I loved playing video games while growing up, but my dad was never into them. Instead we would usually play board games like checkers or backgammon together . On occasion, when we would visit relatives in Queens, N.Y., we’d break out group games like Monopoly and Trouble. One fateful evening when I was around 10 or 11 years old, we played a very memorable round of the block tower building game, Jenga.
Jenga can be just as riveting to observe as it is to play: Watching others carefully choose the right or wrong block and edge toward a rousing victory or an embarrassing defeat that ends in pile of rectangular-shaped rubble. During one game, my dad’s turn came up and there were not many moves he could make without the entire tower tumbling over. After about a minute of intense contemplation, he finally picked his block. He carefully removed it from the middle of the stack, and placed it on the top of the tower, which swayed, but did not fall. Feeling victorious, he gave himself a high five (yes, that happened) and walked away to bask in his glory while the next player tempted fate on the wobbling structure. The problem was, my dad’s foot accidentally caught the leg of the table. He shook it just enough to knock the entire tower over, despite all the hard work he had put into making the right move. We all roared with laughter as he cried out at his premature celebration.
Why this childhood story? Well, if you have ever played Jenga, you know set up can be the key to a good game. If you set up the blocks nice and straight the game can go on for a very long time with proper moves and strategy. Set them up misaligned and uneven, the tower will fall after only a few rounds. But no matter what you do, no matter how well you plan, you cannot prepare for a stray foot that takes down the tower.
With school starting or already in session during this COVID-19 pandemic, it feels we are living out the worst game of Jenga.
Some of us live in areas going above and beyond to keep kids and teachers safe; others are in places doing the bare minimum and asking parents to just trust them. As parents, we need to be prepared for the foot that kicks the table no matter what method of schooling our children receiving. Every day will bring new challenges and crisis, and I believe we can do some essential things that will get us through this with our wits intact and our kids engaged and educated.
A key to surviving, mentally and physically, during this epidemic relies on supporting one another. Checking in with other parents and guardians regularly, even the parents who appear to be breezing through this experience — more than likely, they are struggling like you are. People are already worried about what option works best for their own situation, and once school is fully in session and parents are balancing remote learning and having a full-time job, the stress and anxiety levels will likely increase.
This situation sucks for everyone. Parents and guardians are overwhelmed. Our kids are losing out on valuable education and the social interaction that is a key part of the learning process. However, I think the only way we get through this is by being being honest and transparent with one another. If you need help, ask for it. If you see someone else needing help, offer it or suggest resources they might find helpful.
The first few weeks into quarantine/lockdown, I realized my five years of being a stay-at-home dad gave me an advantage not all parents have. I did not have to balance working from home for an employer and getting my kids to sit through hours of Zoom video calls like others did. I already had experience teaching my kids basic lessons and doing fun activities to keep them occupied throughout the day. But as tough as this fall will be for all of us, this is really our second time going through it. That means many of us have developed a new set of skills that can help us this time around. We learned what works well with our kids and what doesn’t. If we learn from those successes and failures, this autumn will hopefully be less traumatic than spring.
Be a friend
If you know someone needs access to WiFi, see if you can make yours available to them. Have a few extra math or grammar workbooks that might help a student understand their homework better? Offer them up! A small gesture can make a big difference and we can’t assume people have access to all the materials they need.
Every day until this crisis is behind us, we will be presented with new challenges: changes in weather, the flu, and — unfortunately — more deaths of people we know and don’t know. We all need to try our best to be flexible and adaptable. Schools are going to open, and many are going to close almost as quickly if students and teachers alike come back positive for coronavirus. It has already started to happen, and nothing about this virus indicates that will change anytime soon.
But just like in Jenga, with proper planning we can be prepared for the collapse we know is coming. We just have to learn from our mistakes and the moves we made so we can repair this fragile tower and rebuild it better than ever before. Even if a foot comes out of nowhere to rock our foundation, we will stand firm and strong and come out heartily laughing when this comes to an end and we neatly place the game back in the box.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vernon D. Gibbs II is a stay-at-home dad living in New Jersey with his wife and three children. He has an architecture degree from Columbia University, and had worked for a variety of companies including the NBA and his alma mater. Gibbs writes for Families of Multiples, The Good Men Project and his own blog, Cool Minivan Dad, and was published in the Washington Post. He is an unhappy Giants fan, a weary Knicks fan and chooses Marvel over DC any day of the week.