Roberta describes her pandemic life monitoring her five, seven, and nine-year-old children: I feel like I am talking to myself. Sometimes I have to ask my partner if I am actually speaking words out loud. The children do not acknowledge, let alone respond, never mind acquiesce to my escalating instructions. I don’t want to be that mom, the mom who is always yelling.
But my volume intensifies. There is so much to do. If I don’t yell, they don’t do it. They can’t wander away from their screens. The teacher might call on them. They have to do their homework. They can’t fall behind. We need some modicum of a schedule. The kids need to eat, bathe, go to bed.
While there is little argument that children need to routinely eat, frequently sleep, and occasionally bathe, I reflected on Roberta’s predicament of trying to help her kids stay focused. But then my ADD brain skedaddled over to my recent hike with my companion of the canine persuasion.
In the woods, Langley cannot do anything wrong. Admittedly, he has more outdoor knowledge in one paw than Roberta and I have in our entire highly articulate bodies. In the woods, Langley can’t break any rules. That there are no rules in the woods is, admittedly, a significant advantage. Langley knows what to do in the outdoors, how to behave. Can he take a drink from the stream? Sure. Can Langley pee anywhere he likes. Again, yes. Can he dig a hole in the wet sand and bury his nose? Of course. Whereas all of his behaviors—drinking out of puddles, urinating indiscriminately, excavating holes—would be frowned upon were Langley and I having high tea at the Savoy.
Is it possible that Roberta’s children are in the wrong environment? Are they never going to behave while being forced to attend “computer school”? Is an iPad just the completely wrong instructional modality for kids who just recently learned to read?
At no point in our evolutionarily adaptive environment were little ones required to stare at screens until three in the afternoon. Nor did Abraham Lincoln learn oratory skills from a computer. Two cats in a bag are going to fight. Whereas two cats almost anywhere else is probably a better idea.
Roberta’s mom has a couple choices. She can yell louder. How’s that working out for her? Or she can change the environment, find another situation, improve the method and the content of the instruction. Speaking of politicians, Winston Churchill suggested, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Churchill, to my knowledge, never met Roberta’s kids before addressing Parliament as prime minister for the first time in 1940. Defending Europe is one thing. Insisting that children pay attention to lessons on a glowing rectangle is a horse of a different classroom.
I'm not suggesting which is easier. Only that the paradigms differ. And whereas England had no reasonable option subsequent to the Nazi invasion of Poland, Roberta has every opportunity to find an alternative solution, an environment where her children will learn, thrive, and behave. There are many exits from the hell that Roberta’s home has become. Langley and I are certain that there is more than enough room by the lake. Roberta’s children may or may not choose to bury their noses in the sand. But I bet Roberta’s kids would learn twice as much just curling up with a good book under the pines. No yelling required.
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional" suggested poet and marathoner, Haruki Murakami. In Roberta's case has allowed a silly suggestion--that her children be educated by screens--to cause her whole family pain and suffering? Would she be better off joining Langley and me on the shore?