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Over the past four weeks I have:

  • Sent my kid to robotics camp after he had been home or with family for 465 days. He did not like the camp, which was not at all what was advertised, but basically a reprise of various Lego camps he outgrew in previous years. They gave him an orange shirt to wear every day. Later, after the shirt had been laundered and returned to his drawer, he said we should “take it out and burn it.” The camp was held entirely outside. The second day it was canceled due to rain. On the fourth day, Zeke came home with a stuffy nose. I took him to get a rapid COVID test at an establishment called Same Day Testing that specializes in rapid COVID tests. That may actually be the only thing they do. Same Day Testing is adjacent to a shopping mall and looks like a day spa. The nurse? technician? person with the swab? had a lovely conversation with Zeke about their shared affinity for sloths. Thankfully, his test was negative.
  • Sent my kid to fencing and archery camp, which he and I both fervently hoped would be more fun than the aforementioned robotics camp. He enjoyed the archery and learned about different kinds of materials used in construction of bows and arrows. He hit an occasional target. In the afternoon, they went inside for fencing, where they used sabers. Apparently they wore helmets and jackets, but nothing protected their legs so by the end of the week his legs were covered in saber bruises. Fencing was hard and tiring, he reported. The highlight of this camp seemed to be the instructor’s personal collection of medieval weapons, which he brought in for show and tell. One of them was a pole covered in spikes. Another one was a hammer that Zeke said was, “designed to crush someone’s skull.” It’s all fun and games until someone gets their skull crushed, right?
  • Sent my kid to Broadway Disney camp. To my surprise, he agreed to this camp when I proposed it several months ago. He likes musicals, he likes Disney, he likes singing, and he likes dancing. However, when I picked him up after camp today, he said they “forced” the kids to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins, which he refused to do. I said, “I thought you liked to sing. You sing all the time at home.” He said, “I only like to sing to annoy people.” And they “forced” the kids to learn a dance to a song from The Lion King, which he did not care for because it involved complicated footwork and squatting. He said he likes to tap dance, and sometimes other kinds of dance, but apparently not that dance. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the games they played, and making up a story with one instructor, and the time he was allowed to draw, during which he drew “an angry potato” and alligator Loki.
  • Gone shoe shopping with my kid, who chose slip-on Vans with elevated glittery rainbow soles that are really cool but apparently too heavy to run in. Fortunately we also bought rainbow tie-dye Skechers with a velcro strap because he says he won’t learn to tie his shoes until he’s 10 because he has other, more important things to do. The Skechers came from the “girls” section of the store, because obviously shoes must have genders. The tags I tore off when we got home said “Skechers Girl!” in swirly pastel letters. Because obviously only girls like rainbow colors. Boys can only wear shoes that are blue, green, red, or gray. Zeke said he cannot wear green shoes because, “green is my mortal enemy.” But I guess that does not apply to light green, because the Crocs he chose were light green and lavender. Also they were from the women’s section because the kids section did not have his size. Again, why can’t they just organize the shoe store in size order. Here are very small shoes, which you can see are appropriate for toddlers. Here are slightly larger shoes for young children. And so on, until you get to gigantic shoes for people with generously sized feet. Then people can come in and decide what color and style shoes they want that are in their size, without having to wade through gender and other labels. If Zeke is an 8-year-old boy (which he is) and the shoes that fit him are in the women’s section, the store is really missing out on selling more shoes to more people who don’t think to look across gender and age for the right size.

Heard my kid say numerous times that he doesn’t have any friends. Which is painful to hear, and also true. Not because he isn’t likable or great at making friends, but because I homeschooled him for over a year because of this damn pandemic. His best kid friend his is cousin, with whom he has a close but often fraught relationship. Apparently some of the kids at some of the camps have been nice, but he hasn’t yet met anyone with whom he really clicked. And of course it’s hard to do that in a week when you’re constantly in structured activities. I am sending all of my good intentions and positive energy into the universe that his third grade class will include at least a handful of awesome kids who Zeke will enjoy and who will appreciate him in all his cleverness and creativity and absurdity.

Read and listened to a lot of Norse mythology with Zeke. It turns out we both really like Norse mythology. We highly recommend listening to Neil Gaiman read his own book, aptly titled, Norse Mythology. And last night we finished the first installment of the ridiculously prolific Rick Riordon’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Zeke has also sprinkled some Greek mythology into his reading, including Percy Jackson of course, but his heart is in the nine worlds.


