, 2020

La Quarantaine Quotidien: The Stinks

M and L have adjusted better than we feared to the quarantine, which started officially last Monday but had started for us a few days before when we decided to self-isolate against the virions that plagued our environs and that we were perhaps already incubating. L informed me yesterday that while he missed his friends, he liked that mum and dad were home every day and that he could see his friends "on the internet". They ensure to wash their hands counting to 20 or singing "happy birthday" twice (a trick L's teacher taught him), have diligently stayed away from people on the street and have asked about viruses in general, the regal virus and its fatality. As their grandmother lives 3 bocks away but we've isolated ourselves from her for the past few weeks, we have added window speaking to face time, in which we stop by each other's windows and talk, apart. The boys prefer this contact, M complaining he wants the "real baka" not the one on face time. It's a new reality, with a latent morbidity.
"Are people going to die? Is grandma?"
I didn't want to lie. I told them that many people would die but that their grandparents and friends and family were all keeping safe isolating from other people and they had nothing to worry about. This confused, hypocritical messaging to alleviate the fears of children is akin to the government in Australia ensuring parents that schools would be kept open but encouraging them to keep their kids home. A mediated messaging in which you massage the contours of the message to make it more palatable to such an extent that you end up piercing the logic of its content. "Everything will be ok (only it's not)."

During free drawing and journalling time, the kids' fascination with corona has resulted in many artistic expressions of what the corona virus looks like (alongside drawing their usual favourites, like sound and electricity, L displaying the latter as numerous balls with springs showing little balls jumping to and from each, which I proudly decided displayed his solid understanding of the basics of electron excitement).

We've had to curb the expression of our anxiety in front of the kids in order to alleviate their stress, but that has proven a difficult endeavour. A number of times I've exclaimed at the progression of this pestilence, or worried about authoritarianism, the consequences of disaster capitalism or even the fate of our family members unwittingly within reach of their ears, which never fail to register the information and prod further. M the past fews days has been waking up in the mornings and from his afternoon nap shouting for me and as soon as he sees me, has been exclaiming "Mummy! You are alive! You are alive!" with gratitude and asking for cuddles. Today, he told me he was glad I was not sick. It's readily apparent that he has internalized our anxiety. I have doubled down in my efforts to mollify their concern, yet the indubitably must be aware that there is a latent angst. I'm more cautious, more overbearing. Generally the risk of a broken arm is not something that concerns me. Kids should be kids. They need to scoot, ride a bike and do innumerable other things that contain some level of risk. Risk is inherent in life, after all. Now, I would prefer my kids were in bubbles and watch their play like the NKVD.

We have tried to keep the boys to a schedule. Of course, work variables have upended a consistent plan but our efforts have been somewhat smooth. We ensure they get ready on "go" days as before, as now we're in the "go-stay" period, and start the home-schooling with English. As the boys are 3 and 5 and have vastly different aptitudes, L can read and write sentences, M can read numerous words and write letters and few words (such as his name), I decided to do the following:
Start the day with two letters (which quickly expanded to include sounds) and ask the boys to think of words that start with that letter. After, have L write sentences which include a number of the words while M practices writing his letters. As M finishes before L, I take that time to continue mathematics with M, which L has long surpassed. Simple addition (2+1, 2+2 etc) and recognizing double and triple digit numbers. Then M has zoom class and L has his mathematics lesson. Next is sprint or scoot time around the block a number of times followed by yoga or an exercise video. Fruit and cheese snack. Geography/science/astronomy/biology (depending on the day). Lunch. M naps, then has his zoom meeting. While M naps, L reads books, connects puzzles or has his chess lesson. Then L has his zoom meeting with his teacher and friends (everyone in our household has zoom meetings daily).
After nap and zoom time, another snack. Then it's park time/outside time, in which we perform the quarantine shuffle, attempting to keep the designated 6 feet away from everyone else. Then free time. We have used dinner and night-time prep time for the boys to do free play and/or watch StoryBots or Octonauts.

It has of course not gone that smoothly. Yesterday the boys thought it a grand idea to hit each other repeatedly over the head with their respective avocado stuffed toys (or in their lingua, "stuffies"). When I intervened, they assured me that it was an innocuous activity because the toys were too soft and as an illustration of their point, L proceeded to hit me over the head with it. I was not pleased to say the least. However, at least they were fostering their fraternal bond and taking turns....

