Sunday, August 23, 2020

Two Weeks and Counting

We are two weeks into our new curriculum work and I can honestly say that this is one of the best decisions I have ever made for our home ed. A couple of years ago it probably wouldn’t have worked for us, and who knows where we will be in a couple of years‘ time, but right now, for us, this absolutely hits the spot.

I am one of those people who loves a list. Shopping lists, To Do lists, list of ideas for the millions of things I may explore at some point; they help me collect my thoughts and reassure me that I won’t forget those important things (until I lose the list, of course). I am much, much happier when I am organised. 

With half our house due to be demolished in less than three weeks, we have an eye-watering amount to do. Over the past few months, knowing this was coming up, I have gradually worked through the boxes of random stuff thrown together during house moves, invested in sensible storage furniture and generally got us a lot more sorted than we have ever been. Now it is time to do the last big push as we race to shift things into storage and declutter the few rooms we will have left to make room for a camp kitchen, filthy waterproofs, muddy wellies, and the pile of straitjackets that will certainly be the only way to stop my children hijacking a bulldozer and ‘helping’ to widen our driveway by adjusting the position of next door’s house wall. 

With all of that looming, it is a huge relief to know that we have a home ed routine that is sustainable and will keep the boys engaged and happy whatever else is going on - and that I don’t need to apply too much thought to while dealing with everything. Most importantly, it will carve out a piece of time for me to spend with each of them in the midst of the chaos. 

Daniel is using Build Your Library Level 1, which covers the Ancient World for History. The focus is largely on reading great books together (me reading to him and natural discussion as it comes up) - short bursts of amazing content. There is The Tale of Despereaux for literature, which we are both loving. Daniel was hooked from the first day and is always disappointed to stop reading. We have both learned to leave this until last. The magic of the writing resonates for some time after we finish reading it and immediately moving on to another subject is a complete waste of time. Since Daniel prefers to get his least-liked work over with first and finish with his favourite, this works out nicely. 

History uses sections of Story of the World, which hadn’t exactly gripped us until we were able to get some maps out to work out the region we were reading about. Daniel really enjoys being able to slot together different pieces of information, so I suspect we’ll get into it. Last week we read a fun book about archaeology and made the mind-blowing discovery that US historical eras are completely different to ours. (For any Americans reading, ‘Prehistoric’ for us refers to anything before around CE43, and is divided into eras like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age etc.)

The week finished with an exciting archaeological dig in an exotic location (a.k.a. squatting on the concrete outside the garage, digging in the washing-up bowl). With Ben’s help, I had snuck out in the morning and filled the bowl from the flowerbed, complete with post holes (compost) and layers of knapped flint (picked up and worked on a walk a couple of weeks ago), Roman jewellery (since adopted by Ben, who loves a bit of bling), a grotty Saxon coin (an old £1 that once spent three weeks inside one of the boys and looks suitably revolting), various shards of glazed pottery (some that fit together), some Swiss coins (evidence of international trade), and a small plastic car that reduced Adam to a state of outrage when unearthed. Everyone got involved with this project. Daniel painstakingly scraped the soil off in layers and I was detailed to sieve every bit of it. Adam dashed off to fetch some water and came back (treading so carefully that several snails zoomed past him) with one of our china bowls full to the brim. He spent three quarters of an hour diligently scrubbing every find. Ben, entranced by the ready supply of both earth and water, mixed mud to the perfect consistency and painted himself from head to foot. Adam was mildly put out that his Very Important Archaeologist’s Brush was being put to such a plebeian use (he may not have actually used that word) but that was soon sorted out with a bit of diplomacy and an extra paintbrush. A few days later, Daniel was able to talk to my dad about the whole thing, and hear the story of the real post holes he excavated on Dartmoor in his youth, which was very cool. 

Science is Nature Studies this year. For all we spend so much time outdoors, Daniel hasn’t tended to enjoy the topic when studied before. However, he seems to appreciate BYL’s combined approach of practical activities in our own chosen area of nature (the allotment, since the garden is shortly to become a bulldozed wasteland) and books that present complex information in accessible but still challenging language. Right now I doubt he will remember all the levels of animal classifications from kingdom down to genus and species, but he enjoys discovering the concept. Now he knows the information exists, he will come back to it when he feels ready for more. 

