Backscatter | Tonya Abari
Ooooooh, girl. I don’t know how y’all parents of small children are managing all this right now. Work. Homeschooling. Loving on your boo. All your creative endeavors. There isn’t enough time in the day! Hell, I’m super stressed juggling the full-time job and two side hustles I’ve got going. My teenagers? Oh, they handle school and the chores without me having to do too much. You’ll see. Ain’t nothin’ like this independent stage. Tuh! I know one thing. I am glad as fuck that mine are older! I couldn’t imagine chasing forty and some little ass kids. If you need anything, just let me know. I’m here for you, but I’m super busy during the week so if I don’t answer, just leave me a message.
I’m so sorry, babe, but I can’t have open-door meetings. I just can’t. You do want me to keep my job, right? I’m the only one on the team with a child, so it’s probably best that I save the FFCRA until we really need it. There are a lot of coworkers who depend on my expertise, so I can’t just dip. Unless it’s a real emergency. If you need to write, you know the deal. Early, early mornings or late, late nights. I understand that waking up at 3am or staying up past midnight isn’t ideal—especially with your migraines—but it is what it is. We can argue about not having any help all day and it still won’t bring any help. But, my job? That’s non-negotiable. Your work is so ‘freelance-y’ and it can’t sustain the household. I’m happy to switch places with you, though. As soon as this debt is gone.
Attention: Are you stuck facilitating virtual school or homeschooling during the pandemic? Did you try transferring your children to private school, but their rosters are all filled up? If this sounds familiar, then join our neighborhood learning pod! For parents with students ages 5-12, we plan to meet three times per week near the playground on Central Pike. For the sanity of our parents, we have hired a few tutors to teach the core subjects (english/reading, math, and science). The cost of the weekly pod is $150 for each family. These fees cover tutors, daily lunch, and learning supplies for our students. After each group lesson, families will designate one hour at the end of the pod for lunch and socially-distanced fun at the playground. *Please note this is not a drop-off program. Parents must remain at the meeting site. Come one, come all!
Make no bones about it! They’re “homeschooling” because of the coronavirus pandemic and we’re homeschooling because of the racial pandemic. I don’t see this as a loss. Now is the time to bring our children back to us by making African-centered education a top priority, sis. There are resources out there for us to teach what they aren’t teaching in the schools. You know. You were a classroom teacher before. Our babies aren’t learning our history. So even if you plan to send your kids back to school, now is the time to really examine what they’re studying. Let’s bring our children back to us.
Hi, there! I’m so sorry. We don’t offer family leave protection during the pandemic for part-time staff. If you are currently having difficulties meeting the demands of the position, we would like to suggest an unpaid leave of absence through the second half of the year. Take all the time you need. Hopefully, we’ll be here for you on the other side of this. It’s a shame we can’t offer more support to our part-time employees. We do truly value your work, but it’s tough for everyone right now.
Listen. I have no clue what I’m doing! And I don’t trust myself to give knowledge. I’m worried that he’ll go into second grade next year not knowing how to read, write, or spell—and that could set him back an entire lifetime.
You don’t pick up your phone anymore, huh? It’s been crazy with all this pandemic stuff going on…and all these murders. And you should see the news here in Baldamore. It’s something happening every hour of the day! You know, you really should make more of an effort to reach out to us. Check on us. Make sure we’re doing OK. How’s your family doing? We wish we could do more to help, but y’all are the ones who decided to move ten hours away. Not us. And ain’t nobody really helping us either. If you lived here, we could probably watch the little one a few days a month so you can get something done. We miss you. But like I said, there’s no one helping us with our bills like that. Some days are hard on my body, but I still try and get out. We are all struggling and it’s not just you. We gotta just do the best we can to survive, ya know. Have you talked to your brother? No?!? It’s been a whole year! Well, okay. Let me say hello to the little one.
Mommy, why can’t I see my friends?
Lots and lots of people are getting really sick. I hope they are gonna be okay! I have a doctor’s kit. Is there anything I can do to help?
That’s not the way to do it! Ms. Tirra said you have to listen to the drums. Like really listen and move your feet when the beat changes.
When can I go to the playground again, Mommy?
So…there are people who might treat us bad because our skin is brown? But me, you, and Daddy…we’re really nice.
Are you gonna be my only teacher this year?
Mommy, I hate COVID 19!
