The days of me primarily writing through a parenting lens here have been over for years, which seems like a natural enough evolution of things. I mean, I’m not saying that my personal opinion is that babies and young children have little claim to privacy while bigger children do … buuuuuuuut I’m not not saying that.

However, parenting through a pandemic seems worthy of documentation, if only for my own memory-jogging purposes, so let’s tackle the topic that I think about all the time these days: how are the kids doing?

The short answer is … they’re okay? I’m pretty sure they’re doing mostly okay. I think.

Both of them are in virtual school and have been since everything shut down last spring. Riley, now a freshman in high school (!!!), has all of his Zoom sessions in the morning; while Dylan, a 7th grader, has all of his in the afternoon. They both do the majority of their schoolwork from their bedrooms, where they have actual desks which they largely ignore in favor of whatever offers the least ergonomic experience. Sitting hunched over a tablet like Snoopy in vulture mode, for instance.

Riley seems to have generally figured out how to work the system in his favor: he multitasks everything in ways his teachers probably wish he wouldn’t (it is not uncommon for me to see him “in” a Zoom class, while watching YouTube via another device and working on a separate assignment while also plugged into AirPods and listening to music, which is quite exotic to me considering I can’t even parse a conversation any more if there are other people talking nearby). He’s kept up with his usual good grades in a breezy kind of way: he’s self-motivated, but … you know, not hugely so.

It’s been harder for Dylan, academically. Remote learning is not right for him, full stop, and he’s had some struggles with staying on top of assignments and making sense of the often-byzantine instructions for how to complete and submit things. But he’s learned some tricks for prioritizing work and carving out times to take breaks, and his grades have been much better this trimester.

As for the other aspects of school that they have been missing out on, I’m not certain how it all shakes out in their minds. We all tend to focus on the downsides of virtual learning but I know there are at least some things they like. No homework, no need to get dressed or even get out of bed, no tests that are not by definition open book. Out of the seemingly endless list of cons, there are a few upsides.

I wonder all the time how much they miss being around other kids. Both boys have been pretty similar in that they have always had lots of friends at school and in sports but weren’t hugely interested in socializing outside of those environments. With everything shut down, they haven’t hung out with friends for months and months now, aside from online interactions.

Basketball, once their great shared love, has fallen out of favor — I don’t know if it’s because they can’t play on a team right now or what. The hoop in our driveway stands lonely and ignored for now, although I’m hopeful for an eventual renewal of interest.

Dylan has turned his attention to practicing his bowhunting skills, and rain or shine he can be found in the backyard target shooting. He’s also extremely into a game called theHunter: Call of the Wild, an immersive open-world kind of setup that he loves to explore. (I mean, I get that it’s a hunting game, but it seems to offer a lot more than just the opportunity to fake-shoot at a CGI deer.)

Riley has been playing a ton of CS:GO, but also spending a lot of time learning Blender and 3D modeling/animation. It’s been amazing to see his progress, going from clumsy cartoonish designs to far more realistic textures and movements. He also started an Etsy store a while back, reselling wooden knives he buys from a guy in Russia (!), and while he absolutely refuses to take a single word of advice from me marketing-wise (INCLUDE A THANK YOU CARD WITH YOUR SHOP URL ON IT OMG CHILD) he’s been doing pretty well with that.

They stay busy, you know? But as the weeks go on and on and on I wonder what it’ll be like to re-integrate. I wonder about the effects of extended isolation, I wonder what this year would have been like for them if everything had been normal. What all did they miss, and how much does any of that matter?

I do think they are okay, or at least as okay as it’s possible to be when your day-to-day world has shrunk to a small family home and you spend pretty much every single hour of your life with your parents and an assortment of pea-brained pets. I wish I could be certain of this, but when in parenting do you ever really get that guarantee?

I gave up on a book recently, not because I had read enough of it to determine that it wasn’t for me but because I’d spent a few days trying to get into it and the thing never happened, the thing where you sort of fall into the pages and the rest of the world disappears. I kept dragging it hopefully from one end of the house to the other in the hopes that if nothing else at least proximity would prompt me to make it past the first chapter, but I never did. Every time I picked it up it felt like work, rather than pleasure.

Granted, for me the experience of losing myself to a book has been sadly elusive over the last *checks calendar* eleven months or so. I know I’m not alone in my ongoing reading slump because there have been plenty of social posts and articles describing this issue, so I guess there is some small comfort to be found in the fact that this is a documented bug in our pandemic-life meatware.

What a big, fat, stupid bummer it is, though. I can hardly imagine a time when I have been more in need of literary escape yet so weirdly, mouthbreathingly incapable of accessing the wealth of reading material at my fingertips.

Out of the many depressingly valid reasons that 2020 made it difficult to concentrate on much of anything, it was probably the loss of routine that really borked reading for me. I’ve been a remote worker for years but I’ve always been able to wrap my day around some sort of schedule. Without the kids going to school, without any real structure to the day or the ability to work somewhere aside from my living room couch, everything just …. bleeds together. Any sense of boundaries, of work time vs relax time, have largely disappeared. There is an endless list of things to do and none of them are compartmentalized any more and my brain is less of a healthy functioning organ and more like a roiling mess of misfiled fight-or-flight chemicals and whatever twitchy dumb mental effects can be linked to nearly a year of doomscrolling.

I’m hopeful that my love for reading will eventually return, and in the meantime there is always the tactic of seeking out lighter fare (bless you, Jenny Colgan, for your endless stories of Scottish seasides, hunky men, and delicious baked goods), but goddamn, having books turn into a CHORE, one that is sometimes INSURMOUNTABLE, is a bona-fide fucking tragedy.

As the author of this article so perfectly puts it, “It’s felt like losing a friend in a time when we’ve already lost so much.”

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