Imagine for a moment that you have two preschoolers, a boy and a girl, who couldn’t be more different if they tried. Think of a trait a child might have, or a particular interest, and assign that trait or interest to the older one. We’ll call her Hope. Then think of a polar opposite trait or interest and assign it to the younger one. We’ll call him Henry.
Then take your spouse and parent of your two very different children, whom you and the children adore very much, and make him ever present, yet not always so present that he can be helpful—often he is—but perhaps just enough to tease the kids and run off, leaving them to be angry with you that their preferred parent is nearby but not close enough to play with all day, every day, which is unmistakably your fault.
Then make believe that one of the children, perhaps the older one, has a developmental disability…maybe it’s Down syndrome…and under normal circumstances goes to school from Monday to Friday for 4 to 5 hours per day, is kept busy by an experienced special education teacher, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a music teacher, a gym teacher, and a handful of paraprofessionals, with a behaviorist and social worker overseeing the entire experience.
Then, imagine that for as long as the opportunity has existed, you’ve taught your children that school belongs at school, whereas home is for living and loving and unwinding. Maybe when you bought the house, you repurposed one of the first floor rooms to become a playroom, first where early intervention (EI) therapy took place, and then where imagination took flight and the rules went out the window. And then overnight you had to pretend like the playroom was a classroom…but only on Mondays through Fridays. It’s still a playroom on Saturdays and Sundays, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “manic Monday.” And maybe that one EI therapist you really disliked a few years back might have had a valid point when she noted that the table and chairs you bought for your daughter sorta sucked.
And maybe you discover that it really doesn’t matter if your preschooler can tell the difference between a square and a rectangle, considering she conquered the potty and straw drinking on your watch since being home during the COVID-19 outbreak. And maybe counting makes more sense when you have to figure out how many pieces of bread are needed to make a sandwich, or how many apple slices are required to earn a cookie.
So what does a day look like around here? It’s messy. And it’s unpredictable. On an ideal day we would follow all of Hope’s teacher’s thoughtful Google Slides, visiting each link and working through all of the crafts and stories. And Henry would patiently wait his turn to do his schoolwork on ABC Mouse. And they’d come together for a common interest, like a preferred YouTube video or a counting game. That might have happened once, maybe twice, in the 7 weeks that we’ve been home.
Instead, they are learning to be with each other, and learning can be a difficult process. It can involve pushing and shoving and crying, all manifested from anger, frustration, and jealousy. But it can also involve silliness, giggles, discovery of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and for me, their new teacher, a deeper appreciation for how differently they learn and how differently they face a challenge.
Often, Hope and Henry’s glaring differences aren’t such a bad thing. These two gorgeous children compliment each other so well, that as we all grow together—especially on this fast-track bonding experience of social distancing—we expect, in time, that they will balance each other out beautifully. Their bold interactions with each other even seem to be stimulating enough to distract from the fact that at their ages and developmental stages, we’ve more or less had to socially isolate them because social distancing is too difficult to achieve. Add to that their inability to wear masks, sneeze into their elbows, and to not put everything they come in contact with in or near their mouths, and we’ll be doing this for well into the foreseeable future.
My heart had been aching for Hope since she started school in January 2019, and I haven’t had my fill of her yet to make up for what feels like all of that lost time. I don’t see myself getting sick of having her home anytime soon, but I yearn on her behalf for her return to her peers, sitting at a table that doesn’t sorta suck, with a teacher who actually has higher degrees in special education and isn’t sneaking in chores between lessons.