Covid Metamorphoses #51 – Discipline

Today was supposed to be the first day of school, so we started school today. What else were we going to do? Keep watching TV? Keep playing outside until 10am when the heat gets to be too much, and then come inside and watch TV? Would we choose entertainment (Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny), education (Cosmos), or both (PBS Kids)?

Instead, we chose to start school–or to be more accurate, “school.” Of the eight hours a day our little 1st-grader would have been spending in school, only a couple of hours of it would have involved actual learning-of-skills. The rest of it–socialization, adherence to a schedule, the ability to sit still at a desk next to your peers, learning to navigate the byzantine arbitrary cruelty of authority figures–are impossible to replicate here at home. So we’re focusing on the skills and the schedule.

A couple of weeks ago, I started getting up at 6:30am on Monday/Wednesday/Friday to ride my bike a few miles. When I went to set my alarm, I had a moment of dizzy swooning as I saw that the last time I had set my alarm was back in March when our song was going to school. Did I really used to get up at 6:20am every morning? I guess I did. On non-school days, our son had been taught to let us sleep until 7am, as 95 days out of 100 he wakes up before then. So during the pandemic, we have grown accustomed to sleeping until 7am–and waking up exhausted, like the kind of exhaustion we experienced when he was a baby.

On my bike mornings, our son is dressed at 6:30am. I think he does this because he wants me to bring him on the bike ride (sorry dude, dad wants to ride fast), but he never gets upset that he can’t come. This morning, he was wearing a long sleeved dress shirt. He looked very handsome. I got back, made breakfast, washed dishes, etc. I had hoped to get school started at 8:30am. We started at 8:31. That’s okay.

Because he’s a 1st-grader, the skills he needs to learn are easy to teach. We began by each picking out a book to read. He chose Pouch!, the story of a baby kangaroo who learns to be brave. I chose a Sandra Boynton book called Hippos Go Beserk! Children’s books are, much like albums by the B-52s, prone to using exclamation points in their titles as a way to try and generate excitement.

The arguing began before we even started. I wanted us to listen to a song to start our morning, he wanted to choose it. He wanted to read in his room instead of my office. I refused. When we sat down to read, he began flopping around on the couch. He tried to lay with his legs in the air and his head on the ground. I gently insisted he sit up like I was, and sit still. After he finished reading the first book, he interrupted when I began to read the second–this had been the deal we had negotiated, I would read a book if he would read a book–and he asked if he could read it. He did great.

We moved on to spelling. I went back through the books and picked out five words. If he spelled them correctly, no problem. But if he couldn’t spell them correctly, he’d have to write the word three times. Then we’d return to it the next day.

Math was next, but we got interrupted by a field trip. A field trip! On the first day of school! We had to go onto the campus of the University of Georgia, where my wife/his mom works, so she could pick up her “Welcome to the Pandemic Workplace” packet. It included two ill-fitting masks, a thermometer, and a one-page pamphlet about the virus and how to wear your mask. While we were waiting for her to come out of her office, a student walked by, not wearing a mask.

On the way back, we did our math lesson in the car. I stuck to adding one digit numbers, what with it being the first day and all. Back in April, we were going through this workbook I got at the Dollar Tree, and they kept getting harder until he was doing 37 + 9. At which point I was like, maybe we should chill. Anyway, by the time we got home, he was adding 9 + 8. And so that was it. Recess from 9:45 to 11:30. Lunch. Then art/science lesson with Brigette from 12pm to 1pm. After 1pm, he’s going to write something.

And that’s it. I’m not signing up for digital learning. I’m not logging into or, or any of that stuff. Our school district is talking about starting online stuff in September. We’ll see how it goes. For middle schoolers and high schoolers? Sure. Totally. For 1st graders? I’m a little skeptical. At the same time, this situation is a nightmare for the future of our public schools. There have long been vulture capitalists trying (and too often succeeding) to grab some of that sweet public school cash for themselves. I am fearful for the future, and will do whatever we can to take care of our school district as well as our son.

But for today, at least, we did it.

It’s hard to be disciplined, to force yourself to do the things that you know are good for you. It’s hard any time, but it’s especially hard right now, with so much bearing down on all of us. But I always feel better on the days I ride my bike. I feel better on the days I take care of myself, and the people around me. I feel better struggling to get our son enthusiastic about “school” than I do struggling to get our son enthusiastic about “getting dressed.”

You can go to far. You can be too hard on yourself. The line between discipline and tyranny is thin. At times, it feels almost microscopic (I initially wrote ‘catastrophic,’ which wasn’t what I meant at all, but yeah, maybe that too). But the alternatives, a sort of lethargic anarchy and chaos eventually lead to slothfulness and decadence, and only amplify the screaming depression. So we get dressed. We take a shower. We make a healthy lunch. There are so many ways to feel bad, so many things to feel bad about it. So if I can do something that feels good, even if its hard, it feels like a victory of sorts. The victory is fleeting. But with the crushing oppression all around us of everyday life, you have to take your victories where you can find them.


About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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