I don't know where the whiteboard is. It's somewhere in the house, and it wouldn't be hard to find it, but I don't really want to. The home-school timetable is still written up on it, and while we had a good old laugh the other day at my innocence in drawing that up in week one, I don't necessarily want to see it again.
I can remember the schedule, though. I broke the days into 40-minute bites, there was big break and little break, and some watching of TV together for respite and slots of organised physical activity.
What's not on the whiteboard is that I actually made their lunches and put them in lunchboxes. That's what we laughed at the most last week, as the school year officially came to an end. Lunchboxes. What was I thinking?
I was thinking that lunchboxes, along with waking my two girls at the time they would get up for school, and making them get dressed before breakfast, would make the days resemble our real life.
I was thinking that if I let the structures slip, we'd forget them and lose touch with a normality we might never get back. That was what I was thinking. I remember this, but it's like describing someone else. The person who picked up her kids on March 12 and brought them home for a brief burst of home-schooling seems like an innocent stranger now.
We lost the whiteboard and lunchboxes after day one. We lost the structured wake-up time and the immediately getting dressed several weeks into lockdown. We lost touch with normality in increments as the reality sank in that they would not be going back to school this term. In fact, my 12-year-old would never be going back to primary school.
Her final months of first-level education were characterised by emails of school work from school, nagging from me to get it done, losing patience with PowerPoint, letting slip the nightly habit of photographing and sending the work back to the teacher, gradually growing oh-so weary of working alone without any sense of community or peer-group company.
There was no holding on to normality. It slipped away from us as we learnt to move on from family disagreements fast, because there was no getting away from each other. It slipped away when screen-time rules went out the window as parents tried to work and children needed diversion. It slipped away as we tended tomatoes on a Monday evening when we should have been at Special Olympics swimming, got them to help us paint garden furniture, to learn to put on a duvet cover, to clean the bath, to hoover.
The new normality became days that ended in utter, full-body exhaustion, as your brain nagged that you'd done nothing all day but hang around the house. I had sessions of self-flagellation about being lazy which would end with me listing off the housework, the school work, the actual work that had been done that day. Doing nothing was also doing everything, but confined and confused and even scared as we waited for Covid to do its worst.
The children, there all the time, were often a source of guilt: the parents became their whole world and there was no way the parents were enough.
Everyone started off with the same intention, to maintain a level where they could go back to school seamlessly and soon. When the 'soon' bit slipped away from us, many homes just gave up. Some downed tools early and said they wouldn't be doing the home-schooling, thanks. In some houses it simply petered out. Others kept at it, to varying standards, others were doggedly dedicated to the end.
Did we learn anything from it? My elder daughter says not.
And now it's the school summer holidays. They arrived with minimal fanfare. Schools, like my daughters', did their best for sixth class with Zoom graduations and even small, socially distanced gatherings on the grounds.
My elder daughter's sixth class of pre-teens looked much older last week than they were in March, all long arms, legs and fringes, slouched shoulders, first stirrings of attitude.
My younger daughter said
goodbye to her teacher and classmates on Zoom. She was shy to speak, needed me glued to her side to prompt news and unmute her. As the months since March rolled on, she has grown more and more my shadow, at this point unsure where I end and she starts. I leave the room and hear "where's Mum?" I have worried, a lot, how this child with Down syndrome will re-enter the classroom and step up to fourth class when schools reopen.
I know I am in the shallow end of the disability pool with her. She is sociable and relatively adaptable and very happy and supported in her school. It may take time but she will readjust. There are others with disabilities, many of whom have been on the news, simply begging the Department of Education to move faster in supporting children and families who are dealing with much more than we are. And for them, the summer provision programme, announced on June 12, just two weeks before most primary schools closed and after secondary schools finished, continues to fall short.
What was announced as a mostly school-based programme has revealed itself as mostly home-based with parents looking to source teachers or SNAs for their children when most of those professionals are now on their holidays.
Mainstream schools at first seemed to be bases for the programme, but tardy clarification from the department set out that only special schools and schools with special classes could actually run it. There was further confusion over which children qualified, and while primary-school children with Down syndrome are included this year, secondary-school children are not.
I know from many parents that confusion and heel-dragging with regard to the summer programme has meant their school had simply checked out for summer before enough information was supplied. The same is the case with teachers and SNAs and while more than 9,000 children have registered interest in the programme, I fear the ultimate take-up will fall far short of that.
Why the organisation of provision for children with special needs is dragging on into July, when Leo Varadkar promised it would materialise within weeks of his May 2 Late Late appearance is beyond me.
Further, why there wasn't more consultation with the parents of these children, who have been carers, educators and therapists, purely out of necessity, all their children's lives, also beggars belief.
If you want to learn something fast you ask the experts, and after lockdown I suppose we are all experts in the nitty-gritty of our children's lives. We ditched normal, we were forced to immerse in the strange and scary and sometimes really sad experience of having our children at home, entirely dependent on us, and, you know, it was sometimes a joy, too. I won't say it made us better people, but we did it.
And while I can't say where the whiteboard it, I know the location of the lunchboxes. I cannot wait to fill them again.