Why cleaning my daughter’s remote learning space wasn’t so easy for me

By Katie Greulich

Two weeks ago, my husband and I tore down posters in our daughter’s makeshift classroom—a corner of our basement office. I tried not to wince as chunks of paint came off with the double-sided tape. “What’s wrong?” my husband asked, yanking off a poster displaying the twelve months, each accompanied by a tiny symbol—a beach ball, a turkey, a four-leaf clover.

“Nothing,” I said.

“I’ll repaint,” he replied.

“It’s not that.”

My husband raised his eyebrows and I sighed. “I’m sad is all.”

“But you hated virtual school,” he said.

I nodded, “I know.” I pulled off a poster of analog clocks, each displaying a different time.

A different time.

My husband was right, I despised remote learning, every stitch of it. I hated the Zoom links, the varying speeds of our Internet connection, the static-y sound of the day beginning, the malfunctioning microphones of my daughter’s classmates. I hated ducking my head underneath the desk as we signed on, so the class—and teacher—wouldn’t see me in my pajamas.

As writer, I resented giving up my laptop for hours at a time and keeping my preschool-aged son away from the basement. Mostly though, I detested sitting on the basement steps—out of view—and monitoring the ‘school day,’ as my daughter spun around on the swivel chair, staring at the ceiling.

I spewed harsh whispers at my first grader: “Pay attention!” “Participate!” Some days, I’d storm off in frustration, worried about her academic and social progress and she’d chase after me, verging on tears, and coming at me with arguments and apologies. We’d collect ourselves and I’d walk her back down, still shaking from guilt and exasperation. 

As I removed the final poster, I wondered if this was why I felt sad. I could have been more patient, more understanding. I could have lowered my expectations. I could have enjoyed virtual school more than I did. 

But then, as I placed the remnants of a lost year into the recycling bin, reality kicked in, and I admitted to myself, that no, that couldn’t be it. We’d all made sacrifices last year, we did what we had to do. Virtual school was fine for some kids, but it wasn’t for mine. My daughter is an observer. She likes action, watching other kids, feeling out her environment. She’s a daydreamer like me, and if it’s easy to check out in a live classroom, it’s even easier to do so in front of a computer screen in your own basement. 

No, I wasn’t sad about the end of remote learning. I wasn’t sad about all the times I got angry because we all got angry. Frustration was a commonality for parents everywhere who experienced the surrealness of the past school year. 

So, why was I crestfallen to be tearing down posters of the alphabet and four seasons and numbers 1-100?

I remember dropping my daughter off at preschool for the first time. Her blonde hair swooped in a side ponytail. She wore a green tie-dyed shirt and blue leggings. I released her into the wilds of Goldfish crackers and finger paints and went home alone. For weeks, I’d ached for the break, but once it arrived, I watched the clock for the full two hours before pick up time. 

Then there was her first day of kindergarten. She wore pigtails and an aqua-colored dress with pink flamingos. There was nervous energy in the air as she lined up with her class on the blacktop. I swallowed a lump in my throat as she followed her teacher inside the building, her image getting smaller and smaller until she disappeared. I fought tears as my husband and I walked to the car, because I realized, even more than the first day of preschool, I had to let a part of her go. A bigger part.

And now, after a year of hybrid learning, school will open full-time in our district. My daughter’s posters reminded me that the little home-learning sanctuary we had created was now coming apart. My sadness wasn’t about some posters and improvised learning space, or guilt over any mishandlings during remote learning, I was sad, in essence, because I was letting my daughter go all over again. 

“Why don’t we leave this?” my husband said, pointing to the large pocket chart calendar. I smiled thinking about the way my daughter would leap on the chair at the beginning of each month, adjusting the dates and days of the week throughout the school year. 

So, the calendar remains on the wall that a year ago was my daughter’s remote learning space. It serves as a reminder of holding on and letting go. I’m sad that my daughter is leaving the house and going back to school but I’m also grateful that she’s heading back to her natural environment to make connections—both social and academic—in real time.

Once she is back at school, my laptop will become mine again, I’ll sit at my desk in the basement and work while occasionally stealing a glance at the calendar my daughter left behind. It will serve as a reminder to hang on, to accept changes I can’t control, and to ride with whatever waves might come this year.

Katie Greulich is a writer, wife, and mother of two living in New Jersey. She’s excited for the start of school so she can procrastinate on writing projects and count down the hours until her kids come home.

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