Ooooooh, girl. I don’t recall inquiring about help, but this is why I never ask anyway. How you just gon offer up conditional assistance? Hmph! Call me, but leave a voicemail. I’m available, but not really. Why are we comparing struggles right now? That’s not how empathy works. And I don’t give a fuck that your kids are older. Good…for…you! I’m almost 40 with a five-year-old. This is true. But while you had yours, I was still praying for mine. 2020 is a roller coaster of a chapter. But I don’t want to be anywhere else than here. Well, maybe on a deserted island with my toes in the sand and a margarita in hand.
Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine. Your job is not more important than mine.
Stuck? With an option to transfer students to private school during a global pandemic. This flyer reeks of privilege—the silver-spoon-in-your-mouth-white-kind, too. New micro learning pods popping up all over the place sound a lot like homeschool cooperatives with a price tag. It says all are welcome, but we know that’s not true. What if we can’t afford $150 a week? And parents who work full time and have no choice…they obviously can’t remain on site. I wonder what types of lessons tutors will be teaching in the pods? Anyone teaching about Ida B. or Emmit Till? I’ll wait.
“In America, people of African descent are caught between a hurricane and a volcano when it comes to the acquisition of life-giving and life-sustaining knowledge.” – Haki R. Madhubuti, from African-Centered Education: Its Value, Importance, and Necessity in the Development of Black Children
You definitely make valid points. We participated in a cooperative last year and I had all the feels! Children as young as four were composting soil and learning Black history that I didn’t grasp until adulthood. It was a beautiful experience. But I’m not gonna lie. I struggle right now with the idea of homeschooling. Some days can be emotionally taxing. And I often wonder when and if I’m ever going to get a break. But on the contrary, this is an opportunity for unfiltered learning to take place. We are steering the ship with unapologetic Blackness at the helm. Let’s bring our children back to us.
Thank you for the three amazing years as a part-time employee with the company. However, at this time I am unable to strike a balance between simultaneously working from home while schooling a young child and tending to other obligations. I love this gig, but it’s just not going to work out.
You got this! The best thing that you can do for yourself and your child right now is to allow yourself plenty of grace. Heck, institute a gap year if you need to. You’ll still be learning! The focus will be on emotional coping, rather than academics. With everything that’s going on right now, you need to breathe and love up on each other every day. The core subjects are going to occur in context. Cooking with your son equals science and math. Reading for twenty minutes before bedtime builds literacy. Going on a daily nature walk in the morning before work is physical activity and meditation. We must change the narrative of what we think it means for our children to “be behind”. We are comparing our children’s progress to institutional standards that weren’t ever meant to be inclusive of all children anyway. Everything you need to help your son thrive is located inside your home. You got this!
I don’t pick up my phone anymore because I need to protect my energy. Boundaries are what’s keeping my own mental health in check. I certainly can’t help anyone else if I’m a hot mess, right? I’ve always been the strong one. The independent one. The reliable one. And after repeatedly checking on others day in and day out, I guess my reward is struggling through a pandemic in solitude. Watching these atrocities unfold in real time online and constantly worrying about the spread of this thing has been painful enough. Listening to more stories of suffering on the other end of the phone is just too much. Distance is a revealing muthafucka. I am no longer the village glue. I know now that I’d rather love from afar. I’d also rather keep my phone on airplane mode.
Uh huh, absolutely. I know…it’s terrible. Hold on, let me put her on the phone…
How do I let her know that everything will be okay?
It won’t be long before you can see your friends again, baby. If we stay safe and practice social distancing, we’ll be back into the swings of things before you know it. And I may not be the best dancer, like Ms. Tirra, but we’re having so much fun learning these moves together, right? You may not realize it now, but you’ll appreciate this when you’re older.
How do I explain systemic racism to a first grader?
I am your first and best teacher. We will read, learn, and explore! The joy. The pain. The innovation. The history. I won’t depend on anyone outside of this house to help you cultivate feelings of belongingness. Education is your birthright. I have a great deal of unlearning and relearning to do, but we will get through this together. We love you, baby. We will get through all this together. I promise.
Tonya Abari (she/her/hers) is a former teacher turned multigenre writer and book reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Her intersectional writing, book musings, and author interviews can be found in Good Housekeeping, Romper, The Writer Magazine, AARP’s Sisters Letter, Womanly Magazine, The Rumpus, and ZORA. Abari is a 2020 SCBWI New Voices in Nonfiction awardee as well as a 2020 Hurston Wright Foundation Writers Week participant in creative nonfiction. She is hard at work on a series of essays as well as several children’s book projects. Tonya can be found online or hanging out on Instagram.
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