Torn between celebrating the escape from home school prison, while suffering from Stockholm Syndrome!
Stockholm Syndrome always seemed a foreign concept to me, perhaps a concern only for the Swedes. But on the day of the Hong Kong Education Bureau’s announcement of schools reopening, I was surprised by the intensity with which I felt this European condition. For weeks I had fantasised about the day that schools would reopen and I would be released from Home School Prison. It would be greeted by claps of joy (mine), a clanging of cymbals (the children’s), and a ceremonious uncorking of champagne. My reaction to the end of homeschooling should have been as straightforward as an IKEA manual, but it turned out to be much more complicated (also like an IKEA manual!). The news of my imminent release this week produced a flood of tears and conflicting feelings of loss and sadness. Without realising it, I was exhibiting the classic symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome: I had developed a psychological alliance with my pint-sized captors.
Since my detainment in February, a strict house arrest routine went into effect. Morning duties started at 8am sharp, as the Little Prison Wardens assumed their posts. Older Sister called dibs on the kitchen table and the household’s only pair of functional earphones. Middle Brother commandeered the dining table because his papers grew wild and unruly, like weeds. Little Brother, a permanent draw for the short straw, was relegated to the playroom for his Zoom sessions. “He’s so loud,” complain his siblings, “we can’t concentrate.”
As the weeks wore on, my cell walls grew taller and more impenetrable as the homework piled on and I felt no choice but to stay at home. And teach. Teach honest-to-goodness school subjects stored away in the dusty recesses of my memory. I couldn’t even avoid abhorred Maths concepts I had somehow eluded in my primary school days. Life became a jumble of division and factions (excuse me, fractions!), regrouping and geometry.
“They are called right angles. Even the ones on the left. I don’t know why.”
“If it’s smaller than a right angle, then it’s a cuter angle, acute angle.”
“Obtuse? Look it up yourself!”
“Stop teasing your brother! He is not an obtuse angle.”
“Parallel lines have a lot in common. Too bad they will never meet… Not funny?”
Day in, day out, teaching continued to the familiar rhythm of the Pandemic Printer, spitting out worksheet after worksheet.
“A compound word is made up of two words together. Like basket – ball. All compound words with -ball refer to a sport. Which other examples can you think of?…No, eyeball is an exception…fishball is also an exception…There is no sport called Dragonballs. Slimeball is not a sport. Spitball?! That’s gross. Ok, perhaps not all -ball compound words refer to a sport.”
My captors and I settled into an agreeable routine, and as the months went by – February, March, April and now May – something peculiar happened within the walls of our confinement. Laughter was heard. Children danced, literally all the time (but I was reigning champion in our dance-off competitions!). The tunes were upbeat; less Folsom Blues and more Jailhouse Rock. The sweet aroma of baking emanated from the kitchen, perfuming the house with scents of cinnamon and honey granola and citrus blueberry muffins. We engaged in unending rounds of Blokus, Risk and Monopoly. And when all the real estate was bought and mortgaged and there was no money left in the bank, we nestled into beanbags to watch movies. On a weekday night! An event unthinkable even a few months ago. In jail, there are few competing obligations, and the indulgently relaxed pace of life was suddenly a precious gift. Eventually, even Little Brother found his internal volume dial and set it to “Below Shouting”. Life in confinement became, well, almost lovely.
For fellow parents who can relate to the bitter and sweet anecdotes above, and who will soon gain their (half-day of) freedom from Home School Prison, I propose we bear a few thoughts in mind as we watch the backs of Our Littles disappear beyond the gates as schools reopen in Hong Kong:
1. Trust The Teachers
It wasn’t until COVID-19 did I realise how little I washed my hands, and am now a disciple of brainwashing for handwashing. You have probably been impressing hygiene etiquette upon your children as well these last few months. As they return to campus, put your trust in the school administration that they will do their utmost to keep the classrooms clean, little faces masked, and the students socially distanced.
2. Separation Anxiety
Not theirs, but ours. Whether you work or don’t work, all parents uniformly spent more time with the kids during homeschooling and will see the kids less when they return to school. I sense for many parents there will be separation anxiety, and suggest you quickly and enthusiastically re-engage with the jobs, hobbies and volunteer activities you vaguely recall from a lifetime ago (read 2019). Allow yourself time to mentally pivot, it doesn’t happen overnight.
I learned a lot about my children’s academic strengths and gaps during this season of homeschooling. Consider summarising your observations about each child and passing on these opinions to the teachers as schools reopen. This may also be a way to gain closure on this season and move forward.
Voice your appreciation for this unusual time period. We have all experienced a mixed bag of frustration and joy, and now that it’s (half) over, let’s acknowledge the friends, family members and the community that helped us walk through this season. There were times when all I wanted was to rifle through the Monopoly box and find the Get Out of Jail Free card. But I am thankful I didn’t find it and duly served time with my Little Prison Wardens.