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Challenge: Pandemic Parenting

How a $1 Mailbox Became a Virtual Learning Tool

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My son has not attended in-person school in 443 days. Over a year ago, he packed up his school supplies as a kindergartner, and headed home for what we were told would be a two week wait. The schools shut down, as did countless other places and businesses, as the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases steadily climbed. Our state and area had a large amount of cases and our district chose to have students finish out the school year virtually.

When it came time for school to begin this past fall, for the 2020-2021 school year, our district presented us with the options of keeping our children home completely virtual for the year, or sign them up for a hybrid year, which would be a mixture of virtual classes and in-person classes. It was not an easy choice to make, but we decided to pick the option of virtual learning for the year.

I know we are fortunate in the fact we had the opportunity and choice to keep him home for the year, but, to be honest (and I have always promised as a writer to be open and honest about things I struggle with personally) it has been tough. We are also beyond lucky in the fact that he has the most incredible teacher anyone could ever hope for in a situation like this. We were not sure how virtual learning would go, or if it would be what was best for our son, but it honestly ended up being far better than what we could have ever hoped for and I credit that to his teacher.

In the past, I have shared a few different ways my son and I offset the hard days of virtual learning. There is the technique we use called The Struggle Bus; on days where everything seems to be going wrong or we are just plain tired and do not have the bandwidth to communicate all that is weighing us down, we simply tell one another, "I am on The Struggle Bus." By saying it, we know to go about things with a gentle approach that day and to extend each other a little more grace.

We also have mental health days, something that really helped me when I was younger. This past winter we had a huge snowstorm. In normal times, it would have been a snow day, but, with virtual learning it was business as usual. Kids have missed out on so many things over the past year that I decided to give my son the day off. We played in the snow for hours followed up by sipping hot chocolate, eating snacks, and watching a movie.

As the days, weeks, and months have rolled on, the previously mentioned tricks stopped cutting it. I could tell that the days were starting to get to my son and I wanted to find something to make him smile.

While cleaning up one night, I stumbled across a little mailbox I got from the dollar store and that's when the idea hit me. What is more fun and exciting than getting an unexpected note? I sat down, wrote him a little letter, put it in the mailbox, lifted the red flag, and set it in front of him computer.

When he woke up the next morning and saw it, he asked me, "what is this?" I told him to open it and see. The grin on his face let me know he loved the idea. Since then, we have exchanged several notes including some nice ones and some funny ones. He writes me jokes. I'll write him Taylor Swift lyrics. It varies depending on our moods.

We are a hop, skip, and a jump away to the school year being over. This past year has taught me a lot about myself and my son. It has solidified our bond that I did not think could be stronger. It has been a beautiful, albeit sometimes harsh reminder that my little baby is no longer a baby. He is growing more day by day. I hope when he gets older and looks back on his time in the first grade he remembers the snowball fights and the little, red flag up on the mailbox and it makes him smile, the same way he has been making me smile every day for the past seven years.

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