The author and her son attend online classes on weekdays (Courtesy: Priyanka Sharma Pahwa) Photograph:( WION )
Engaging a toddler through a screen can't be easy especially when the topic isn't Peppa Pig but a lesson in Climate Change
A meme has been doing the rounds on Whatsapp.
"What is Karma? Parents who bunked their classes decades ago... now attending their kid's online classes with them!"
Not sure how many classes I bunked back in the day but Karma has served me a piping hot lesson nonetheless. Every weekday, at 5 pm, without fail. They call it an online class.
My son and I have been partners in crime in his arduous though engaging online classes for about 6 months now. He will turn 3 soon. I am 31 years years old. Despite our age difference, our reactions to much of the class demands are the same -- ranging from squeals of joy to screams of frustration.
No no, this is not in any way a critique of the curriculum. Hats off to the teachers who switch on their laptops daily while managing their own households and children. Engaging a toddler through a screen can't be easy especially when the topic isn't Peppa Pig but a lesson in Climate Change.
Online classes, my friends, are as unnatural as Brussels Sprouts on a Sunday. There is going to be a protest. A screaming match may ensue. But it is a necessary evil that has come to be a part of our daily lives all thanks to the pandemic.
Who suffers more? Me or my toddler? It is an existential question I ask every day.
The pandemic has made all parents realise how important school is. Not just for a holistic approach to education and learning but also to send the kid out of the house, to give us time to juggle our lives, our schedules. And then, welcome a happy -- but more importantly -- tired child back home! (Parents, don't come at me, you all know this to be secretly true!)
The true blessings of motherhood are best enjoyed when your child and you have time apart to miss each other. Any mother who is brave enough to disagree is welcome to write to me with her secret weapon. Is it coffee? Wine?
I miss the days when shopping for school supplies was fun because a talented teacher would be translating my child's imagination into arts and crafts, not me. I miss the days when I had to simply teach him to say "my name is..." and send him off with a kiss and a tearful goodbye (on my part). I miss the days when exercise and playtime were in a park, not in my bedroom.
And then the demon called "online class" entered our schedules. School bags cast aside, lunch boxes discarded, Avengers' merchandise locked up. The baby chair with straps is my new best friend.
Now, I had to strap in my toddler in his chair so he doesn't squirm and squeal, bribe him with candy into staying put so that his lovely teacher can inquire about how his weekend went. "I played," he says with a shy smile. And I get fooled into thinking he is going to sit through the class without protest. Thank god for the mute button on zoom calls.
Rhyme time is also best enjoyed on mute just in case my son blurts out an occasional "mom, potty!" We handhold each other through arts and crafts as he teaches me how to stick things. Pro tip -- invest in a good vacuum cleaner because the mess isn't going to clean itself after.
I have a newfound respect for my mother who excelled at my art projects. I, for one, cannot make a boat out of recycled paper. But we push through and then comes the merciful dance hour where I set him free and we both dance to his tunes.
There are moments of joy. Such as when he smiles innocently at a fellow classmate, one I hope he remembers from a time when he attended his playschool. And that's when I stop feeling annoyed. Instead, I feel helpless.
The pandemic has snatched his right to socialise with his age group, something so crucial in his early years. He has no idea what he's missing out on, he's too young. But I often yearn for him to play with his friends in a park, free of fears of an infection that we still don't fully understand. So for now, if seeing his friends in a multi-window conference call is what sparks a smile, so be it.
The online class is a phenomenon that has been forced upon us. All arguments against screen time for children have been cast aside. The need for instruction and education has superseded all. Even as hopes of a vaccine against Covid-19 make us move forward, online classes are here to stay. Our children will have to enjoy the good and the not-so-good moments with us. We won't like all of it, we will pull out our hair in frustration, bunk some classes, and make mistakes along the way. Teachers will have to adopt new ways of engaging students, especially younger ones.
It's all forgiven, we're learning together and judgment can leave the building.
Recently, while discussing whether to sign him up for the virtual Christmas party in school, my son asks, "will ma'am come tomorrow?"
And at that moment I realised, whether online or offline, these classes are now the new normal.
Perhaps it's a good time as any for me to brush up my paper boat-making skills.
(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer)