The night before day one of the home school, I packed the lunch boxes. My younger daughter, who is nine, didn't like the one I'd chosen. She said she wanted a different one. I let her choose a different one. As if it mattered.
At that point, however, on the night before day one of the home school, I was of the opinion that things like lunch boxes mattered.
The night before day one, I believed that given I've always worked from home, it gave me the edge in functioning in my job, while also holding the positions of teacher/principal/gym mistress/SNA. And the last role, the SNA bit, I believed gave me an even sharper edge.
Anyone, like me, with a child with an intellectual disability, has been a self-trained educator since the child's earliest days. I was doing Jolly Phonics flash cards with the now nine-year-old when she wasn't yet able to stand up. I think I know every trick in the book required to keep her engaged, keep her motivated, keep her in her seat in front of her work.
On the night before day one, I believed my double advantage would make a difference. I believed I had this under control and the lunch boxes were brightly coloured plastic symbols of this. I filled the lunch box of choice for the nine-year-old and filled one for the 12-year-old daughter, too, conceding that she might have her soup from a bowl rather than the usual flask. I wanted her to regard me as organised and in charge, rather than unhinged.
At the end of day one, the lunch boxes were deemed a bad idea, by both pupils and by me. It had felt forced and fake, taking them out of the fridge and eating from them, and it didn't feel like welcome structure to have me pronounce that it was now time for little and big breaks, encouraging them to eat the items they'd usually eat at those assigned times.
On that first day, however, we attempted to have little and big break. I had a large whiteboard, usually used for my work, to impose structure on it, to map out the days and the pieces of work to be done. Professionally, it has always made me feel more organised and calm. I believed it could do the same for the home school.
I was wrong.
On day one, we filled it in. Manageable 30-minute bites of school work between 9.30am and 2.10pm, when they usually finish actual school. There was exercise in the garden built in to the school day, but the big bite of getting outdoors and active would happen "after school". Like, you know, usual.
It didn't work.
The structure, to my surprise, made us sad. It reminded us of what we didn't have. It made us wonder how long this was going to go on, which, we've all discovered, is best not dwelt on.
First, I had a meltdown when the school work arrived via an app from the school. I went and hid in my home office for a while.
My temporary urge to hide from being the adult meant that home school didn't start until 11. The nine-year-old said she was hungry, again. We'd missed the assigned time for a little break while I was upstairs weeping.
The 12-year-old was absorbed in a project to make fliers with cheerful drawings and messages, to pin to lamp posts around the now deserted neighbourhood. I wasn't going to discourage the self-motivation, or the fact that she was so invested in it.
Already, the white board was pointless.
It became more pointless as the day progressed.
I felt flat and defeated by the end of day one. It was unsustainable.
This had nothing to do with the school overloading us with work. They are at pains, in all their communications, to remind us that we can only do what we can, that the well-being of the children is more important than completion of work - and that's the key point, that was the realisation come days two and three.
First, we can't replicate school at home, and we can't make things 'normal' for our children. This time is not normal. They know it, and they know we know it, and if we fake it, with lunch boxes and timetables and scheduled 'yard' breaks, it only makes it harder to bear.
And then there was the fact that the adults have to work, too. Even if you've always worked from home, this requires a whole new level of compartmentalising. At which, for this week, I failed.
Failed. Did better at not beating myself up for that. Moved on. Kept moving on. Worried a bit. Felt overwhelmed a bit. Told the nine-year-old the answers to her maths a bit. Consoled the 12-year-old over the fact that she is missing her last months in primary school, which were such fun as they grew giddy with the feeling of one thing ending as another begins.
At the moment, everything just feels like an ending.
So, as the week went on, I tried to impose the achievable normals.
There needs to be a normal bedtime and a regular waking time. They need to get up and dressed and brush their teeth at the start of the day. There needs to be civilisation, but rigidity does not serve us now, perhaps because it makes no accommodation for the inevitable anxiety.
The daily school work got done, every day this week. Both daughters seemed to enjoy it to an extent. It was a thread connecting them to the normal, but they proved themselves adaptable to the new normal, too. And, in reality, I probably followed more than led.
I laughed, like everyone else on whose phone it popped up, at the glamorous mother ranting about the impossibility of meeting the demands of home-schooling. Her railing against the clarinet practice was probably the high point, as she pointed out that she can't read music and doesn't have a band in her house. That summed it up, that feeling of needing to overreach beyond one's abilities, and with so much else going on at the same time.
By day four, I was doing a yoga class via the conference-call app Zoom at the time when home school had been scheduled to start on day one. The daughters were downstairs, dressed, hair brushed, eating boiled eggs.
They were fine. The work got done. We went for walks while the sun was shining, posted letters to grandparents and bought the newspaper for an older neighbour.
It wasn't perfect. We snapped at each other. We took the cabin fever in turns. We all wondered when it would be over.
The whiteboard schedule still propped against a wall in the kitchen, only that day one filled in.
It's like a museum piece already. Day one seems already so long ago.
And, maybe, we've only just begun.
Over the last few days, my life as I knew it has gradually moved online.Family get-togethers - or 'Cobra meetings' as we've started to call them - take place on Zoom; work meetings play out over WhatsApp and Google Hangouts. Over the weekend, I played virtual charades with family in Galway and Munich, rolled out my mat for an online yoga class and did a piano lesson by way of video call.