Art is my real mental block after an appalling teacher in secondary school. I don’t remember ever learning about particular artists there, nor learning any techniques that produced a result I liked or wanted. Even before looking at full curriculums, I was wondering if I could find a guide to teaching Art, as I had absolutely no idea where to start. We have rediscovered watercolours (which I never used at school, only at home, thus bypassing most of the block) and I love how easy they are to get out and clear away. There is also flexibility, though. This week’s picture study was a set of paintings of faces constructed from different materials (fruits, vegetables and plants, in this case, to represent the seasons). As Daniel had already done some painting this week, I suggested he could build a face in Minecraft using different blocks. He ended up creating an engineer using different redstone blocks (for those who aren’t MC-savvy, redstone is like electricity and you can build circuits with it) and giving a full guided tour to a visiting friend. 

Poetry memorisation was a new idea for us. At the start, he was a bit huffy about doing it and really couldn’t see the point. Fortunately, both he and Adam (and probably Ben, as far as I can tell) have amazing memories. As he has realised how easy it is for him (he reads it twice and he’s generally got it), and especially when we have managed to find a bit of humour in each poem, he has started to warm up a bit. 

Aside from the curriculum, we have carried on with Cursive Kickoff for handwriting, Maths Seeds, and Usborne reading books. We were just coming to the end of a Year 2 CGP Geography book about North and South America, and although we liked it, it was still a bit of an uphill battle each week. Seeing the completely different approach of a Charlotte Mason-inspired programme, it occurred to me that we were taking far too much time relative to the amount of content. So far we have had to spend ages negotiating how much reading Daniel will do, and then ploughing painfully through the workbook (which, let’s face it, is really there so a teacher can tell which of her 30+ pupils have taken in anything they they have read with their often-limited decoding skills). Now we have decided to ditch the workbook and just read the main book, discuss it, and look things up in books or on the internet if we want to learn more. The extra busy-work didn’t seem to be achieving anything other than putting him off the subject, so we are going to stop doing it. 

Hebrew is carrying on and I am gathering information and resources to build a whole Jewish Studies curriculum for the kids. We won’t start that until after the High Holydays (end of September) so I’ll do a post about that another time. 

All in all, this is definitely a success. Daniel is so much happier; he is interested in what we are doing, happy to give things a go, and his creative side is blossoming as we do just enough of each thing to spark ideas without getting bogged down in busy-work (which then leaves us time for other things too). Loving the journey so far! 


Saturday, August 01, 2020

We need to talk...

We need to talk about the c-word. 

No, not that one. 

I’m talking about the c-word that regularly has UK home edders on Facebook foaming at the mouth: curriculum

This is one of the huge differences between home education in the UK and the US. In the States, many homeschoolers are Christians wanting a religious alternative to secular public schools. Also, most states (as far as I know) have at least some requirements for evidenced academic work. In the UK, on the other hand, we are all apparently barefooted, brown-rice-eating, anti-establishment hippies, raising our tangle-haired feral monsters on a diet of illiteracy and blissful ignorance of social norms. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle on both sides of the Great Puddle, but the fact remains that using a boxed curriculum is considered fairly standard across the pond, but is not mainstream home ed practice (oxymoron alert) here in the UK. 

I have lost count of the number of times I have joined scores of experienced home educaters advising new parents, who have often been forced into home education with little or no time to research and who assume they need to recreate the worst elements of the classroom in their traumatised child’s safe place, or parents of two-year-olds who believe their toddler needs to be doing pages of sums and grammar exercises before their next birthday. The National Curriculum is so embedded in our school system that it is easy not to realise that there are many other options that are generally a better fit for children learning at home. Anyone starting to home ed needs to understand that moving away from school-based education will take a period of readjustment for child and parent, and that learning is likely to look very different from the traditional view of children sitting round the kitchen table while mum writes fractions on a blackboard. If there is one thing that seasoned home edders in the UK generally agree on (doubtful - if you have two HEers you will find three opinions) it is the importance of following a child’s lead and letting them develop their natural love of learning. 

Of course, some children thrive on structured work, and many of us do at least a couple of hours of table work most days. A whole curriculum covering several subjects, though, can get quite a hostile reaction, perhaps because so many of the curricula available are overtly Christian (the Creationist flavour). But there are curricula covering the whole gamut of religious (and not) views, plus many different home ed approaches. As with all styles of home education, there are some children who find a curriculum really suits them... and it turns out that my children are among them! 

