What a Laugh-Attack Taught Me About Homeschooling During Covid-19
The kid is giggling in a way that seems nearly manic. With eyes that have rolled back in her head, and a face pointing towards the ceiling, she gasps for air. The hilarity of it all pours out of her, and I am helpless to stay straight-faced.
We are sitting at the kitchen table. Light streams in through the windows. I imagined, vainly, that this would help our focus for this morning’s schoolwork tasks. Instead, I’ve been pleading with her for over an hour to “just write the sentence.”
The task is simple: by using a Venn Diagram, she is to chart the differences and similarities between watching a movie at home or at a movie theater. Then, use the chart to write two full paragraphs on her findings.
So far, our progress is, “Watching a movie in a theater can be similar to watching a movie at home.” Yes, okay, not the greatest sentence in the world, but she’s in grade four, and it’s taken us what seems like years to write these words in this particular way, so I’m not complaining.
She, however, is complaining. She just wants to go swimming in our new backyard pool. Can’t she go swimming?
“Sophie, stop. If you would just focus, we could be done in like ten minutes, then you can go swimming. You’ve got your introductory sentence, let’s start writing out the similarities. You have them all there on your diagram, so you don’t even have to think about it.” I say, trying to keep my calm.
She lets out a strange giggle. But it’s not really a giggle, it’s more of a cackle. Almost as though she is trying out this sound for the first time.
CA CA CA CA CA.
“What the heck was that?” I ask.
She does it again, this time adding something more guttural to the mix.
CAH CAH CAH CAH CAH.
“Are you having a seizure or something?” I’m worried now, “do you need an ambulance?”
She ignores my question; instead, like a light switch has been flicked to the ON position, gales of belly laughter exit her tiny body. Tears begin to roll down her face as she side-eyes me while chortling. She places her forehead on the table, I assume, to try to get a hold of this thing that’s consuming her. It’s a fruitless attempt at composure as it only brings on more giddiness.
Head up laughing at the ceiling, head down laughing into the table. 10 nonstop minutes of this. Of course, because no one can sit idly by while their table partner is guffawing it up, I too start to laugh. I don’t know the meaning of this laughter, but at this point, I don’t think she does either.
Then, the light switch turns OFF, and her laughter turns to sobs, abruptly. It’s a real cry this time, full of emotional pain and worry. She tells me she can’t think straight. She can’t come up with the words — a feeling I know all too well.
Have you ever been in a stressful situation, where your immediate response is to laugh?
I remember doing this when I was in middle school and sitting in a quiet classroom trying to take a pop quiz. Everyone else’s pencils would be running across their paper, but true to form, my brain was frozen due to test anxiety.
The absolute quiet of the classroom would remind me of something hilarious that one of my friends had done earlier that day. Or that one time, my brother’s enormous head got stuck in a snowdrift, and the laughter would bubble out of me like potion from a witch’s cauldron.
The teacher would inevitably scold me for disrupting the class. I’d be made to complete my test in the hallway or, worse yet, go to the principal’s office.
I think about all the hours I have sat in front of a blank screen, trying to find the missing words.
I think about how, in a matter of 6 weeks, my children’s friends, teachers, and Monday to Friday life has been ripped away from them.
Sophie’s tears drip onto her assignment — smearing the one sentence I was able to pull out of her this morning.
Since beginning this homeschooling journey, I have been quick to tell people that I am not cut out for it. My patience is lacking, and I find myself getting irritated when they can’t complete what I deem a simple writing exercise.
Now, as I sit here, hugging my girl, I think about how much I’ve made this about me. I get irritated. I don’t have time to waste sitting here while they do nothing. I am feeling frustrated.
But what about the kids? How are they feeling with this life-changing upheaval?
I tell Sophie that we’re done for the day. Maybe I’m too soft. Perhaps she has just learned a lesson in wrapping me around her little finger. But at this point, I don’t care. I want to take away her worry, even if it’s only for a little while. She looks up to me through tear-streaked eyes and asks, “what about the assignment?”
I tell her it will be waiting for us tomorrow. Today I want to see her swim in the pool.