Mid-September, all the pieces fell into place. I work at a university, and my department decided that I’d be working remotely until the end of the year. Maybe longer. Our children’s school announced that they’d be going online in accordance with state COVID regulations. And my wife, who works at our children school, was told that she’d need to work from the classroom.
I think all of these decisions came within a week of each other, and I must say, I couldn’t help but feel like the street lights changed, my life shifted, and I was to be a work-from-home dad, with two children learning from home. All of it was overwhelming, but the part that gave me the most pause was realizing that I’d be working from home while trying to keep my 11-year-old daughter, Norah — who has ADHD — on track with her school work.
To say that homeschooling Norah in the spring was overwhelming is an understatement. The school sent home packets. There was easily four hours of daily work in those packets after applying Norah’s 504 plan, but it would take my wife and me easily eight or nine hours to get Norah finished for the day. She requires a lot of breaks, and a lot of encouragement, and there needs to be a considerable amount of breathing room (particularly with math and science, because she is prone to outbursts).
But back in the spring, at least Mel and I could both trade off between our jobs and help our daughter. Now it would just be me during the day, and the thought of trying to do this alone — while also keeping my job — felt like a tug of war that I couldn’t possibly win.
The first several days were intense. Keeping a child with ADHD to pay attention to Zoom school was a process in and of itself. And teaching her to use an online classroom was also a heavy lift. Norah started putting up a fight to take her medication during the first week, which is something she hadn’t done in a long time — but with everything going online, and her not being able to be around her friends, a lot of her emotions were coming out sideways. For a time I had her in my office, sitting next to me, as I was on a laptop, and she was on Zoom. But then the preteen in her started to come out, and she decided she didn’t want me in view of her friends.
About one week in, she had a meltdown because she couldn’t find a pink pencil that, according to her, she had to have in order to finish her assignment. She went into a fit, and it seemed like all the stress of figuring out new technology, learning online, and not being with her friends and teachers, was coming to a head. Once again, I ended up putting my job on the sidelines to try and help her manage the stress of homeschooling.
I’ve had to flex my hours so I could sit next to her, and read aloud, because she struggles to comprehend some subjects while also taking notes. I’ve had to fight with new teachers to make sure that they are providing her with fewer math problems, and extensions, both listed on her 504 plan. These accommodations really are a lifeline for my daughter, and one thing that isn’t often talked about is the anxiety that comes with ADHD. Each time a teacher doesn’t provide Norah with her accommodations, she gets anxious, and I have to spend time advocating for her, while also talking her down.
This isn’t to say that my wife, Mel, hasn’t been awesome. When she gets home from work, she is there at my side, helping our daughter get her finish her remaining assignments. And she has gone to bat at school with teachers, same as I have, to help them understand what our daughter needs to be successful.
To be real, we often fight these fights during the normal, pre-pandemic, school year. But there is something about having Norah home with me, as I am trying to work from home, that feels like this overwhelming wave of family and work … and there are so many moments that I can’t help but feel like I’m drowning.
I’ve had to cancel work meetings, and work in the early mornings and late evenings, so that I can dedicate my days to making sure my daughter is on Zoom and able to pay attention. I’ve had to patiently talk her through frustrated outbursts, as she tells me she can’t learn something. I’ve sat next to her, attempting to answer emails, while also explaining the same math problem three or four times, only to realize I was emailing the wrong person.
All of it has been an overwhelming experiment in work and family, and I know that I have several more months to go. Thus far, I have not been fired, so that is promising. And Norah has been able to get her assignments completed, so I’m proud of that. But it has pushed my ability to multi-task to a level I didn’t know I had, and there have been days where I want little more than to just wander off into the woods, never to be seen again.
I can’t do that, of course. And I honestly and truly want my daughter to do well in school. Though it’s definitely wearing on me, I keep plugging away even through the most taxing of days.
So my friends, if you are working from home while educating a child with a learning disability, I see you. I am you. Solidarity.