It’s funny, because if you had asked us when Daniel was little, we would have said that unschooling would definitely be our approach. We even went to a Radical Unschooling camp one summer, although that did convince me that RU, at least, was not the best fit for our family. But over the last year and a half I have realised just how much my eldest two thrive on the routine and predictability of formal academic work. Daniel struggles with change and feels much more settled and able to learn when there is a certain structure to his work. Adam loves time with me and gets a huge kick out of the small triumphs of working through a programme step-by-step, while harbouring a burning ambition to overtake Daniel in everything. Ben’s goal in life is to do everything his brothers do, with a sprinkling of mayhem to keep things interesting. 

An added kick up the backside for me to sort out what we are doing is that we are starting a massive building project soon and will be living in half a house for several months. I am pretty sure that for all of us, coming out the other side of that with any shred of sanity will require a level of organisation I have never even aspired to. We had a chat with the boys and they agreed that this feels like something they would like to try, and they like the idea of something stable and consistent during all the upheaval. 

Both boys will be using curricula inspired by Charlotte Mason, based on reading together lots of amazing books that bring alive the subjects we are studying. Daniel is starting Level 1 of Build Your Library. Age-wise he is on the border between levels 1 and 2 but he and I felt it would be a good idea to get the groundwork secure first. Level 1 has a lot of mythology, which he enjoys - he loves spotting references elsewhere to literature he knows. BYL doesn’t include Maths, so he will carry on until the end of Maths Seeds and then try out a few other options that we have heard recommended. 

When I looked at Level 0 of BYL, it just didn’t seem very Adam. Blossom & Root, however, looks like it will suit him perfectly with its nature focus and he is really excited about the Space topic. He will be starting Kindergarten and carrying on with Maths Seeds and his reading (a mixture of Reading Eggs and the Usborne reading scheme). 

Added to both curricula (which are secular) will be some Jewish Studies, though I’m not quite sure yet how much. Both boys use Aleph Champ through cheder for Hebrew reading, and Daniel started Bright Beginnings a few months ago to learn Biblical Hebrew. Adam plays games with me to learn some Modern Hebrew vocabulary as his Modern Language; Daniel is teaching himself Esperanto at the moment but I expect will dip in and out of our Hebrew too. I’ll probably add an extra read-aloud each week to look at the parsha (Torah reading) but beyond that we’ll wait and see how we feel. 

So there we go. This feels like a great fit for us at the moment and I’m really excited! On the other hand, our bank account is trembling in fear as I eye up the book lists; I’ll use the library for lots of them but I’m not even slightly reliable when faced with the opportunity to recreate the Great Library of Alexandria in our house. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Operation Greenhouse

This is my greenhouse as it looked earlier in the week. I inherited it with the allotment, and this photo does not quite do it justice. The waist-high grass and weeds shown here hide an impressive collection of plant pots, bin bags with dubious contents, some interesting wildlife (I’ll come back to that), and enough glass to rebuild Crystal Palace. 

Renovating the greenhouse has long been on my To Do list, and since the allotment has been the only legal way to get us all out of the house since March, the items on that list are being ticked off at an unprecedented rate. This week I reached a point where there were several jobs at a roughly equal priority level and I had to choose which to tackle next. Some of the beds still to be dug probably should have slightly taken the lead but the great looming wreck of a greenhouse is rather hard to ignore and it was becoming a bit depressing. So on Thursday, when I had completely finished the last job, I made a start. Starting from the door with a pair of elderly shears, secateurs and a lot of brute force, I started clearing away the accumulated thicket and debris. I soon ran into a problem: the bigger the cleared space, the more inviting the boys found the structure, which they had previously ignored completely. When I uncovered a large window frame with its remaining glass arranged fetchingly in great jagged shards, I decided we should probably go home, as in these situations Ben currently has all the self-preservation instinct of a squirrel on crack*. 

And so it was that late yesterday afternoon saw me back at the plot, blissfully alone, hacking away at grass, hauling out junk, prising off the remaining glazing clips, rescuing suicidal slow worms and doing my best not to sever an artery. I had brought the car down to load ready for a trip to the recycling centre the following morning, a thermos of tea was giving out encouraging vibes from the picnic table, and I was armed with my toughest gloves. 

