I didn’t homeschool. It’s not that I’d tried and given up. Lockdown decree was imminent, my husband arrived home from the last school pick up with 3 dusty boys, arms full of school kit and workbooks and I dutifully sorted the piles: washing there, new desk space for the homework and reading , oh the craft can fit in that drawer. I’d go through it all later and I’d make a plan. Only, when the front door shut for the last time to friends, and neighbours, and school, on my orders we hefted the dining room table to the wall and I declared a ban on lunchtime.
In our tiny terraced house in The Village Within The Town, play and snacks would be the order of the day. I’m not a cool mom (I’m American, can you tell?). We have rules. We only eat at the table. Don’t wipe your face on your shirt. Use kind words and gentle hands. Don’t pick your nose, it’s disgusting. Take your shoes off! But I looked at those little faces and I thought if these kids are going to survive this arbitrarily imposed incarceration, I needed to hand over the keys to the asylum. Their world had been stripped bare.
There was no context for all of the new limitations, so slowly as if by dreaming our way to an undiscovered territory, we began home learning instead. It was literal at first, molecular biology, epidemiology, immunology – for primary schoolers. “What does the virus look like?” “What colour is the virus, Mummy?” “How big is the virus?” It was fine. It was all one big Sunday morning, building dens. Only it wasn’t. They weren’t fooled. My youngest, whom I had long suspected had Autism traits but wasn’t “bad enough” to be assessed, began to “tic” off the charts. There were hours of screaming (our next door neighbours, hero saintly Junior Doctors publicly shamed me by taping a complaint notice to the lamppost at the bottom of our drive), holes in the walls, furniture broken. We had a new biting problem.
And then Mummy went a bit mad. Not the fun, day drinking, Tiger King obsessed (still no idea), pyjamas all day kind. My mind’s eye witnessed death scenarios of each of my children. The eldest would complain of a sore throat at dinner and be dead in the morning. The youngest would be taken away by ambulance and die alone and terrified in hospital. The middle would slowly fade away at home. I gathered my children to me and made it a fun game: Ooona, dascha, meena, Rona; I had a girlfriend and her name was Corona. My mummy works in hospital My daddy’s driving lorries I stay home to watch my baby brother And it’s really boring If I get the virus, will I die? Count 1, 2 and you’ll be alive. 1,2, 1,2,1,2.
Photo & Story by Nicole Monique Johnson.