I trust parents all across the world have a new respect for teachers and I hope that one of the positives we can take from this carious circumstance is to provide them with the due compensation they deserve.

For instance, spare a thought for English teachers that as far as I know, have figured out how to teach spelling without having to turn up to work in SWAT gear.

Rather than start with "A" which would have been apples, I thought fit to continue with L's schedule. He was on the letter K. I immediately knew there was going to be trouble but insouciantly sauntered forth as if there were a phonetic basis to the lesson and asked L and M (who were at the start wagging their knees as if puppies awaiting the throw of a ball ostensibly in cross-cross apple sauce) to tell me words that started with "K".  M went first, shouting "cap", extremely proud that he said something before his brother. His brow furrowed when I explained that while "cap" is the correct "k" sound, it starts with the "hard c". Numerous hard "c" words later, the boys were about to stage a mutiny.
"Why does cat begin with a hard C but "kitten" begins with K?" M asked.
"Why does "cook" begin with C but end in K?" asked L.
I decided it was time for some etymology.
"Our wonderful language developed from other wonderful languages and we take that foreign language's spelling into account."
Blank faces.
"So "kindergarten"  and "kid" comes from German, so we use the German K. For words from Latin, we use the hard C, from French the "QU" rather than "KW" and from Greek we get "CH" -and there is also the "CK" which I believe is of Germanic origin but I am not certain."
My explanation was not exactly accurate, but I thought for a one sentence explanation to my children it could do the trick as a more simplified version of K's kerfuffle.
I wrote down "chronological" and "chromatic" and explained, whilst my calculation of the increased intensity of knee wagging fuelled my stress and added some strain to my voice as I picked up the pace to ensure I would be able to finish this lesson before outright rebellion, "chronological" , meaning in order of time, comes from "chrono" meaning "time" in Greek and "chromatic" meaning relating to colour, which comes "chroma" meaning "colour".
"But you used the "H" sound in Greek!" shouted L, exasperated. His dissatisfaction coiled into counters of incredulity.
"Look English isn't phonetic, it's beautiful and wonderful and useful and it's yours, but you're just going to have to remember. C can be hard or soft. K is always hard, but other letters make K."
"Now let's look at our K words and our "K" sound but not "K" words" I said pointing to our list. The kids eyed the "K" list, dismally short, with some derision as if English spelling were conjured by misanthropes that took indecent pleasure in Spelling Bee blunders.
"Now, let's get to writing K!"
I had M write K a number of times while L wrote down all the K words and was extremely pleased when they obediently and promptly began to write. My smile was a mile when I saw their exemplary script and flipped into the crevasses of exasperation when the next moment they were climbing up on the top bunk and ready to jump.
It was time for quick sprints outside before a snack and geography, in which L didn't fail to complain that the "Southern Ocean" should be the termed the "Antarctic" (this has been his pet peeve for many months now).

L has been dissatisfied with some of my answers to his questions. He is right to be, because his questions are surpassing my ready knowledge base, which sometimes results in a disgruntled and disappointed L shrugging his shoulders, rolling his eyes and commanding "just look it up, mum". Yesterday I noted that his makeshift plane had no wings and asked how it got lift. L said the body of the plane provided lift. I maintained this was error, and low and behold, realized that L was right. Future aeroplane design may use the body for lift. It was an embarrassing moment to say the least.


L's questions have been increasingly nuanced. He wanted to know why astronauts floated in "zero G" when there was gravity in space, with the sun's gravity pulling in the planets to orbit it. He wanted to know how a venus flytrap pollinated if it ate its pollinators (this one I had to look up and it's because the traps are at the bottom attract non-pollinating insects while the flower at the top has no traps and has a mutually beneficial relationship with its pollinators who never think fit to venture down to the plant's traps). We have since adopted a venus flytrap but it has not become the entertaining pesticide that the boys had hoped.

The boys have taken to saying "what the orca", "what the pod" noting that we shouldn't have an issue with this because "orca" and "pod" are not "bad words". And so our kids rather than swearing in the conventional way have merely made up new forms of swearing. I'm not sure what the right answer to this behaviour is but as the times have stretched our efforts to a loose degree.

