I am not ashamed to admit that my 7-year-old son is my hero.
Whenever friends or family ask for updates about his distance learning experience, there’s a little bit of concern in their voice. Often, it’s after I’ve spent a few minutes venting my own frustrations, so it’s not surprising that there’s a little trepidation when they ask, “And how’s Vincent doing with this whole thing?” And I have to pause for a moment and think before I can answer honestly: he’s thriving.
Every morning, he starts school at 9 a.m. He’s officemates with my husband most of the day, and as his dad is writing articles and transcribing interviews, Vincent is squatting on a few feet of desk at his elbow. He’s in the PM group at his elementary school, so he doesn’t have his Zoom with his teacher until after lunch. That means that the first couple of hours of the day are spent doing asynchronous learning, split between language arts and math, with a short recess tucked in there as well.
He has his schedule on a white board propped up against the wall, his textbooks stacked (somewhat) neatly within arm’s reach, and a box overfull with colored pencils. He gets lonely when there’s no one in the office with him, so he has a small stack of photos of his family and friends to keep him company. He has his own bright blue headphones and an endless supply of things to tap, twist, and twirl as he makes his way through his school day.
This year, my conference periods are the first blocks of the day, so on most days I don’t start teaching until 9:30. I get to peek in on my boy as he settles into his routine, setting a YouTube timer for himself and then reading his newest "Goosebumps" novel for 20 minutes to start each morning. If I’m lucky, I’ll hear him gasp when he gets to a particularly surprising twist.
He has to walk through my “classroom” on his way to grabbing himself a snack during his recess time. He’ll mouth “I love you!” to me as he passes. Then, exactly 10 minutes later, he’ll walk back through, giving me a high five off-camera as he passes through as quietly as he’s able.
Distance learning has taught him to manage his time, to organize his day, and to be responsible for his own schedule. Some days, he spends his recess dancing wildly or humming video game theme songs loudly to himself as he reads. On those days, I have to remind him to close the door so I can teach or prep for my next class. Mostly, though, I like to have the door open so I can see him out of the corner of my eye.
After lunch, which usually consists of some high-energy sports with my husband, I get to hear Vincent log on his Zoom and interact with his classmates and his teacher. His second grade teacher has adapted her classroom wonderfully to the new digital age, and I love being able to overhear (and sometimes steal ideas from) her classroom. Vincent is a proud participator, and he is constantly, and loudly, answering questions and helping to troubleshoot technical difficulties. I’ll admit that I worry that he’s occasionally overzealous, but I’m also so very proud to see how he’s adapted his personality to the new normal as well.
A few days ago, during his class time, I heard him say to his teacher, “You sound a little bit sad. Is anything wrong?” He told me later than she’d answered that she was just a little bit tired, to which I can definitely relate. Vincent has always been a very sweet kid, but hearing him extend his concern across the city, through his ChromeBook camera and the Wi-Fi waves, just about made my heart burst. In this strange and chaotic new digital age, he’s found the grace and empathy that adults have been reaching for since March.
Anyone who has been around young children as they grow knows that there are weeks and months when they seem to mature in leaps rather than incrementally. There are times when I almost don’t recognize the tall, self-sufficient, thoughtful boy who is navigating second grade in the next room. But then he passes through my classroom with his hands held in the shape of a heart in front of him, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have my very own superhero in my life.