June 1st, 2020
I must admit that when the prospect of having to educate my children from home became a reality, my immediate reaction was extremely enthusiastic. This, I believed, was my chance to really REALLY teach my kids something.
History, French, Kiswahili, Maths, Science, these were all going to be so easy! In my dream, our kids would suddenly rise to the top of the leader boards, and be so far ahead of the year groups. It would be mere days before The Banda School would be recruiting my services to ensure that ALL students would be passing their 'Key Stage 3' (what is that?) with flying colours.
The morning of the first day of school was nothing short of a nightmare, and the most painful and humiliating reality check I have ever had.
I got the kids up as if it were regular school; the standard operating procedure of feeding them, dressing, teeth-brushing etc. went without a hitch. Books, pencil cases, laptops, whiteboards (make sure there is a superb background so that my children could be the envy of everyone) and then - on your marks - get set……………GO!
It suddenly became apparent that I had spent far too much time smoking with my buddies behind the mandatory bike shed, with my hitched up skirt, gothic makeup and laddered tights, than I had on any of my core subjects.
Frankly, I do not believe that knowing the properties of an Isosceles triangle will help in later life. The lack of such information hasn't affected me in any way. Unfortunately, having convinced my children for all these years that I was the fountain of all knowledge, the perfectly-behaved student and the highly-educated article, by break-time my cover was blown!
It became very apparent to them that I was an Idol with Feet of Clay, not nearly as perfect as they had been led to believe. It now also dawned on me that I had not appreciated my teachers very much at all. This was perhaps why I was now an expert on New World wines and how to change a tyre of a 4-tonne Landcruiser. Of course, this didn't have much relevance in this world of learning - It certainly wasn't going to cut it with the kids.
Discretion being the better part of valour I suddenly realised that I was needed urgently in the lodge kitchens. This, just as I heard Mr Swift - my son's history teacher - tell my son William that he was going to have to 'mute' William because of the 'interesting background language' which he felt was inappropriate for this lesson!
And there it was - Hero to Zero in less than a 45-minutes!
In the security of the kitchen, I considered what had just happened. Not only were we as a family and a business fighting some invisible virus, but now for 5 days a week, I would be scrutinised by not only my children's teachers but their entire class! I had to be better. I had to get out of my pyjamas and actually dress up, just in case I had to 'intervene' with a computer malfunction. God forbid that the Year 7's (or their parents) see me without my make up on, let alone the exceptional teachers who my children hold in such high regard. Tomorrow would be a better day.
Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I went to the infamous 'snake room' which also doubled up as a store, to see if I could dig through my A level archives. I hit the jackpot, and by midnight I was fully versed on the 100 Years War and the different parts of a plant's anatomy. Tomorrow I would be SO ready for the science and history lesson, they won't know what hit them!
Days melted into weeks, and my daily routine was no different from the above, peppered with the regular terrorist assaults by my 15-month-old 'strawberry blond' monster. Her aims and ambitions seem to be unplugging all electric appliances and also shrieking for food at the most inconvenient times. Another intellectual giant in the making.
I was living in a madhouse - surrounded by 'screen junkies' who were ruled by this midget demon who has now appeared in classrooms all over the world (a number of my children's classmates and teachers were stuck in different countries in lockdowns). She is often seen hanging off her siblings by the hair, demanding to be heard at the very least and hopefully fed 'big-dicks' (biscuits)....again. Any illusion that anyone had of our household being an orderly, calm oasis of peaceful industry is now shattered.
The entire Banda school has been in my dining room since April, and I must admit that to start with I did not enjoy it. From 8:30 in the morning until past 12 I had to hold my tongue and act as the perfect combination of mother and businesswoman, a role model for all to behold.
But as May 2020 rolled away, I find that I am now more comfortable within this chaos, listening with humble gratitude to these fantastic teachers dealing with all children in their various classes. They are so calm and so patient, and they have been a shining beacon over what has been, for the lodge and me, a very trying month indeed.
Surprisingly, I have found myself really looking forward to The Banda assemblies, listening to the wise, strong words of our very own 'Churchill' in Ali Francombe (without the hat, pipe and whisky!). In the mornings with my cup of tea, I too sit down at my screen as my children sit at theirs. And I find myself 'joining in '...and suddenly I am a child again - all the worries and anxieties of this difficulty of the world melt away.
Not all of them, however: on another note, I am quite worried about the end of year exams which we have now just been sent an email on the subject.......I don't think I am quite ready for exams yet!
Despite getting into a routine and a pattern of life which is becoming increasingly "normal", I have had one or two moments which I would rather forget:
In our home, mornings have developed into a routine. Baby wakes up and I giver her the feed and put the kettle on. Within minutes, William, Nettie and I, along with Alex, sit back and plough through another episode of 'ZingZillas and the Teletubbies'. (On an aside, I must admit, if someone told me 9 years ago that I would be watching this all over again I would never have believed it.) William, with his Earl Grey – yep! - thank you, COVID! - and me with my 'Chai', scrolling through the latest COVID figures throughout the world.
We have this one hour lull before it all kicks off with the 'ready steady go' of school. Earlier this week, I parked the kids up in front of their screens and went out, clearing up the bomb-site that is normal in every household with children in the morning. Anthony and I had been celebrating his birthday the night before. I decided at that point (my son was in a lesson) to go and tidy up the verandah which had accumulated a few empty beer bottles during the evening.
As I drifted past my son's screen, I leaned over without thinking and checked it to see what lesson this was, and who was in class. A dozen pairs of curious eyes stared back at me, and I suddenly became aware that I was still in my pyjamas and clutching an armful of beer bottles. To my absolute horror, the entire class could see me, still wearing pyjamas and carrying beer bottles at 8:30 in the morning! I shudder when I consider the impression I must have created, so if anyone is reading this who was IN that lesson, please know that I was clearing up from the night before, and not just getting started!
On a serious note, though, it has actually been such a pleasure having all these different teachers in my home over the last few weeks. This phenomenon that we are now all a part of will teach us all so many things. But one thing that I will never forget is the comfort I have felt from having these amazing people in my home, on time every day without fail. To give my children (and me) both vital education and a sense of life continuing as per usual.
Living as we do, in the middle of a wilderness which is Nairobi National Park, I do live in something of a bubble, so this new 'normal 'is not something that I am yet quite accustomed to. So thank you, all you wonderful teachers (and IT Staff Isaac!), for the efforts you have all made to retrain for online teaching, and for making it all seem, in such a short time, a perfectly 'normal' process.