The bin bags turned out to contain manure, which I have a vague recollection of putting in there several years ago, only for time and weeds to catch up with me until they were out of both sight and mind. Underneath lurked several slow worms which, I have learned in the last few weeks, have a habit of hiding in silly places where I am likely to unwittingly decapitate them with my shears. I removed these to the other side of the plot, to the mild horror of my African plot neighbours, who were cheering me on from the sidelines. They pointed out that where they come from, if you see something that looks like a snake you scarper first and think second. They were rather more amused by the frogs - 5 in total, but I would swear there were really just two that kept coming back to check on my progress. 

I knew I would be dealing with lots of glass, so I had a Cunning Plan. A tarp was spread out on the grass and the Window Frame of Doom placed on it. Each subsequent shard was added to it, followed by the large collection of broken panes I have been storing safely out of the way on a shelf at the back of the shed. When I was sure I had all the glass, I carefully wrapped it up in the tarp and lifted it into the wheelbarrow... except I didn’t. I had forgotten, you see, that glass is HEAVY. When I tried to pick it up, there was a nasty crunching-cracking sound (from the glass, not me) and it weighed far more than I was willing to handle on my own. Plan B was put in place: A second tarp was layed out and the glass transferred a bit at a time to that. Then the first tarp was taken to the car and the glass transferred a few bits at a time using the wheelbarrow. What a faff! By the time I got down to it, the window frame had taken pity on me and obligingly parted company with several more of its shards, which was rather less helpful than it thought. I am deeply impressed that I managed not to slip, trip, or otherwise end up fertilising the vegetables with my own life blood (a little extreme even for the keenest allotmenteer). 

That done, I made more journeys with loads of unrecyclable junk dug up, uncovered and generally discovered around the plot - rusty buckets give off inviting tetanus vibes, ancient hanging baskets, and long-buried carpet that would make even Miss Haversham raise an eyebrow. I haven’t got all of it, by any means, but another trip next weekend may do it, if I haven’t caught something revolting in the process. Driving back home with that lot in the car made me want to jump straight in the shower!

By the time I ran out of daylight, the greenhouse looked like this. 

All the bits of frame are there, so it just needs a couple of nuts and bolts to bring the stray pieces back together. Rather than getting new glass, I will be using polycarbonate panels, which are cheaper and allow ricocheting children to bounce off instead of crashing straight through the sheet glass. It will also be less satisfying for passing baby vandals, as the public footpath is just the right distance for a nice stone-throwing challenge. All together, the cost of renovating the greenhouse will cost less than half what a new equivalent would set me back, even before we factor in the cost of removing the existing frame. It’s getting exciting now! 

With so much work being put into it, the greenhouse is developing a personality (or maybe it already had one and I am just discovering it) and I suspect it will soon require a name. Suggestions, please - nothing too sensible. It is definitely male. The shed, on the other hand, is female, though not the pink frilly type (just as well, really). She’s looking a bit apprehensive as I keep eyeing her speculatively. 

As I left the plot, I glanced away from the setting sun into the communal water trough. There, silhouetted against the bottom, were four newts, two of which appeared to be doing their best to increase the number to five. Well, it was a nice evening. I left them to get on with it. 

*Not my phrase but too good not to use. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Good Riddance to a Rubbish Day

I really struggled today. Sleep-deprivation didn’t help - I am long past the point where seeing 3am is a good idea, but I had a work deadline and simply couldn’t snatch enough daytime minutes around the children to get it done. 

Like most of us, I have days when I’m fine. Not wonderful, perhaps, but coping. But something really small can tip me over the edge. I lose motivation, I snap at the kids, and then I get even more depressed because I haven’t got anything done. Today was one of those days, after something unbloggable kicked off in the morning. 

I had a work meeting just after lunch so we needed to get down to the allotment early. There have been issues with the site rotivator and I am several weeks behind on digging beds and getting things in. Lots has been started in the conservatory but it’s beginning to look like the Eden Project in there and I am becoming mildly concerned that I may wake up one day to find a butternut squash has crept up the stairs overnight and is lovingly strangling me. 

