See also past Guest columns.

Unexpected homeschooling during COVID-19 Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 02, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

Meg Matenaer

I am a homeschooling dropout. Seven years ago when my oldest was five, we decided that we would homeschool her.

Eight weeks later when the reality was so depressingly different from the ideal I had painted in my mind, she was enrolled in an amazing Catholic school and we’ve never looked back.

Until yesterday.

After it was clear that there would be an imminent shutdown of the schools in Madison, our heroic teachers and principals in only a matter of days mobilized, creating systems to keep learning going at home.

They sent home computers, devised ways to stream lectures and collect homework, spent hours photocopying and recording videos, and packed up the students’ belongings, distributing them at assigned times to parents in the parking lot.

Their attitude, efforts, and drive to make the transition a success was nothing short of heroic.

And how’s my attitude been? Less heroic.

A train wreck

Our first real day of homeschooling — which was technically the second, as all I could manage the first day was mark my children as virtually present — was a train wreck.

I couldn’t remember how to turn a mixed number into an improper fraction. I argued with my third grader about adding.

I didn’t know how to illustrate 93 minus 29 and, totally exasperated, told my first grader he was on his own.

I spent 20 seconds helping the preschooler make a “V” out of popsicle sticks, then declared art class over. I couldn’t help my fifth grader keep the charger plugged into the school computer. I dragged the three-year-old out of several Zoom calls. And I haven’t seen the seventh grader all day.

I think she knows there’s no hope of getting any help from me. But I did serve lunch. I’d give myself a D-.

The other student in our house, my husband, has set up shop in our bedroom.

My usual hiding spot has been transformed into a conference room, the setting for numerous work and school Zoom meetings.

I often stand in the hallway and whisper between the door and the frame, “Is anyone else in there with you?”

Silver linings

The blessings during this strange time have been many.

My husband is home around the clock. Our family has loads of time to simply be together without the disruption of getting to appointments, practices, or meetings.

I love seeing families going for walks. I’ve heard the birds more than ever before.

Friends I haven’t talked to in ages are sharing with me their favorite homeschooling resources, like workout videos for preschoolers.

My family has had amazing takeout to support our local restaurants.

And my unflattering hair that I had been growing out now at least is trending.

Dealing with fear

Fear sometimes punctuates the joy of my family being all together.

I am worried for our little five-year-old, who has viral-induced asthma, and for other at-risk loved ones, healthcare workers, and small business owners, to name a few.

The fear comes as quick and sharp as a news update.

A time to learn

One afternoon last week, I gripped my husband’s arm in the kitchen and related the late-stage symptoms of the virus and how I couldn’t bear imagining our five-year-old in that situation.

My chest was tight.

Just then, our daughter, who that day had been in turns charming and naughty and always adorable, skipped into the kitchen.

She was excited to show us what she was holding — a prayer card of our diocesan patron, St. Raphael.

My throat closed further as my husband read the back, “Most glorious Prince, Archangel Raphael, be mindful of us and pray for us, here and in every place, to the Son of God.

“O God, who gave your servant Tobias the holy archangel Raphael for a companion on his journey, grant that during our earthly pilgrimage we may always be protected by his watchful care and strengthened by his help.

“Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Our daughter skipped away. I understood that we weren’t alone. We weren’t in charge. And ultimately, I’m not the teacher.

What a relief.


Meg Matenaer is a wife, mom of six, social media writer, and author of Write in Time, a women's fiction novel set in Madison. You can find her at megmatenaer.com