'The Check In' is our regular series highlighting perspectives of regular people who are dealing with the hardships, frustrations and moments of shared humanity during this surreal and unprecedented time.
In this episode, we checked in with All Things Considered host Arun Rath's pet bird, Jatayu, went down a rabbit hole analyzing whether or not "Another Brick In The Wall" by Pink Floyd has aged well, and spoke to a single mother who has four children in the Saugus public school system, all taking classes from home.
Jenn McNary has two sons with muscular dystrophy, another with a primary immune deficiency, and a 9-year-old daughter with asthma. Since the family is largely immunocompromised, McNary says she attempted to homeschool at the beginning of the school year, but after about two weeks, “that devolved into chaos.”
“My perspective, as a parent of terminally ill children, is that I want my kids to be alive,” McNary said. “We are in survival mode here. I'm making choices that are based on keeping them healthy and keeping their bodies functioning and coming out of this without catching COVID-19.”
McNary is also tackling issues faced by most parents with school-age children attempting remote schooling, including trying to get technology to work on a shaky Wi-Fi connection.
“[My daughter’s] teacher responded to some kids’ frustration about not being able to access their schoolwork, she said, ‘You know, don't worry, we're all learning. This is new to me, too,’” McNary said. “I think that really encompasses what we're dealing with right now, this is all new to all of us.”
McNary’s perspective has continued to be focused on mental and physical health first. If her kids fall behind educationally, she says, that's a risk she just has to take.
“It's been really difficult. And if we're thinking about the big picture, education is incredibly important,” McNary said. “But children always learn. I maintain that. I know that children learn just by being alive, they're naturally curious. And so even if they're missing formal instruction for a year … I think that it's possible for them to have a perfectly fine educational experience, even if the online instruction is not 100 percent effective.”
McNary’s daughter can't even hang out in a park with other kids her age, because with siblings who are so severely immunocompromised, it's not safe for her to have any contact with anyone outside the family. McNary says she worries about her daughter's social development.
“She's becoming very adult, and she's acting a lot like a teenager because she doesn’t have that peer to peer interaction,” she said. “I do worry about what a year of isolation does psychologically or does to a child's ability to interact appropriately. I think we're going to see a lot of socially awkward children of all different ages coming into the school next fall.”
McNary says she's also having to adjust to being the disciplinarian about getting schoolwork done, which wasn't a role she used to play. She's not a believer in homework, and she says she never pushed her kids to do work at home before. So now she's resorting to bribes, which come mostly in the form of board games.
“We're definitely having a lot more family time,” she said. “There are lots of, you know, scuffs and fights and arguments and people are testy. But ultimately, we have the safe little bubble and we will come out of it and be OK.”