The boys generally enjoy the allotment but have decided that it is THE LAW that each trip should be preceded with at least two hours of moaning and flatly refusing to don socks, wellies, or sometimes anything that isn’t a pair of slightly grubby pyjamas. By the time they had fulfilled that requirement and we had finally left the house we only had an hour and a half before we had to head home again. I made pretty good use of the time - the first potatoes went in, I made a start on digging the next bed, and several other future beds were covered with weed-suppressant fabric in the hope it might make the digging easier when I get to them. It felt like a drop in the ocean compared to everything that needs doing down there, and the kids spent a lot of time winding each other up and complaining to me rather than sorting out between themselves. Eventually I blew up at them and we trudged home for a scratch lunch before my meeting, where I discovered half the work I did in the wee small hours had somehow been irretrievably deleted. Nothing catastrophic but several hours of very intense and tedious work that needs to be done again. 

The rest of the afternoon was a marathon of teaching online, interspersed with sorting laundry and throwing a casserole into the oven and breaking up arguments and finding long-lost important documents to try to resolve the issue this morning and ignoring the collapsed shelf in the kitchen cupboard and the full cup of milky tea dropped all over the floor and and and... I have a headache. 

Great British Sewing Bee and cup of tea, and then I am declaring today finished. Good riddance!

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Funny Sort of Birthday

"It doesn’t feel much like a birthday" Daniel said sadly on the day he turned 8 a couple of weeks ago.
He was right, and it broke my heart a little bit. With all the siblings on top of each other all the time I try to make birthdays really special and I felt like I had completely dropped the ball on this one. I hadn’t, actually, and I know full well that everyone else is struggling with lockdown birthdays too, but I still felt awful for him.

But you know what? We turned it around. (I may have wallowed a bit first!) Each of his grandparents called or FaceTimed to have a chat, and we had his choice of menu for each meal - waffles for breakfast; tomato soup for lunch; roast beef with French mustard, roast potatoes, and peas and broccoli (the latter because the RT dislikes peas and "I want everyone to enjoy my birthday") for dinner. Dinner ended up being rather late as, in true lockdown-discombobulation style, I completely forgot he had asked for chocolate soufflés for pudding until about ten minutes before we were due to eat. My trusty Mary Berry recipe book leaped to the rescue and the day was saved, with the soufflés declared better than his (not sure about that) and much hilarity when the centre of the soufflé turned out to be so hot that it melted the bottom of the candle I had stuck in it! He also opened the presents from those of us in the house (his brothers’ in the morning, ours and the RT’s in the evening), and by the time he went to bed he had completely cheered up.

The following Saturday we had his ‘party’, to tide him over until the promised proper one when it is safe to have it. He had requested a few party foods and we had discussed his cake requirements, but I refused to let him see any of it in progress so he wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen.

We started, as with every Saturday during lockdown, with online synagogue services. We have been joining a large synagogue in north London whose senior rabbi officiated at our wedding. The half hour Tots Shabbat before the main service is on Zoom, and a quick message to the rabbi got him a public shout out, followed by everyone singing Happy Birthday to him (always entertaining with internet lag) and yelling their good wishes. It was the first time Daniel had joined Adam and Ben in one of these sessions and he was blown away by the attention and how much people cared. He was glowing for hours afterwards!

After the services (a much-needed break for me after a late night baking), he was banned from the dining room and DH watched a movie with them while the RT and I got everything ready (RT had declared a willingness to do pretty much anything if it meant not having to watch the Emoji movie!). Daniel had no idea I had already got some of the Harry Potter themed party supplies we had talked about before lockdown, so a banner went up and a table cover and plates/cups/napkins went on the table.

The chocolate frog mould (which he knew about) came with six boxes and chocolate frog cards (which he didn’t) and the RT spent a couple of hours valiantly wrestling with the instructions for putting the awkwardly-shaped boxes together so that everyone got a box with frog and card on their plate. I had some biscuit stamps with the Hogwarts and house crests and the resultant massive biscuits came out beautifully. Then there was the cake, one of my best yet (dreading having to do it again for his post-lockdown party!) and lots of his favourite party food, a pile of presents from extended family, and as a final touch we put on his favourite song as we finally let him in.

