"O woe is me! What will come of this day now?” My nine-year-old daughter made a dramatic entry into my room. I wondered if she had a headache or had suffered an injury. Or had the skies fallen suddenly? But no, it was the Wi-Fi. It had stopped working, cutting her off from her virtual class. Her teacher had been in the midst of discussing an important piece of homework, and she had missed it. “Now I won’t be able to do the assignment, then I will get a rap from the teacher tomorrow, and then I will have to finish two days worth of homework in one day, and…”
These what-if scenarios, generally triggered by Wi-Fi glitches, have played out regularly in our house over the past year. On some days, it feels like the network has become a key member of our lives—and we are learning to live with its mood swings.
In fact, “learning” and “coping” have almost become markers of the pandemic, not just for children but for parents like me as well. If the children were suddenly forced to grow up, facing challenges of virtual education and social isolation, it felt as if parents were forced to grow three extra pairs of hands. Suddenly, we were managing household chores and work deadlines while trying to compensate for the loss of peer groups in our children’s lives.
It has also been a year of realisations. For one, this “choice” of coping with the novel situation—in a manner that works for us—is a matter of great privilege. Not everyone has had this option, often struggling to come to terms with loss of myriad kinds through the year.
There have been personal revelations as well. I started the year as a tech-savvy person, or so I thought. This notion was shattered when my daughter started her online classes. In the early days, we would share the same laptop. After her classes, I would get the same device back, but only in name. Everything on it would have changed—the wallpaper, the size of the icons, the themes, everything. She discovered newer (and more efficient) ways of working with the gadget. It is safe to say that a year later, I feel as if I am at the bottom rung of the digital literacy ladder.
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Being cooped up at home 24x7 with each other has had its grating moments—the routine went for a toss. A child who would sleep at 9.30pm earlier was suddenly awake till midnight, at times reading. I would switch on the news and she would switch it off immediately, saying we had had enough covid-19 updates for the day. If I wanted to go for a walk (masked, of course), she would ask me to do 10 rounds inside the house.
Our mornings were filled with sounds—bird calls interspersed with sounds from virtual classes, “mute yourself”, “switch on your camera, children”.
But one year into this, we have managed to find some sort of balance. I am allowed to consume news on my phone, and she finishes up on her reading during the day, after school. She has learnt to like F.R.I.E.N.D.S., while I have grudgingly accepted that I will have to live with Frozen for the rest of my life (I can sing Let It Go in my sleep now).
Between endless deadlines and sheets of homework, between online classes and Zoom meetings, we have managed to find some moments of conversation and laughter, which might not have been possible when I had to go to a physical workplace. But there are still times when it gets overwhelming—this new way of living. A moment last week encapsulated it perfectly.
She finished class and I, a long article. Suddenly, both of us spoke up at the same time. “I am so exhausted,” we said, looked at each other, chimed “You too?” and burst into giggles. Finally, after one year, we were on the same page.