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Listen, pal, kindergarten doesn’t pay the bills. Now hug me and go away.

As weeks stretch into months, work and school from home isn’t getting any easier.
Ellen Clarke's son participates in a live lesson with his real teacher. He did the lesson from bed after refusing to wake up.
Ellen Clarke's son participates in a live lesson with his real teacher. He did the lesson from bed after refusing to wake up. [ Ellen E. Clarke ]
Published Apr. 21, 2020
Updated Apr. 23, 2020

I keep dreaming that I’m getting up, making breakfast and getting my son to our neighborhood elementary school in St. Petersburg.

That’s not reality, of course, as my office is now the front room of the house and his kindergarten classroom is a few feet over at another desk.

My husband still has (gets) to go to work. He comes home tired and sometimes seems to think I’ve been relaxing all day. I ... disabuse him of that notion, but know it’s probably not fair to be jealous that he can leave.

Here are the continuing adventures of our mommy school:

Week 3

The boy continues sleeping until 10:30 or noon. I continue to mostly allow it because it keeps me sane.

On Tuesday, though, I roust him for the first live lesson with his teacher, Ms. B. He delights in seeing her on taped lessons, but is terrified to go live.

This makes no sense, as the kid thinks FaceTime is the only sensible way to use a phone. He’s been video chatting with one of his kindergarten friends on Facebook Kids so much that I had to remove the app from my phone because calls were coming at all hours.

We start the lesson and find that while we can see the teacher, she can only hear us. He’s good with this. I finally realize this is because he has no intention of removing his pajamas ever again.

She reads him an Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems. He’s happy and engaged for the rest of the day, juiced by the interaction.

My first column chronicling this existence publishes online. I hear from the school guidance counselor and another teacher who I’d see at dropoff every morning. I realize how much those quick interactions meant to me — they were allies, they loved my kid, they were a bridge to his existence at school. Also, seeing them meant I got to leave him there. I don’t get to leave him anywhere anymore.

On Wednesday, the evil genius renews a campaign for a puppy. I am an easy sell, my husband is not on board. We already have an old cat we’re allergic to, a chicken and a fish tank.

Thursday, I have to bring the live lesson to the bedroom — ours, as he has refused to sleep elsewhere since this started — and start with him still asleep. He wakes with a big smile and participates.

The rest of the day, he chats with me constantly. I find myself yelling because I can’t focus on editing a story. This ends with me making brownies for his pet coconut, recently renamed Steve. I guess it’s his birthday?

It’s my first Friday off and there’s no school. We take a walk at Sawgrass Lake Park, find a gopher tortoise and a huge frog. We’re giddy to be outside. But when we drive by his beloved after-school care facility, he cries quietly and asks about it. I promise he can go back as soon as it’s safe.

Ellen Clarke's son watches a gopher tortoise at Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg.
Ellen Clarke's son watches a gopher tortoise at Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg. [ Ellen E. Clarke ]

That night, he tells me he’s very lonely without someone to play with.

I tell my husband we either need to adopt a kid or a puppy. We’re getting a puppy.

Week 4

Our dance starts off with a Monday battle. He has no interest in his work. I have no interest in him watching videos on YouTube until he earns it. Holding this line makes my work harder.

I ghost out of meetings after I talk. My previously clean email inbox is a mess. I’m normally meticulous about details and feel like I’ve dropped balls. The boy suggests my eyebrows look “weird” and I reply that his face looks weird. (He has my face, so the joke is on me.)

It’s still Monday?

The decline continues on Tuesday. We get less done, we’re not getting to his “specials” classes like gifted because I don’t have the bandwidth. At school, he’d work with the lovely speech therapist once a week. I confess to her that the early online meeting time corresponds with my morning news meeting and I’m only surviving because he sleeps through this. I hope the lisp is still cute when he’s 40.

We do a FaceTime call with a puppy. He’s going to be ours come May. What this house needs is more chaos!

One of the reporters on my team has FOUR school-age kids. I’m in awe.

On Wednesday, my first column runs in the print edition of the Tampa Bay Times and I hear from readers all day long. They’re all so nice! What a boost. One of my favorites is a meme of a mom working with a kid Duct-taped to the floor behind her. THIS IS A FUN GAME, FETCH THE TAPE.

A reader sent Ellen Clarke this meme after seeing her first parenting column in the Life & Culture pages of the Tampa Bay Times.
A reader sent Ellen Clarke this meme after seeing her first parenting column in the Life & Culture pages of the Tampa Bay Times. [ Ellen E. Clarke ]

And then we have to do math at 8 p.m. because we never got to it earlier. The boy does the kindergarten subtraction algebra by saying llamas were going to “kick the ass” of some sheep.

There’s no one else to blame for his language! S--t!

By Thursday, I think we’re getting our groove back when a short power outage blips the Wi-Fi for an extended period. I work by tethering to my phone, but can’t do it for multiple devices.

It’s back in time for a goat to Zoom-bomb our weekly team meeting, which the boy shows no interest in. This may be for the best when you think back to last night’s llama drama.

Friday is a hot mess, with schoolwork delayed because we have to be out of the house for two hours for a bug treatment.

The bright spot is a walk with his local grandparents, who he’d normally see at least twice a week. It had been more than a month. My dude’s face lit with the world’s biggest smile when he saw them.

Once we’re home, we have a protracted battle about finishing his art class project. It ends up, of course, being his favorite thing all week.

Ellen Clarke's 5-year-old was supposed to spell his name from natural elements.
Ellen Clarke's 5-year-old was supposed to spell his name from natural elements. [ Ellen E. Clarke ]

It’s almost 9 p.m. before we finish everything, including dancing for gym class.

On Saturday afternoon, Gov. DeSantis officially announces that distance learning will continue until the school year ends.

The 5-year-old’s reaction is to yell that the coronavirus pandemic is “just a normal sickness.” I tell him that’s not true in the kindest way I can. I also remind him that at least he’ll have more time with the puppy, because I am shameless.

I’m going to make one of those paper-ring countdown chains that were all the rage when I was in elementary school. Instead of counting the days to Christmas, I’m counting the days until mommy school is over.