This day was a gift. It didn’t take away the stress of the past four months. Or how horrible things are with society collapsing and over 120,000 deaths and no new movies being made and the Zoo closed and no bars and everything else. But this day was a gift. It wasn’t just the best day I have had during quarantine. It was a day I will always remember. When my kids are grown, I will grieve for this day.
I woke up to my two children, Fritz and Hazel, coming in to cuddle. Hazel reminded me that I’d said yes they could have the purple Peeps in the cupboard but not after dinner because it gave Fritz too much of a sugar rush. So that is why we started our day by microwaving Peeps so we could watch them blow up into chicken balloons before deflating into melted marshmallow mush.
After breakfast, we did an hour of Cosmic Kids Yoga. The first few weeks of quarantine, I had forced them to do homework at the breakfast table. It has been weeks since I even opened the home school calendar Hazel’s teacher sends home. I adore her teacher, and Hazel worships her. But the assignments were tedious, and I found it frustrating to sit there and force her to complete them. I taught Fritz to write his name and then decided that was good enough for a 3-year-old. The one and only morning routine we are diligent about is yoga.
After yoga, we put our bikes in the car and started to drive to Golden Gate Park. Fritz asked to go through the car wash across the street from our house. I put Car Wash by Rose Royce on the stereo. We went through the car wash, twice. Because we have nowhere we need to be. For months.
Fritz insisted I play Booty Man by Tim Booty Wilson three times on the way to the park. The sun was shining; it was warm with a slight breeze. I had gotten enough sleep last night. I was wearing my favorite sunglasses and my hair looked really good. The kids were cracking up in the back seat each time they heard the word “booty.” The world felt brighter than it had in weeks. Quiet. But calm, not apocalyptic.
We fed the ducks at Stow Lake. We biked downhill through the park. We sat outside the California Academy of Sciences and I showed them how to make ants on a log with celery, peanut butter, and raisins. They ate peanut butter right out of the jar. It felt amazing to be in Golden Gate Park, this place where we have always been so happy. A new Ferris wheel had gone up without us knowing about it. It stood there, representing the dream of what things will be like one day. I wasn’t filled with sadness about what we were missing. I was filled with joy at what I had.
We biked back to the car and drove towards home. I blasted the Moana soundtrack with the windows open. Singing along. My arm outstretched in the cool breeze. I spontaneously pulled over at Stern Grove. We walked into the park and spotted a small grassy hill. I asked the kids, “Do you want to roll down?” They looked at me skeptically. Somehow, they had reached the ages of 3 and 5 without ever rolling down a hill. What a travesty. “Here, I’ll show you.” I rolled down the hill, the kids rolling after me. After rolling down twice more, I felt nauseous and dizzy and realized there is a reason most 35-year-old women don’t roll down hills.
We raced down the hill into the bottom of the grove. A man was on the stage juggling. Hazel asked him “What are you juggling?”
“Balls.” Fritz asked,
“What kind of shirt are you wearing?”
“White.” He handed Fritz a business card:
Oh San Francisco…
Hazel ran through a sprinkler. She was soaking wet and it was time to go home.
It was a perfect day. Full of adventure and giggles. Full of joy. Their joy and my joy. I was happy because it was sunny and I’d had enough sleep the night before. I had enough patience not to react when they quarreled with each other. Work was slow, so I didn’t have to be on my phone. All my attention was on the kids. I was having fun doing things that I like: biking and hiking and doing yoga. And they were having fun because they like those things too. And because they were enjoying me and my good mood. I didn’t grumpily tell them: “just roll down a hill or something.” I rolled down a hill. Three times!
There is a joy cycle when things are going well with small children. You are happy. They are happy. You are happy they are happy. They are happy you are happy.
This joy cycle is how small children learn.
They learn through relationships. They learn through the positive feelings they get from your positive feelings. These face to face positive interactions are vastly more effective in teaching small children than the passive experience they get through screen learning. That isn’t to say that children don’t learn through screens. They do. Hazel can explain how coronavirus germs spread because of an episode of Storybots. But way more impactful on her learning is the daily, positive face-to-face interactions that she has with me and her father. Even when those interactions are about marshmallows exploding in the microwave.
Not every day has been like this. There have been some terrible days. And most days are a balance of good and bad moments. Over the past weeks, my priorities have shifted. My basic needs are met. I am lucky enough to have food, water, shelter, and toilet paper. Therefore, my only goal for today was to find joy. There are many days where this goal seems out of reach. But there are also days like this.
Herein lies the problem with home school. Why are we sending children assignments to complete at home? So that they can sit at the table with frustrated, exhausted adults who cannot remember how to do arithmetic on paper?
As a society, we are pretending that our priorities haven’t shifted. And yet, the world has changed. Children need joy. They need food and water and safety and shelter and, when those needs are met … they need joy.
Joy cycles: when you are enjoying your child and they are enjoying you. Sometimes, we do find joy in helping them with their homework, even when it is hard. But when we are cranky and exhausted, they are cranky and exhausted.
So, this is our home school. Rolling down hills. Making ants on a log. Looking for tadpoles. We cannot be everything to our children. And we shouldn’t try. Our goal is only to keep them safe and bring them joy. And when we don’t have the mental capacity for that, there is Netflix.
Michelle Kaye is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Early Intervention Director at a San Francisco non-profit. She is currently quarantined in Pacifica with her husband and two children.