Reading a lot of books and a wide variety of genres and authors was probably the best thing Zeke did during his homeschool tenure. Mostly, he would still rather play video games than read, but he did read and he still likes to read and we enjoy reading together. So that’s something. In addition to the basic requirements, we also focused a lot on animals, art and art history, and the kind of social studies most kids don’t get in school–heavy on the civil rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s history, LGBTQIA+ history, Howard Zinn, etc. Our biggest struggle was writing, but somehow Zeke managed to craft a story that ended up on the Story Pirates podcast, which was exciting for both of us. Homeschooling wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of what we did together, and I’m pretty sure Zeke learned some things.

There are three more weeks of camp after this one. Perhaps it is too much to ask for me to pick him up at the end of the day and hear him say, “that was amazing! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” and “I made a friend today!” But I’m still hoping. If nothing else, camp is forcing us both to slowly get back into the habit of a regular bedtime and packing lunch and getting dressed before noon. We will need those skills come fall.

Every time I read another article (this is a good one) about it, or have another conversation with a friend, I wonder what would happen if we (meaning my family, as I am not in the habit of telling other people how to raise their kids) simply abandoned this whole distance learning online school business.

As it stands, Zeke has indicated–more through actions than words–that he is done with first grade. This does not mean he is done with learning. He loves to learn. And I haven’t even been trying to give him the “schoolwork” that his school posted online. But he does not want to sit and have lessons. The more I push, the more he resists, unless screen time is offered as a reward for completing a task. I simply do not have the time or energy to sit with him all day and teach him things. And I have no desire to fight with him about doing things he doesn’t want to do.

I feel so conflicted about this. We are overachievers living in a community where overachievement is highly valued. Honor roll is the goal, even if it isn’t stated. We are swimming in high expectations. Our children should excel. At the same time, there is a growing awareness of the costs to kids and families of this pressure to not only succeed, but be the best. Teen rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed, as has teen suicide. It might seem like a leap to go from a first grader who doesn’t want to do a worksheet to a suicidal college student, but maybe not.

I’ve heard about parents in local online groups who are complaining that the work produced by teachers for distance learning is insufficient, too easy, uninspired. These parents wonder what their children’s teachers are even doing, and worry that their children will fall behind. I feel confident that the children of these particular parents are the least likely to “fall behind,” whatever that means since every single kid is not in school right now. No other kids are leaping ahead in knowledge and skills when they’re at home. Of if they are, they’re probably the kind of self-motivated kids who would be learning stuff on their own anyway. When (please God, let it be when and not if) school starts again in the fall, every kid will have missed many months of school, and the teachers and administrators will figure out how to deal with it. I count many teachers as friends and I am sure none of them are sitting around treating this like an unexpected vacation. They are all trying to figure out what they can and should and are supposed to do to support the kids they were assigned to teach in September. They miss their kids. They miss being in the classroom, because they’re teachers and that’s what they signed up to do. Despite the good intentions of various school systems around here, my impression is that a lot of teachers are just winging it. No superintendent or principal was prepared for this and my sense is that they’re just telling their teachers, “do something! go forth and offer education as best you can!”

Zoe’s math teacher, thank heavens, has significantly reduced the pre-algebra workload. I am proud of Zoe for continuing to do her math, even if it’s not at as fast a pace as her teacher would have it. Zoe reports that most of her teachers are just posting simple assignments and doing a lot of virtual checking in with students. We get very sweet messages from her TA (like homeroom) teacher almost every day offering encouragement and help if we need it.

I would not suggest to anyone that they should stop making their kids do school if they don’t think that makes sense–if they feel like their kids need that daily structure, or if they were already behind and are using this time to catch up, or for any other reason that holds up in their family. But when I keep hearing from friends how stressful it is to get their kids to do their work, or how they have to take time off from their own already overwhelming jobs to help their kids with their homework, I wonder if it’s worth it. What would happen if we took it easy on ourselves and our kids?

I don’t know the answer. I do know that it requires a surprising amount of courage for me to consider finding out. I feel a strong urge to channel my inner Elsa–both the “Let It Go” Elsa from the original Frozen and the older, wiser Elsa venturing “Into the Unknown” in Frozen II. It’s a scary place to go, as you can see from Elsa’s facial expression. But she ends up where she needs to be.