The pandemic and the quarantine have provided a solid excuse for all my avid parenting failures, albeit I'm not sure as to its inherent as opposed to apparent verity. After all, I only have to look back at the beginning of this month when we woke up on a Sunday for M's first soccer lesson to realize we had forgotten to set an alarm for the new time, were already late, commanded the boys get dressed and informed them that breakfast would be en route and consist of an apple and granola bar, ushered them outside in the cold, only to discover that we could not remember where we parked the car and after ululating exasperation skirting blogging post rules and not to be repeated while circling the neighbourhood, found the car and en route in checking the location of the class, discovered it was cancelled. Parenting at its best.

L has been very proud of himself for learning to roll his "Rs" which has resulted in him being able to pronounce his brother's name. Unfortunately, M has been quite upset about this, not having succeeded this lingual feat. My husband has related that M has confided in him that he thinks I may not be proud of him because he cannot properly say his name. I've encouraged M to note that several weeks ago his brother couldn't roll his Rs either and now rolls them recursively, repeating "the rabbit went around the railroad" in a heavy staccato accent.

For the past couple of months, M is very into making deals. "I'll make you a deal" he insists when he wants something. I do this, you give me that. If I say he will get $1 for helping with a chore, he retorts with "how about $55?" and to my avid refusal, he simply counters up, "OK, then, how about $56?"


Before L's school shut down, during the month of February, L's teacher taught him about race, a subject I had skirted. L, in his five years of life, had never up to that point, been cognizant of varied skin colour. He came home excited explaining that human beings come in different colours and excitedly explained to me that his friends were all different colours. I told him the difference came from varied levels of a hormone, melanin. L explained that whatever we looked like on the outside, we were the same inside. His teacher has shown this by taking a number of different coloured eggs and instructing the children to crack them. His teacher had also taught L about segregation. "Can you believe that people of different skin colour could not drink from the same water fountain or go to the same school?" L asked incredulous. Wasn't that ridiculous? I pondered whether this was a good time to discuss the reification of race and its use to create a racial bridge between the rich white and poor, thus separating the real interest of the white and black poor (this is pursuit of economic interest by MLK is what resulted in his assassination - the man must be turning in his grave that he is remembered as a "civil rights" martyr when he realized that you can't separate civil and economic rights). While I was vacillating over how best to approach this, our lives were upended and this is a topic that I have yet to teach.


To cut the boys' bath level, which they insist should be deep, I decided to show them the trifle availability of freshwater. I poured a full glass representing all the water in the water in the world (250 ml). Then I explained that the vast majority of this is salt water and that without energy intensive desalination, which is not only expensive but creates pollution and contributes to global warming, we could not drink any of it. To illustrate I poured salt in the water, had them stick their finger in it and taste whether they approved of the salt. After their grimaces, we ventured forth to freshwater (6.25 ml). They immediately remarked on the difference. I informed them that not all of the freshwater in the world is accessible, some of it is stored in ice caps and not all of the water is renewable, as underwater aquifers have been filled over millions of years. The third cup represented accessible freshwater (2.5 mls by my calculation).
"Every time you ask for your bath to be filled to the brim, please consider how much water 8 billion and their progeny have to share."
L scrunched his face up. "What about water from space?" he asked.
How very human of him.

In this house, everyone has zoom meetings several times a day. The kids are starting to learn digital etiquette, albeit slowly. They at first shouted over the top of each other and have slowly learnt to use the vital mute button. It's amazing to see how the kids relate to each other over the internet. They find it fascinating. While we face time with relatives all the time, we've never face timed with their friends. M was speaking to his friend over face time yesterday and it was so lovely to see how the boys expressed their emotions for each other.
"I really miss you" said M's bud to him.
"I really miss you too" M fired back. "My kiss is going all the way from my house to yours. Can we play soon?"
"Yes, I want to play with you!"
At what point do men internalize and curb these emotions? Or is this new generation, which encourages boys to feel and express their feelings, developing a new masculinity, one that is less masked and more true?

Then again there are some things that appear to be quintessentially male, like finding "the stinks" as M likes to term it, hilarious. I'm not sure what the humour is, but my husband does and so do my boys. The stinks indeed.

























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