I designed my new home office to be a creative, inspirational sanctuary. Behind the French doors is a rug with watercolor flowers in bright pink, orange, and blue tones. The light gray walls are adorned with a collage of inspirational mantras, including “Never Give Up,” “Yes, She Can,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” I have a book shelf with carefully curated bins filled with books such as The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids (which I devoured). But in front of my computer, I recently placed a pack of stress balls, a sign that says, “Keep Calm & Try Not to Freak Out,” and a Post-It Note to remind me I am always on camera with my daughter’s virtual class.
Virtual first grade math is turning me in to the mother I never wanted to be.
My desk is next to my daughter’s. Hers is a beautiful teal color. I set up this picture-perfect space for us to co-exist, with me as a remote book publicist and author, and her as a student. But our little haven has turned into a place I dread being in at 11 a.m. every day once math lessons start.
Today was so hard, I actually walked out of the room. I left my daughter on the floor, crying her eyes out. I felt horrible. So horrible, in fact, that I Skyped my closest co-workers and told them what happened and asked them if they thought I should go back there. Bless them for listening to me, as they are either childless or raising babies and pre-schoolers. My dear Katie told me she’s always the “softie” mom who can’t let her kids cry it out.
Does that mean I became the mean, emotionless mom?
I am always the softie mom! I’m the helicopter mom. I’m the one who wants to be with her kids 24/7. But I just left my daughter crying on camera.
Math is hard. I was in an 8 a.m. Saturday remedial math class in college. I get it. I almost walked out of the SAT’s during the math portion until I decided to just fill in random circles.
First grade math nowadays, I don’t even understand. I actually have to listen and learn along with the kids. How can we expect our children to understand—and while being taught online by teachers who are trying their very best to assist 18 other kids who all have questions?
It’s the questions that actually cause a lot of the problems for my daughter. She can’t concentrate on solving a problem while the teacher and other students are talking on the computer. And throw in that our office is next to the living room, where my mother watches my three-year-old son and our three dogs sit and stare out the window waiting to bark at Amazon delivery men…. it’s a distracting situation.
We tried ear phones, closing the window shades on the dogs, and having my mom and son go into another room. But still, still, we have really bad days of math.
Days I feel like I am calmly explaining to her how to solve a problem and showing her all the steps to do so, and she just gets so overwhelmed and emotional that she protests and can only focus on not understanding instead of trying to understand. So, I tell her to let her teacher help her. But the teacher is helping a student on another problem. And she has to wait. And that causes more stress. And more tears.
Today, I was so frustrated because she wasn’t listening to me as I was trying to help her. And it wasn't on my busy work day agenda to have yet another fight about math.
It was supposed to be a happy day. I read the children’s book I wrote for her to her class and we even wore matching sweaters! But as much as I plan for happy days, I can’t control the emotions of my kids and that drives me crazy! All the time. I actually put on headphones and played music during her tantrum and told her to ask her teacher for help. And I eventually left the room once she started screaming at me. I gave up.
My theory was that maybe I shouldn’t be in the room. Maybe the teacher can explain this better than I can—I am not a freakin’ math teacher. I don't even know if I am explaining it in a way that is confusing her even more. I barely remember how to multiply unless it’s about shopping, let’s get real. But apparently leaving made me a mean mom.
The opposite of the mom I have always aspired to be.
The mom who wasn’t there when her daughter needed her.
No amount of hygge could help me here, no matter how many pages of The Danish Way of Parenting I marked up. I am all about positivity, optimism and mindfulness but I can't control the fact that my children are well... children!
It's ironic because I am a publicist for self-help experts, parenting gurus, and coaches on emotional intelligence and I cannot even use all of my inside knowledge to help myself parent a first-grade virtual math student! We have discussions every night, just me and her, about how I am here to help her and that I want positive and happy days. My husband talks to her, too. But it all goes out the window when it’s time to hit the workbook.
After a few minutes of letting her have a tantrum, I went back down to our office and my daughter stopped crying. We worked together and finished up her problems. When it finally became time to break for lunch, we hugged it out and did a reset. (Our reset is something I recently started when my kids fight. I wave my hand in front of their face and say "reset," so they have to move forward and can't argue about who hit who first anymore.)
After the reset, I retreated to my bedroom to finally get some work done and my girl came up to play with jewelry in my closet. She put on an old pair of my earrings, and my eyeshadow and gave me a hug like nothing even happened. She still looks up to me-- with her own smeared version of a cat eye--and wants to be like me. She's not even thinking of math class. Yet, the events of the day eat me up.
After my work day concluded, we went outside for fresh air, even though it's 30 degrees out in New Jersey. I watched my daughter run around the yard laughing while our new puppy chased her. She got to be a kid. And have a real experience of a natural childhood. Not a childhood during the most turbulent time in the history of the world, where she must fear other people for risk of getting sick, wear a face mask, attend school from home, and go without playing with other human children for a year.
And I have to keep that in mind as I want to have my own tantrums during virtual math class. I don’t want to teach her that mothers and daughters fight all the time. I don’t want to hold a grudge on her for the rest of the day, or take out my emotions on everyone.
It’s really hard being a virtual schooling mom. Especially when you’re trying to do your own work. And no one gets it unless you’re in it. My friend Kara, who always group texts our dance mom squad with messages of grit and grace, said to us, "The fact is it's 'Take Your Kid(s) to Work Day' for more than just a day. Our village has grown and it's 'one foot and then the next' that gets us to where we are going."
I really try to focus on empathy and putting myself in my daughter's situation (just like the Danes!). I want to be there for her, to support her, and find joy in this unexpected home-schooling experience that we will hopefully never have to do again. She's six-years-old and the majority of her elementary school days have been spent learning online with her parents as in-person support. She's got a lot of feelings about life and her world.
Moving forward, I’m going to work really hard to only add numbers, not more tears and stress to her days. Even if I have to subtract some of my own emotions from the equation.