He was blown away! Hugs all round, then zooming round the table exclaiming at everything, and as we sat around the table together munching and comparing chocolate frog cards and enjoying his rather eclectic taste in music, he kept saying thank you over and over again.

When we finished eating we made video calls to his grandparents so he could open their presents with them.

"I had a lovely party." Birthday restored :-)

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Pesach Bucket List

"Mummy, please can we play Minecraft together today"? asked Daniel this morning, for the umpteenth day in a row. And finally, this morning was different from all the other days this week: "Yep! Let’s go!" 

Pesach (Passover) preparation is always hard, and this year had the added complications that come with the Covid-19 lockdown. Unprecedented rulings have been made by rabbis across the world, urging us to put safety first and adjust our expectations of ourselves and others in this very different year. Across the world, families came together last night via Zoom instead of in person for the huge gatherings we are used to. 

Like most people, I have been very up and down dealing with the lockdown. The children actually seem to be ok, bumbling along in an unschooly kind of way that we adopt anyway from time to time when we need a break. They are getting along better and are pleased to have more Mummy time rather than being rushed from one place to another. Their cheder has moved online and they are really enjoying their weekly sessions seeing their friends and teachers, and apart from a couple of wobbly days with Daniel when the reality of an indefinite delay on his birthday party really hit him, they are coping remarkably well. 

Ben spends much of his day in the garden enjoying the beautiful weather (I am so grateful for that!) At the beginning he kept asking to go to different places, and after observing Daddy leaving each morning, he thought he had it all worked out. He put his dressing gown on over his clothes (like Daddy’s big coat), put on his shoes, picked up a toy briefcase and stood by the front door announcing that he was "Ready a go to work". He was devastated when this didn’t result in the door being opened for him and spent the next hour morosely putting the contents of the vegetable rack into various carrier bags and informing me he was going shopping. 

Now, though, he has found his rhythm with his balance bike and spade, and slightly more television than he is usually allowed (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are particular favourites at the moment). 

I have probably struggled the most. My week is usually punctuated with times when I can relax a bit with other mums while our children play, and the loss of that interaction and support feels huge. Occasional Zoom coffees just don’t quite cut it. The boys need far more of me (remember the extra Mummy time?) and by the evening I am too exhausted even to work, so I feel cut off from the one thing that makes me not just Mummy. 

Strangely, preparing for Pesach this year has really helped. This is a time when I always scale back on activities to spend more time at home, and somehow it felt like much-needed permission to just let go and focus on one thing. Pesach supplies, which have caused huge stress to so many of my friends, are always scarce where we live, so I did my usual online order of matzah well in advance. I had a good stash of matzah meal and rice flour anyway, and that’s usually all we get specially. 

It was the cleaning I really enjoyed. Most years, especially when we are hosting the seder, this is tinged with anxiety (not necessarily warranted!) about how visitors will judge the state of the house, which is fairly scruffy even when spotless. This year, I was doing it just for me, for the fulfilment of getting ready for a festival that makes us acknowledge and reflect upon how different life is when faced with challenges and difficulties. My Pesach cleaning varies from one year to the next and doesn’t come close to what my Orthodox friends do. This year I chose to focus on my cleaning bucket list. All the fiddly little bits of tidying that usually get missed - the key pot that is lined with a deep litter of paperclips, coins, rubber bands and Lego bricks; the shelf just out of Ben’s reach used as a safe not-so-temporary home for a variety of pebbles, paperwork, more Lego, sunglasses and Deutschmarks (used as play money); the spectacular array of toys, bike helmets, books, footwear, plastic bowls and yet more Lego that collects under the sofas. Bit by bit, I plodded through these small (and sometimes not so small) fiddly jobs, and the whole vibe of those rooms started to improve. We moved the sofas completely and vacuumed behind them, took all the cushions off and cleaned under them (I am lucky to have three children who love getting a chance to use the hoover). Every moveable piece of furniture was moved and cleaned, cobwebs were swept from the corners of the ceiling, windowframes and doors were wipes down, objects were rehomed. And even though I skipped some parts of cleaning the kitchen that I would usually consider to be non-negotiable, by the time we started the seder I felt ready. 

