Margo virtually learning at home

My tough, Irish Grandmother would overcook unseasoned chicken to a tasteless pulp. Because to her, anything beyond necessity was frivolous. Overcooked because she’d get bored and start at 2 p.m. Virtual education is reminiscent of the times Nan would boil a head of broccoli into compost. For most kids, seeing friends is the seasoning that makes school palatable and this plain chicken diet is wearing them out. The promise of vaccination in the coming months is fantastic but the anxiety and stress is here right now.

Elliott and Margo survived first semester, I guess. Admittedly, the goal in our household was just that – survival, both literally and figuratively. We set the performance bar low enough to trip over, and at times we did. Teachers have never worked harder or under any more adverse circumstances so I cannot imagine how painful it must be writing emails like, “I’d really like to see Johnny engage a little more in class…”  Not that we’ve gotten that email – we don’t have any kids named Johnny.

Kristen bore the brunt of it. While I have to go into my shop each day, she has been juggling her profession with the needs and wants of housebound kids and two dogs. She thrived going into work prior to the pandemic. She had a beautiful office overlooking Centennial Park and enjoyed a great workplace camaraderie. Now she pulls pocket doors closed, a modicum of privacy for her own meetings before preparing lunchtime mac ‘n’ cheese for slack-jawed children. Perhaps the most interesting thing her home office overlooks is the puppy humping a pillow.

City Schools of Decatur announced K-5 students (Margo) have the choice to remain virtual or return to in-person learning on Jan. 19. It is only four hours a day with specials still taken from home but when drowning you don’t question the quality of the rope thrown.

Unfortunately, middle school (Elliott) and high school will remain completely virtual for the time being. And they are doing away with “Wellness Wednesday” which for my kid has been Rip Van Winkle Wednesday and his favorite day of the week.

I would be exhausted by all the virtual engagement too. A college friend posted on LinkedIn: “Join Cognizant and Nuxeo for a webinar on Cloud, AI, Low-Code and Modern Content Management: trends that are transforming businesses during the pandemic.” All I could think was—do I HAVE to? I mean, maybe I should since I barely know what any of those words mean but honestly, I’d rather sweep the showroom floor. What I love about the handmade rug business is that it is old fashioned, tangible. A beautiful, durable good is sold by one helpful person to another happy person. But 2020 turned my small business upside-down too and now it seems I need a guy named Nuxeo to tell me what to do about it.

Maybe a silver lining here is that the kids will become even more adept at technology than they already are. If that’s where the world is heading, they might as well have the skills. I could use the help convincing Captcha that I am not a robot. I think I’ve clicked on every traffic light but one of them is sort of in two squares at once, you know? Or the letters and numbers are offered through some Salvador Dali filter and I can’t figure out if its’ a capital G or a melting 6.

But I digress. Just like 2020 was a total digression, an unconventional education. Nan knew plenty of hard times over her long life – she was Elliott’s age when the Spanish flu hit in 1918. I wish I could ask her about it. Maybe in some way her cooking helped prepare us for these hurdles. Nothing could be more virtual than Irish wisdom from the grave. Plain chicken is still chicken, and something to be thankful for.

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at