“Dear Truth be Told, my name is Giselle and I live in the Inland Empire in California. I have a 5 year old who just started kindergarten and an almost 3 year old. How do we address the question of “how long will this last?” Our 5 year old only experienced less than a school year [before COVID] and with school starting back up again, she’s confused why she won’t have a “first day of school” and asked when she will be able to do that again.”
Wajahat Ali: Yeah, my son also had a year of school before coronavirus and he had his routine. But what we told him and we told Nusaybah is: We're in a global pandemic, there's something called a virus. People are sick. People are dying. And so for our health right now, we have to stay away from some folks. We have to social distance so we can see our friends on Zoom and we might have to do something called distance learning on the internet. But, you know, this will eventually pass. It might take some time. It might be a year.” And so me and my wife, we have not coddled them when it comes to the reality of the pandemic.
Nancy Redd: Well, I don't like to be wrong, so when I'm asked a question that I don't have an answer to, I am never afraid to say, "I don't know" because it makes them believe me more when I say "I know." So what I like to do, especially with my littlest one, is to diffuse the situation and their anxiety. But whatever the question is, if it's like, "How long would this last?" To afford a medium of autonomy in the relationship, I usually throw it back to them — “I don't know. How long do you think? What do you think needs to happen before we can all get back to the way things were? What can we do to move things forward?” Keeping their little minds busy with active questions gives them less time to dwell on the pressing answer, which is honestly that nobody actually knows.
Everyone has a different relationship with kids, said Ali. Some children might need certainty, while others are OK with squishy or dubious answers. But Ali said the key is to offer comfort and some explanation, and to assure them that they are loved. "I think for my kids that's been enough because they've asked about two or three times and then we honestly say 'once coronavirus is over, don't worry,' Ali said. "And they go, ‘OK Baba.’ "
“Dear Truth Be Told, the balance of being a full-time parent and full-time employee is really hard! My son is 3 and I feel like I’m constantly rejecting him during business hours. What’s a better way to structure my meetings? Should I incorporate 10-minute breaks every hour?” — Anonymous mom working in tech in the Bay Area, California
Wajahat Ali: I realized I have to improvise and adapt to a new normal during a pandemic because my kids want me at many times of the day. For my wife Sarah, it's a little bit harder because Nusaybah still has her trauma, and I think she's overcoming the trauma of last year. So she needs to know that Sarah is around and once a while, just randomly, she'll freak out. Slowly but surely, what we've noticed is when we've established our routine and we've established some rules like, “Once mom and Baba are on the headset, once we're in the Zoom, you can come in the room and play with your toys, but just don't interrupt us. Or, if you really need something, just don't yell. Just talk to us and we got you.” And what we've seen is this evolution where it's not perfect but kids are resilient. They are realizing there is a routine to this chaos. That's where we're at right now. But it ain't easy.
Nancy Redd: We must not forget that all 3 year olds are dissatisfied. It doesn't matter in what context. They just want you. You could be spending 23 hours a day with them and then that one hour they’re like, "Why are you not paying attention to me?" So don't be too hard on yourself, and don't be hard on the 3 year old. Don’t hurt yourself. Don't hurt them. The struggle is real.
Wajahat Ali: I think what Nancy just said is so key. Don't be that hard on yourself. That's a lesson. I think for us and for parents who are type A overachievers, during coronavirus and trying to balance everything. This is an unprecedented pandemic that our generation has never faced. We're all trying to learn. There's no normal. Every day brings about a new normal. Give yourself room to be a human being who's doing their best.
“Dear Truth Be Told, my name is Juan, I live in Winters, CA and I am the father to a 6 month old and 5 year old. My question is, how do we build a relationship between my son and his grandparents when there isn’t any physical interaction?”
Wajahat Ali: My mom was supposed to actually visit the week everything got shut down. She had bought a plane ticket. And my parents still haven't met Khadija, who's about 8 months old. So all they care about is the grandkids. We make it a point to do WhatsApp, Zoom or FaceTime, just a couple of minutes a day. Honestly, it's enough to establish a relationship.
Even in those fleeting three minutes, it establishes a relationship. They know who they are. They see them. They know that they're loved. And also, we say "Inshallah, once coronavirus is over they're going to visit and hug you" and they go, "OK." It's not perfect, but it keeps the connection alive and it keeps the connection tangible.
Nancy Redd: Actually, I love that, Waj. Your kids are younger and that's how we started, too, and then we build-up: "Now let's think of some questions we can ask Angie and dad and grandma and uncle Sammy." Now they're having full-fledged conversations and understanding. I use grandparents, because they're so calm, as a teaching mechanism for how to not sound crazy in a conversation and how to have eye contact on FaceTime. Grandparents are great if you are fortunate to still have them. They're just excited to see them.