When the motorized scooter was delivered to our hotel in Orlando, the scooter guy assembled it, and showed my parents what to do. My sister shared an instructional YouTube video with us even before the trip so we could familiarize ourselves with the assembly and disassembly process. Even so, the first morning of our adventure, after my mom drove the scooter up to my parents’ minivan, it took several adults several (10? 15?) minutes to take it apart and stow it in the back of the van.

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, we put it together slightly faster, but when it was assembled and my mom put the key in the ignition, there was a lot of beeping. So much beeping that it was clear that the scooter was telling us something. Like, “don’t drive me.” We took things apart and put them back together. Finally, we discovered that the lock/unlock switch was in the wrong position. It may have been Zeke who figured it out. We flipped the switch and the beeping ceased. The only sound was a cheer from everyone.

By the end of the week, we (and by we I really mean Randy, because he did the lion’s share of scooter assembly and disassembly, usually with some assistance from my dad or me) could transform the scooter in 30 seconds flat. But the real scooter master was the driver–my mom.

The dashboard of the scooter only has one dial, which goes from turtle on the left to rabbit on the right. My mom definitely preferred to rabbit away on that scooter. She zoomed through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Legoland, Universal Studios, and Disney Hollywood Studios like it was a getaway car, deftly maneuvering through throngs of people, around couples and wayward toddlers and large unruly families like ours. She sped up ramps to the scooter and wheelchair accessible entrances to rides and attractions. She executed tight turns. She sometimes gave rides to the youngest members of our party, who could most easily fit on her lap, when they got tired of walking. She cruised through gift shops. She circled around to find the perfect shady spot to park in while waiting for others to go on roller coasters or anything fast or spinny that wasn’t her cup of tea. She did not, as far as I know, run over anyone except for the feet of some family members when we were standing around not paying attention to when she was ready to drive. Not really her fault. And she never crashed. She sidled up to a handsome young guy on a scooter to ask how long his battery lasted because hers seemed to be fading midway through the day. They compared notes companionably.

We noticed during all five days at the park that the scooter rental companies in Orlando are doing a booming business. And the drivers of the scooters are diverse. You might expect most of them to be older people with mobility issues, which certainly accounted for many of them, but not nearly all. The man my mom chatted with couldn’t have been out of his 20s. I wondered if he was a combat-injured veteran, but really he could’ve had any kind of condition that made walking long distances challenging. It didn’t matter. I also saw pregnant women driving scooters. I remember just walking through the National Zoo when I was nine months pregnant and desperately wishing I could flag down an employee driving a golf cart to give me a lift. The fact is that these parks are gigantic, and you often have to criss cross back and forth to go on the rides you want to go on when the lines are shortest, and you cover a lot of territory. If walking far is difficult or painful, as it is for many people, the scooter is genius.

Often during our trip as I watched my mom’s back as she zoomed away, I imagined how powerful she must have felt driving that scooter. She didn’t have to use a cane or be pushed in a wheelchair. She didn’t have to ask anyone for help. She didn’t have to hope that the rest of us would wait up while she took a break on a bench. She didn’t have to miss anything. And she could go fast. I don’t know when the last time would’ve been that she could get somewhere faster than the rest of us, but it’s been a while. Sometimes we would be standing around trying to figure out where our next destination was and suddenly realize she had sped off, and we’d have to run to catch up to her.

While we were on vacation my mom mused about how having a scooter like this at home would enable her to do things she hasn’t been able to comfortably or easily do on her own for years, like go shopping. She wondered why they don’t have scooters for rent at Tyson’s Corner. I wondered that too. While the concentration of people needing scooters would not be quite as large as at Disney, surely there would be enough to make it worthwhile for the mall to have some on hand. They rent strollers, why not mobility scooters?

I’ve thought about the power and independence my mom could reclaim if she had a scooter at her disposal all the time. But she couldn’t take it out of the car and put it together and then take it apart again and put it back in the car by herself. And if she had to have someone with her all the time to do that for her, she wouldn’t really have the independence that she wants. She’s not in a position where she needs a custom van with a scooter lift. She can walk. I don’t know the solution to this yet, but I feel sure it’s out there somewhere. If we did get my mom a scooter of her own, we would have to customize it so she could have her Diet Coke easily accessible and it wouldn’t spill, she could fit her purchases in a large basket, and there would be red flames painted on the sides because she loves speed.

One of the best parts of the vacation for me was seeing my mom go full rabbit on her scooter all through every park, knowing that she had all the power she wanted.

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