Now that learning and working from home appear to be the norm for a while, schoolchildren and their parents are finding creative ways to make the best of a difficult situation.
The three Rs, for Readin’, ‘Ritin’ and ‘Rithmetic, have sprouted a fourth—Relationships.
Family members who barely had time to grab a bagel while dashing out the door are now sitting down for heart-to-hearts over scratch-made meals.
Omnipresent social media devices are being powered down in favor of non-virtual activities like jigsaw puzzles and curling up on the couch together for movie night.
Engaging in team sports or visiting playgrounds and dog parks may be verboten, but there’s no padlock on the great outdoors.
There are strolls to be strolled, horses to be ridden, Weimaraners to be walked and backyard tire swings to be swung.
And, thanks to distance learning, there are still school assignments to be done.
Consistency is calming and folks should eat and get up and go to bed at their usual times. But it’s OK, experts say, to cut the offspring a break on things like picking their stinky socks up off the bathroom floor.
Here’s what some local clans are doing to keep the peace:
Andy Pelosi, a member of the North Salem Board of Education, and his wife, Luisa, a wealth reporter, have two daughters, high school junior Gabby, 17, and eighth-grader Cassie, 13.
Pelosi already works from home in the education and advocacy field, so he’s got his routine down.
The siblings burn off energy by kicking a ball around or walking their “mutt” around the neighborhood. Cassie has taken to the kitchen like a roast duck to water. Everyone’s been happily chowing down her lasagna and pies. Distractions have included watching “This Is Us,” a TV series exploring complicated family dynamics.
The diehard football fans have been taking their minds off things by working on a “really hard” Pittsburgh Steelers helmet puzzle.
Being a junior’s challenging in the best of times. There are more advanced classes to take, more pressure to get ready for college. But Gabby, who praises teachers for being “super understanding” and flexible, feels worse for seniors who might miss out on important life passages such as proms and graduation.
She checks with her guidance counselor, who always has comforting words to share.
The young athlete’s “pretty upset” about missing lacrosse and soccer practices. She touches base with teammates and coaches via social media.
“Remember, this is a really trying time for everyone,” Gabby said. “Embrace this chance to bond with your family.”
In Yorktown, PTA president Ron Fedele and his wife, Stephanie, a nurse, have a first-grader at Mohansic Elementary School and a seventh-grader at Mildred E. Strang Middle School.
The Lakeland High School grad already works from home as a learning specialist, so the situation’s way less stress-producing for him than it is for average Joes.
Distance learning has been going well, Fedele says, but there are lots of things that just aren’t the same experienced online.
MESMS, marking its 50th anniversary this year, plans to bury a time capsule. While the ceremony is on hold, the community has been sending stories and pictures to tuck away.
Things wouldn’t be going so smoothly if it wasn’t for the “calming and competent influence” of schools Superintendent Dr. Ron Hattar and teachers who keep students feeling loved and on track academically.
“The speed and efficiency at which the district set this up is just phenomenal,” Fedele said.
Just before everything went belly-up, MESMS gave out copies of Beverly Cleary’s “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”
A Fedele pal rolled his motorcycle down the halls while wide-eyed children and a teacher in a mouse costume waved.
“We were so happy that the kids got to have the book at home with them.”
Fedele’s 12-year-old son, already used to working independently (though he does ask dad for a little math help now and then), is adjusting well. For phys ed, he keeps a journal about activities like “walking, dancing with his brother, that kind of thing.”
The 7-year-old loves singing along with music class videos. As for dad, he’s FaceTiming with his own students.
The boys miss seeing their grandmother but get why they have to stay away.
“Both of them are very intelligent and they understand it’s for her safety and ours,” Fedele said.
Distractions help. Family members gather around Lego projects and make Irish soda bread to munch on warm out of the oven.
The youngest is now hooked on cooking shows such as “Buddy vs. Duff,” where celeb bakers do frosting-coated battle. The last one, featuring lifelike dinosaur cakes, went over big.
There have been a few bumps in the road, but if the kids—or the adults—get cranky now and then, that’s OK.
The key to staying sane while cooped up is “patience, patience, patience,” Fedele said. “If we can all step back somewhat, we can still enjoy many wonderful moments with our children during this unprecedented time.”
Somers was one of the first communities in Northern Westchester to find out it had a confirmed case of COVID-19, when a Primrose Elementary School parent got sick.
Board of Education president Dr. Lindsay Portnoy and her partner, Gary, both busy professionals, are grateful to finally be able to do simple things with their two sons, ages 11 and 9.
“We are being very mindful of this opportunity to spend time together. The other day, my oldest and I played on our tire swing for like 20 minutes. It was ridiculously fun,” she said.
Both kids miss their classmates, so it was a thrill when one of their teachers held a class on Zoom and the children could see each other at home. One son—particularly tickled whenever a pal’s cat, guinea pig or curious little sister wandered onscreen—“couldn’t stop talking about how great it was,” Portnoy said.
Of course, it helps if all children have access to the technology that makes at-home learning possible. A cognitive scientist, she just published an opinion piece on that very subject.
When everyone else was rushing out to buy toilet paper, Beth Karawan Craig in Goldens Bridge was packing her pantry with flour and sugar.
The mom had had to put her home bakery biz on the back burner, but she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from turning out a few decadent Billionaire Bars and savory scallion biscuits for Saturday dinner.
The marketing and research professional normally works 15 hour days—this time of year just happens to be one of her biggest client’s busiest—and carving out family time has always been challenging. It’s somewhat of a miracle just getting food on the table for her son, Michael, much less being able to sit down with him to eat.
(Michael’s dad lives in Cross River. He’s also in marketing. They’ve been commiserating about the economic hit their industry’s experiencing.)
On top of everything, Craig’s home renovation project has forced her to decamp to her bedroom “office.”
“I got caught on one conference call in a hoodie and messy bun” after forgetting that the computer’s camera was on, she admits.
Nearly 17, Michael is self-sufficient, but Craig still “feels bad” when she has to focus her attention elsewhere.
Raised on technology, the John Jay High School junior’s used to doing schoolwork online. Still, he’s fretting about AP tests.
Craig praised schools Superintendent Dr. Andrew Selesnick for keeping the community informed: “I believe him when he tells us not to worry, that things will work out.”
However, it still wasn’t good news when Craig saw the text Friday about schools staying shut until mid-April.
Schools are “prepared to deliver meaningful education resources to students—even at a distance—for as long as necessary,” said Selesnick. However, it’s “no substitute for the healthy interactions and interpersonal connections students seek and establish at school every day.”
Normally, Michael would be part of the stage crew for his school’s spring musical or getting ready for Boy Scout leadership training. He’s also been talking about doing his Eagle Scout project with a Ridgefield, Conn., theater.
“It’s very frustrating; nothing can replace real life,” Craig said.
Some routines haven’t changed. Michael still plays video games and watches lots of YouTube.
“That’s OK,” said Craig. “I never was that concerned about his screen time. He’s good at balancing that with everything else.”
Whatever coping mechanisms work, she’s for them.
“We’re all good at giving advice; not so good at taking it. But if I had to give myself as a parent some, I’d say: ‘School is their job.
You have your job. Everyone needs to respect that.’ ”
But there comes a point in everybody’s day when it’s time to say “Pencils down!”
“Stop to take some time for each other. Try to do something ordinary in the chaos,” Craig suggested.
Like bake focaccia. Yum.
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