Wajahat Ali: The reason why it's so important is a connection of generations, but also a passing down a heritage. I started learning how to cook a few months ago. I was literally FaceTiming with my mom and dad. And my mom was like, "OK, let me see it, let me see what you're doing." And I could tell it was a bonding experience between us because she took joy in the fact that I was taking her recipes and learning from her. And now she's proud of the fact that she sees the photos. You know, it's just like these small things because I'm an only child. I grew up with my grandmother and my grandfather, we had three generations in one house, very old school. So to have these small traditions, it's so small, specific, tangible acts that we don't necessarily value that end up being so valuable as we move on in life. As our kids grow up, they'll remember these days that during quarantine, my parents took the time to do these small little things, to give us a sense of normalcy and to connect us to our grandparents. And hope they not only become better people as a result, but they'll remember our love for them and the fact that we tried.
“Dear Truth Be Told, what are some recommendations on how to get involved with our child’s school when working full time? We want to be part of the conversations around how they are addressing learning, but with both parents working full time, we find very little opportunities to do so.” — Giselle, living in the Inland Empire and mother of two
Nancy Redd: I just sat in on a potential school meeting last night on how this whole thing is going to work and I just said my husband, "OK, that's not going to work. I appreciate and admire the effort. There's no way I would ever put my child in in-person school right now." But they're asking the impossible of wonderful teachers, wonderful educators, wonderful school systems and wonderful parents. So I would say don't be hard on yourself. It's not going to be a “last year.” If you reframe everything, your family can grow in ways you couldn't possibly imagine. But don't beat yourself up about it and don't get frustrated because everyone's in this quagmire.
Wajahat Ali: I think that's so important because I'm in Virginia right now and we just happened to coincidentally live across from Thomas Jefferson High School. We talked to a lot of parents and you can imagine they're very concerned helicopter parents who feel like they have to enroll their kids in violin and karate. I'm like, "yo, your kid is like 6." And then we think we're very lucky. My wife and I are both educated, but we have deliberately taken the opposite strategy very much like Nancy. We thought we were all about emotional growth, spiritual growth, resilience, confidence, creativity. And we feel like, OK, as long as we can produce kind, good human beings and we know they're curious and smart, the rest will come. We don't want to give them that type of pressure.
Tonya Mosley: I would also say on a practical level for this parent, what can you do and what should you do because what they're asking is they want to be part of conversations around how the school district addresses learning. And many school districts still have not come up with what these plans are yet. They have to make this accessible to all parents. It just has to be. And so your call to action to them is, say, "Hey, all of these Zoom meetings, I hope that they're recorded and they will be available on the website for later. There should be a survey that I can be a part of. And they should be making certain that that survey a month ahead of time gets to every single parent that it can." And really pushing for that, because that is the only way that parents in different circumstances will be able to participate in this whole process of figuring out what the school year will be like.
I'm afraid because what I feel is this time is just going to deepen disparity because you have all of those parents who are pushing, asking and so involved because they have the privilege to be involved. And so, yes, if we all said, "let's just hang back a little bit and think about raising better human beings versus academically superior human beings, then then we could all be in this together."
The bottom line our Wise Ones drove home was to give yourself room to be a human. When it comes to the fear and anxiety around our younger generations' academic growth, don’t be afraid of exercising the muscle of both being kind to yourself and other people. It's kindness that will help us endure and maintain our humanity throughout this crisis and after this crisis. Will we emerge as empathetic, kind people who are humbled and able to fix the inequities that exist and have existed? Or will we emerge as the worst versions of ourselves? That's a question that we should ask ourselves.
Special thanks to Joecelyn Guevarra, Mia Guevarra and Pendarvis Harshaw for their contributions to this episode.
Episode transcript here.
Nancy Redd, on-air host, multimedia journalist and best-selling author of “Bedtime Bonnet”
Wajahat Ali, contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times and public speaker
“When Will This Be Over? Sesame Workshop's Tips For Parenting During A Pandemic” from NPR
“Somebody’s Sick In The World: Fatherhood During COVID-19” from KQED, Pendarvis Harshaw
“Distancing to Reconnect: Possibilities and Parenting During COVID-19” from Medium, Angela Aguilar, MA, MPH
“I'm Writer and Producer Wajahat Ali, and This Is How I Parent” from lifehacker, Michelle Woo
“How Parents Find Support During a Pandemic and National Reckoning with Racism” from KQED, Nastia Voynovskaya
“Recursos digitales de PBS para estudiantes bilingües grados PreK-5” from KQED, Almetria Vaba
“Oakland's Booklandia Brings a World of Bilingual Books to Families’ Doorsteps” from KQED, Azucena Rasilla
“We’re in this together: A COVID-19 coloring book for organizers of all ages” from Bay Rising