I hate it here

My son has a peanut allergy, along with a handful of other other allergies, and while we’ve never had any sort of medical emergency related to his allergies we have always kept EpiPens on hand, both in the house and at school. He’s going back to school next week so we needed another one.

They wanted four hundred and fifty dollars for a pair of EpiPens, and the ones they had on hand had expiration dates in December.

Four hundred and fifty fucking dollars for something that, if you don’t have it on hand when you need it, you’re very likely to die. $100 more than the last time we ordered them, and the last time we ordered them they were also obscenely expensive.

Go ahead. Ask if we have insurance.

In which my mother is laughing at me

When I was in fifth and sixth grade I was in a special program for academically talented kids called DEPTH. I will, if I live to be a hundred, never forget what the acronym stood for: Differentiated Educational Experiences for Promoting Talent Development in Highly Capable Students.

Yeah, it’s not the most elegant of acronyms.

Anyway, they took a bunch of fifth- and sixth-grade smarty-smarts and put us in an honest-to-God trailer in the parking lot of the school with the lowest standardized test scores in the city and then bragged about how that school’s scores had gone up the next year, which was an early lesson for me in both the abhorrent cynicism and blatant manipulation of basic mathematics that grown adults can get up to when test scores are the only metric of a school’s success that anyone pays any attention to. And if you’re doing some strategic guessing and theorizing that maybe the gang of imported smarty-smarts weren’t, shall we say, a good demographic match to the rest of the school, especially given the optics of literally separating us from the rest of the students in the school … well, pat yourself on the back, because we learned some things about institutionalized racism along the way too.

That’s not why I’m talking about that program right now, though. Those first three letters– Differentiated Educational Experiences? The idea was that the class wasn’t all taught the same stuff at the same time. The teacher was supposed to be a facilitator of those differentiated experiences, and we signed contracts with her each week that specified how much work in each subject we were supposed to be doing– the idea being that the contracts would be tailored to each student’s individual needs and preferences, and we were all off learning at our own pace.

I played a lot of D&D in fifth grade.

I also managed to go something like three months without doing any math at all, because my teacher was (I thought, at the time) lazy and was probably (I think now, reflecting on this nonsense) massively overwhelmed by the immense amount of record-keeping and paperwork she was expected to keep track of, and no doubt undertrained as well (she was literally the only teacher in the corporation with this job) and one way or another I figured out that so long as I told her I was doing whatever math assignments every week, she wasn’t going to check them.

Well, that fell apart eventually, and my parents, who were already not happy with the school for a variety of reasons (my favorite: we were sold shirts emblazoned with the logo and name of the program and our names on the back, and then the school declared that we weren’t allowed to wear them to school. This was way before uniforms were a thing, mind you) basically landed on me like a ton of bricks, and I basically had to do three months worth of math over one long, miserable fucking weekend, and then my poor fucking teacher had to grade all of that shit over the next week and give it back to me, so that I could correct anything that I’d done wrong.

So. Fast forward, oh, 32 years or so.

My son has been working from home all year. My wife works, broadly defined, in the healthcare field and I’ve obviously been home all year as well, and both of our dads live alone and one of them is seriously immunocompromised, so all of that has made us just a touch more paranoid about the virus than most. My kid hasn’t seen another kid in person in nearly a fucking year. His science teacher either forgot to let him into class today or had technical difficulties and wasn’t able to and she emailed me to let me know what had happened and tell him about his assignment. He’s got a packet for this science unit and he was supposed to do pages 17 and 18.

Go ahead, take a moment and make some assumptions. I’ll wait.

No, of course there wasn’t a single fucking mark on pages one through sixteen. Now, I’ve not torn the boy’s head off yet, because I don’t know how this teacher runs her class, and it’s possible– I don’t think it’s likely, mind you, but it’s possible— that she’s either jumping around or they’ve been working through this as a class and he hasn’t necessarily needed to write out his answers. It’s possible. I’ll withhold my swift and terrible retribution until I know for sure.

But yeah. Just one more piece of evidence that he’s my goddamned kid.

In which he doesn’t like it

Does anyone else out there have, or did you at one point have, a kid that just wouldn’t fucking eat?

I’m not talking about picky eating. This is not a situation where the kid will only eat French fries and chicken nuggets or some shit like that. This is “it is 4:15 PM and my son has not had a meal yet today, because he’s refused every offer of food I’ve made and has not gotten any for himself, and it’s probably the fifteenth time out of the last twenty days that that’s happened.”

Once dinner rolls around, he will eat three or four bites of something and then proclaim himself full. And he’s not filling up on junk food, either; I literally just handed him a bowl of chips to get him to get some kind of calories inside him, and he handed it back to me.

He is not underweight and he is growing like a weed; at nine years old, he is alarmingly close to my wife’s height already. But … shit, if child protective services were to show up at my house and start interrogating my son about how much he eats, I’d end up in jail, and I would understand why. It’s like he lives on air. I don’t have the slightest idea why he’s not incapacitated by hunger right now, but he’s not. He’s completely fine.

