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I'm standing writing, my eldest sat behind me, as we both listen to an English class way beneath her ability level. As a native speaker she's normally in a different group, but the school have thrown all the kids together on a single Google Meet whilst they deal with a Covid outbreak in her class. This is her first time homeschooling since returning to in-person lessons in September 2020, so compared to her cousins in the UK, we've had a great run—they've each been off 4 times, for 2 weeks a pop, until the UK finally decided to give up on school quarantining with 2.5% of the kids out of class simultaneously.
It's not just by luck we’ve gone this long. All Spanish kids older than 6 have been wearing masks in school since they went back. They only take them off to play outside, or for lunch. And when they sit down to eat, it’s in the same alphabetical order, every day, to make logistics easier to deal with should something bad happen.
Because, as in life, the chance of a bad thing occurring is never zero. And if the last 18 months have taught me anything, it's to learn to accept events outside my control. At least there's some relief: the school is using Google’s apps for online schooling, so I'm intimately familiar with getting her set up. They sent login details, her lessons are in a shared class calendar. I wanted her to be as independent as possible this fortnight, so I set her up with the iPad, logged her into Google Calendar, and taught her how to join classes from it.
One week down, one to go. I’m watching her as she begins to comprehend, for the first time in her life, the concept of time as something that dictates your day—the calendar in charge of you, and not the other way around.
It's not like she didn't know what time was before last week: she can read a clock, she knows when she’s supposed to wake up ("ideally 7, but anytime after 6 is OK"), she understands that we pick her up from school sometime around 4, and she goes to bed a little after 8. But she's now taken her first steps into a world where her waking moments are dictated by a previously alien icon on the iPad.
Lessons start at 8:30am. Last week she asked if she could join 5 minutes early. "There’s no point,” I told her, “no one will be there." How wrong I was. The parents have collectively started putting the kids “in class” anytime after 8am, where they’ll chat amongst themselves for a while before the teacher arrives. She hasn't yet figured out how to message her friends on backchannels once he comes online, but it's only a matter of time. She's doing all her normal lessons—she even did "swimming" last week, lying on the floor, arms and legs flailing around as she propelled through the air, going nowhere, ”T.S. for you.”
My daughter has now joined me in a world of calendar-led anxiety: walking around the house during "free slots", wondering what time it is; the constant worry of an imminent calendar appointment, sailing by without realising; a feeling that she’ll have to start getting comfortable with her entire life, if what I’m like at 38 is any indication. (Quick aside for those like me: this Mac app places a countdown to your next meeting in the status bar. It is a godsend.)
Our dog doesn’t understand time. He never will. The idea of 10am to him is like viewing a fourth dimension for me. He knows he has a walk in the morning, then a few hours lying in the living room, basking where the sun hits the floor, occasionally moving to a warmer spot, until the kids come home, then another walk and off bed. If only life was so simple for us. Time is a constant, a never-ending flurry of blocks in our calendar—work meetings, personal appointments, events we really should have said no to, but felt pressure to say yes—dictating our future as we mould and rotate them to our will, like Tetris blocks—unceasing, unforgiving, occasionally compliant, a single lapse in concentration away from being completely overwhelmed. There's a deep melancholy in seeing my daughter move into that world, stepping through the looking glass from the naive, carefree one she enjoyed only a week ago. She’ll be back there soon, but the world of the schedule approacheth. Our digital calendars start off feeling like a perfect winter coat: a place for everything, a warm, fuzzy, feeling, “how did I ever live without this?” But before long we’re looking to escape the confines of the straitjacket we’ve trapped ourselves into. I’m as complicit as any: “if it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist” is a phrase regularly heard in our house.
Now she's a week into using Google Calendar I have to contend with her thinking she knows how to use it better than I do. “You don’t click it there Papi!” Hold up little one. You think you this calendar is your ally? You've merely adopted it; I was born in it, moulded by it. I worked at the company who made it. For 8 long years I had that tab pinned to my browser, my life ruled by it's blocks, every waking hour filled with meeting invites from a slew of timezones. I know it, in complete honesty, better than the back of my hand. I’ve done things with this app that people thought impossible; borderline espionage, colleagues looking over my shoulder like I was Ving Rhames in a Mission Impossible movie, gathering intel in anticipation of the big heist.
Although I’m pleased to see I can still learn a lot to learn from the next generation: like the boy who renamed himself to "Connecting ..." on Zoom so the teacher wouldn't ask him a question; those who made their backgrounds into looped selfie videos, whilst playing Roblox off-camera (I call this move a “Keanu in Speed”); or the tale of the 8 year old who dodged three weeks of online classes by using a feature meant to prevent hacking to her advantage. The kids are alright.
I'm getting used to having my daughter around. Whilst I might forget these two weeks in years to come, I'll always some little snippets and a mosaic of calendar events to remind me.
3 things to read this week
Does having children make you happier? Social scientists have been going back and forth on this for decades. The jury is still out, as Paul Bloom puts together a persuasive case for "errrrrrmmmm maybe. mabye not?!? idk ¯\(ツ)/¯" : "When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It’s not just me. When you ask people about their life’s meaning and purpose, parents say that their lives have more meaning than those of nonparents."
We're catching up on the second season of Ted Lasso. On top of the constant joy of Roy Kent as a very thinly veiled version of Roy Keane (I mean they kept 80% of his name, come on now) it's been refreshing to watch a show where grown men are praised for their vulnerability, even whilst constantly swearing at one another. This article on watching it with teenage kids explores how shows like this can help raise better men.
If you subscribe to one newsletter, I'd like it to be this one. But if you're looking for another, last month Today in Tabs launched an advice column for subscribers and it’s a doozy. The cross-over episode with Ask Polly tackled a reader question on whether or not to have a third baby. Here's a taste: "It’s ok to want things. If you can want a baby and have a baby, then by all means make that happen. But if you need to want a baby without having one, the universe is an infinite heatsink for human feelings. It’s ok to want something, and to gaze up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, and know that the universe doesn’t care."
designboom @designboomfuture homeowners in france are now looking into "straw houses" https://t.co/qTcxrhvzjR https://t.co/FcyLh7oZUi
One thing to watch with the kids this week
I've featured Kurzgesagt here before: their videos never fail to disappoint, for adults and kids alike. This one will have you questioning whether everything you thought about how dinoasaurs looked was right.
*shakes fist* SPIIIEELLLLBERRGGG!
A little later than normal this week, due to the aforementioned homeschooling. A little less time for proofreading too, so “sorry”, maybe?
What did you think? Your feedback helps me make TNF better.
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