I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for four years. No, my wife doesn’t have some high-paying job that gave me the luxury of leaving the workforce. On the contrary, at the age of 42 I suffered a ruptured aneurysm that was followed by a series of other major medical calamities that many people don’t survive. Eventually, I learned that I was born with a rare disease called vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. My working days were over. I like to say I was “medically retired” – like an athlete or Green Beret.
Being a stay-at-home dad didn’t rob me of my sense of purpose. Everything was going fine. I made lunches, served on the PTA board, went on field trips, and happily chauffeured our two children like they were young dignitaries. Then came the pandemic.
There’s a big difference between being a stay-at-home parent – with the kids at school for six hours a day – and being a homeschooling parent, responsible for producing a full day of high quality entertainment. But the pandemic suddenly put millions of parents in the homeschooling arena. In reality, what most of us called “homeschooling” involved interacting with the online version of the schools that our children were already attending. We all know that it wasn’t great. But what our schools in Pinellas County rolled out was pretty amazing when you consider that it was thrown together in less than two weeks. They did a commendable job.
Florida had all summer to kick COVID to the curb and be ready to open schools in August. But with our statistics teetering between fair and unstable, Florida decided to start licking door knobs – metaphorically speaking.
It didn’t have to be this way, but here we are. At least we don’t need “back to school” clothes.
Heading into 2020-2021, Pinellas County Schools put out three choices to families. A.) Attend school in person. B.) Enroll in myPCS online school, receive local instruction on the internet on the school’s schedule, and (importantly for magnet school families) keep your spot in your current school. C.) Enroll in the Florida virtual school, not affiliated with our county schools.
We chose D, none of the above. I have a rare disease so we can’t risk sending our kids to school. I’m at high risk without a pandemic. And after our experience in the spring, there was no way that we could expect our kids to conduct six hours of online schooling every day. Sure, they’re capable of watching YouTube for 36 hours without food, but 90 minutes of math and reading seems to be their limit. I understand that online schooling offers much-desired “structure” and more teacher interaction, but it just wouldn’t work for us – not technologically or temperamentally. I don’t blame the district. They had to address the needs of the most students, with the resources they have. I forgive them for not having an option that catered to parents who choose to homeshool.
Ultimately, if we’re going to be doing all the teaching ourselves, we’re going to pick the material. And I mean “we” because my wife, the executive director of a local nonprofit, is going to be helping. She chose the fun subjects, like history and social studies. But I get to teach a new course, Dystopian Non-fiction, where we read the daily newspaper. I acknowledge that our choice is rooted in the privilege that comes with our financial security and flexibility. But believe me, I’d trade my flexible schedule for DNA with a better warranty.
So now we’re waiting on a popular homeschooling curriculum – that is backordered – and imagining the rich bonding experience we’re about to have teaching 2nd and 5th grade.
As I contemplate the first day of school, I also imagine an alternate universe, where a brilliant businessman named Trump seizes the opportunity to sell MAGA masks. Suddenly, instead of freaking out over the loss of liberty, 100 million Americans go out and buy red masks designed by Ivanka for $7 a pop. Trump pockets a half-billion dollars and COVID doesn’t gain a foothold. We could have fought over red mask / blue mask instead of no mask / yes mask. And maybe another 100,000 people would be alive to tell about it.
But we don’t live in that universe. So I’m homeschooling.
Jon Kile is a stay-at-home dad, writer and amateur homeschool teacher, in St. Petersburg. He and his wife Monica, a nonprofit consultant and marathoner, have a habit of loading their two kids into their RV and disappearing down the backroads of America. After a series of major medical emergencies in 2016 he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, in which his fragile arteries are prone to spontaneous rupture. Jon has adjusted his lifestyle while finding inner peace and humor against the backdrop of raising two feral children. Together, they’ve determined to “live in the moment.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dontmakemeturnthisvanaround.com.