Thanks to Zoom, we shared our seder with some of the people close to us. Adam sang Mah Nishtana (what a difference it makes teaching it to a child who can more or less read Hebrew!), Ben was utterly astonished and then highly amused at everyone walloping each other with spring onions during Dayeinu, and the children rediscovered their love of charoset (DH makes it to his family’s recipe, and it is always spot on) and freshly grated horseradish. Our family haggadah, created over the last few years, was easy to email for everyone to use. 

And today we have my favourite part - sitting back with a deep sense of peace, knowing it is all done, the house is clean, the laundry caught up on. Today we will just spend time together and relax into this strange new life, because Pesach teaches us that this is a time different to all others. I don’t expect it to last (the peace or the clean house) but I am enjoying it while it does. 

Disclaimer: Before you start cursing me and my clean house, please be aware that the upstairs remains, in the words of Katie Morag, an absolute midden. I may make a start on it tomorrow. Equally, I may not. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Diary #1

I’m not sure why this evening’s announcement of a national lockdown hit me so hard. After all, it’s no different to what we were doing anyway, but perhaps the removal of choice was what shook me.
It has taken me a couple of hours (and a good night’s sleep will help too) to refocus on all the good things that have happened in the last few days as we all started to adjust to the new normal.

On Friday we did a long-put-off science experiment and investigated the difference between hard and soft woods by counting how many hits of the hammer it took each person to bang a nail through, and how far each of us could saw through in 60 seconds. That no one suffered any injuries at all with Ben participating so enthusiastically can only be down to divine intervention.

On Saturday I had a very productive Zoom meeting with the other Cheder teachers as we worked out how to do Cheder online. A plan was made, we all got to talk to other adults, and our children were able to wave to each other. Afterwards I managed to catch the last half of a live-streamed Shabbat service from a synagogue in London where we know the rabbi well. They have been live streaming services for years and it was seamless. We promised ourselves that we will make a point of joining this every Saturday from now on - and with that and Cheder, we suddenly have two weekly events to build our calendar round. Both the religious experience (and promise of a communal one, as kiddush after the service is via Zoom) and the anchor of a few fixed points in the week helped me feel much more settled.

Sunday, of course, was Mothers‘ Day. The boys made me cards and got me flowers (accompanied by an enthusiastic "Happy birthday, Mummy" from Benjamin, much to his brothers’ disapproval). I taught online for an hour (nothing new there) and then remote-taught my parents how to use Zoom for their jobs. My dad was most taken by the option to add a background and will henceforth be working from outer space rather than his slightly messy study.

Later, I drove to my parents’ house with a thermos of tea and sat on their drive at an appropriate distance while they drank their tea on the porch. I still have the tail end of a cough from whatever lurgy I had last week and simply wasn’t risking passing it to anyone. There is no escaping the fact that this was HARD. I so desperately wanted to give them a hug, bring their grandchildren to see them, just be normal. I am so glad I took the opportunity before the lockdown, even though I got back into the car and burst into tears for the first time since all this began.

A cream tea took the place of dinner. Under the circumstances, cake for a main meal felt suitably apocalyptic.

Today we started properly. The RT’s school have set an impressive (if, in my unsolicited view, both unnecessary and unrealistic) and non-negotiable amount of distance learning, mostly requiring the use of a computer. We worked out a rough schedule so the boys can get their computer work done early (the RT, like most teenagers, surfaces rather later than them) and then we can make do with just the iPad for the rest of the day.

While the RT got on with that, the boys and I joined Poco Drom for his live-streamed session on Facebook. If you haven’t met Poco Drom yet, go and look on Facebook and YouTube. You can thank me later. Half an hour of funny and energetic animal songs (interspersed with shout-outs which told us several of our friends were also taking part) left us breathless and laughing. Another one for the calendar.

Then lunch, an hour at the allotment cutting grass, digging over a bed (RT gets all the credit for that one) and trimming brambles, back home to finish off as much work as we were going to do today, and rounded off with a much-needed Zoom coffee date with several friends. We laughed and commiserated, waved knitting and cake around, swore a bit, and did our best Joyce Grenfell impressions as our kids wandered in and out and puppies did unspeakable things (or was it the other way round? No way to know...)

Tomorrow I will make jam with the fruit that has been evicted from the freezer to make room for the weekly shop. I have a coffee date with another friend. And I have a circuits kit ready to teach my children how to electrocute themselves in new and interesting ways.