Someone, please, explain this to me, or at least reassure me that eventually it’s going to stop.

This is happening

This … is my wife, wearing my son’s Halloween costume, as he’s discovered walking around in it is kind of annoying. So they’ve put her in it and they’re going out anyway, with the boy handling candy-collection duties.

I felt like it should be memorialized.

How to Homeschool your Children during a Crisis Situation: a Comprehensive Guide for Non-Educators

I was talking with one of my oldest friends the other day, and as one might expect the conversation turned to what my district was planning to do when school opens back up in … uh, less than a month.

“Nobody knows!” I said. “There’s no plan.”

Which, okay, is a slight exaggeration; it is fairer to say that the plan that they do have is grossly inadequate in every measurable way. But it’s a plan! It’s a plan that’s going to fail miserably, but it’s a plan!

She lives in another state, and like most of my long-term friends she is a college professor. (I am very much the uneducated rube among my closest friends, believe it or not.) So she is already trying to figure out how to manage her own classes in the best way she can, and she commented that she just didn’t know what the hell she was going to do if all three of her kids were home with her all the time. While she’s lucky in that she can work from home, that doesn’t mean that she can work from home and take on schooling responsibilities for three kids, who are all at inconveniently different grades and levels of responsibility.

I figure she’s not the only one.

I am here to help.

THE LUTHER SILER GUIDE TO EDUCATING YOUR OWN CHILDREN DURING A PANDEMIC, WHEN YOU ARE NOT A TEACHER, DO NOT WANT TO BE A TEACHER, AND FRANKLY WOULD BE PERFECTLY HAPPY TO LOCK YOUR OWN CHILDREN IN A BOX FOR EIGHT HOURS A DAY IF IT MEANT THEY WOULD LEAVE YOU ALONE FOR A FEW MINUTES

It’s a working title.

Here is how to homeschool your kids until such time as it is safe to send them back to school:

  1. Make sure they read every day. At least a couple of hours. I don’t care what they read. Game guides. Comic books. Nonfiction. Chapter books. Newspapers. Age-appropriateness is probably a good thing; if you have a library nearby, and it’s still open, take ’em a couple of times a month and get a big pile of books. When you have time, ask them about what they read.
  2. Maybe– maybe— go on the internet, I recommend math-aids.com— find some math work from under the grade they are in right now, because you are making sure they’re keeping up basic skills, not reinventing the wheel– and make them do a couple of pages of math a day. Focus on basic operations, fractions, decimals, percentages, things like that. Story problems are good. Yes, I know you hated story problems as a kid. Make ’em do some math once in a while that doesn’t immediately tell them every step to do, is what I’m saying.

That’s it.

That’s the whole curriculum.

Worried about science or social studies? Okay, make some of those books they’re reading be about topics in those departments that they find interesting, and again, asking them about what they read is good. If you’re concerned about them getting some exercise, figure out the safest way to force them to run around once in a while and call that gym class. If they already play an instrument, have them keep practicing that with whatever they have on hand. If they don’t, this is not the time to learn. Call that music class. If they’re artistically inclined, get some books on art and buy some paper to draw on. There’s art class.

My point is, you do not need an expensive fucking curriculum and you also do not need to feel bad about being an inadequate educator when your actual job is keeping the lights on and food on the table (I have enough trouble just remembering to feed my own child, who would only eat once a week if we never made him) and a roof over their heads.

Keep them reading, make them do some math once in a while, and pull in stuff from other subjects that they find interesting. Do not fight with them on anything but the reading. And, again, if it has printed words on it it is reading. Your main focus is to keep their brains from either solidifying into cement inside their skulls or liquefying and dribbling out of their ears. We’re looking for a nice tofu-like brain consistency here, and yes, I just Googled “consistency of the human brain,” and it’s the best thing I’ve done all day.

It’s possible that there are laws wherever you live that regulate homeschooling, but I genuinely doubt anybody’s paying attention to them right now and I’m absolutely certain that if you have to tell the state what curriculum you’re using or some shit like that they aren’t going to come to your house and double-check. If your kid is enrolled in school and is e-learning, and you find the volume of work you’re supposed to keep track of for your kids to be impossible, email their teachers and tell them the deal. Chances are, it’ll be fine. The parents who are worried about it are not the ones we’re worried about.

Breathe.

It will be fine. Your kid will miss some learning and some later teachers will have to clean that up. That’s okay. It will be fine.

It will not keep them out of college. It will not keep them from being able to hold a job later on in life. They’re all gonna miss a good chunk of this year. Once they’re back in school, we’ll take care of it.

Just keep them safe, keep them healthy, keep them fed, and keep their brains at a nice, moist, tofu-like consistency. Everything else is fixable.