I have had my eyes opened to what it is like to be a parent of a young pre-school or school-age child during a pandemic. With schools remaining closed for elementary students in Washington and Oregon and probably no option for re-opening anytime soon, I have been called upon to stand in the gap for my family. There have been moments recently when I struggled with the idea of retiring earlier than I had planned, just to help out and go back to school to help teach. I also feel compassion for my co-workers and employees with school-age children and feel frustrated I can do little more than be patient, empathetic, and compassionate in understanding their situation.
My daughter asked for help during the summer for mid-September, so that we could plan for the first few weeks of school that corresponded to the opening of her community college, where she works. I took a week of vacation and learned the hard way how difficult this is for young working moms. We worked through it, but it was so challenging to help my 7-year-old grandson get re-logged in 5 – 10 times an hour. It was mind-numbing to sit and listen as just taking role required nearly 30 minutes all while the teacher patiently taught little kids how to mute and unmute microphones on their iPad. In those first few days, everything was new, bandwidths were inadequate and technology challenges were overwhelming.
After that experience, I came back with a new appreciation of what some of my employees are experiencing. One of my employees is a single mom with three kids, a pre-schooler, 1st grader, and third grader. She was given a special project and one day when she was meeting with her manager, our deputy director, and me, we got a view into her world. As she facilitated the first 20 minutes of our meeting, things went well. Then all of a sudden something shifted in her house and the kids were on break from virtual online school. The noise got louder and louder and then a small stuffed animal appeared over her shoulder. We were on a Zoom call so we all started laughing. Then a little four-year-old girl’s curly head popped up and she made a funny face. Our employee was mortified and we told her – don’t worry about it. Before the meeting ended her daughter was in her lap helping with the presentation!
My computer wasn’t working recently so I needed to call the Help Desk in our Information Technology Department. We are all working from home, so when we started the call I could hear his two screaming kids. I asked the young man who was assisting me if he needed to go help them and he said no. He said, “This is what it is always like.” He shared that his wife is a registered nurse, working on the front lines at the local hospital and that this is his life now. He offered to mute them while he was working on my problem but I told him I was a patient Nana – no problem. I cannot imagine what his life is like, he seemed resigned to the situation. There is no school and no daycare so this is just the way it is.
My daughter in law is also a registered nurse and works part-time. My son asked for help if we could give it, so the last few Thursdays we have been traveling to their home, spending the night and assisting during the day teaching our grandkids. When you are on virtual school duty with a 1st and 2nd grader your role is equal parts help desk and alarm clock. Things happen, there are disconnects and the kids are not on the same schedule. They go in and out of zoom calls all day and in between they are navigating various software programs and applications, taking pictures of their work, and uploading assignments. My husband joined me and did a science lesson on River Otters and I brought art supplies for a watercolor class. We made homemade Mac and Cheese for lunch and by the end of the day, I was exhausted.
My takeaway from these experiences is that our children and grandchildren and friends and acquaintances need retired folks now more than ever. As retirees, we have the flexibility to help during this time of pandemic and I think we should. Our young families are carrying heavy burdens. Our future workers are not receiving the education they need and deserve. Even if you can’t navigate this new virtual world, I think it would be great to ask, How can I help? What can I do? I know my kids appreciate anything we can do. Picking up groceries, making a meal, helping with the laundry, cleaning up the house, taking kids to a park, reading them a book or going for a walk are just a few ideas that your kids would appreciate. If this pandemic is still raging in the spring and my grandkids are not back in school, this Nana is ready to jump in wherever I’m needed. I think making the education of our kids a priority is just what this country needs right now.