Today my kids start a sort of new school year, we’re calling it Year 3/5 and three quarters. It’s been 107 days to be exact since they last arrived at the school gates. For the past seven months, they have had a mere three weeks of physical school attendance. Most of their school education for 2020 has been online, on their physical own, interacting with teachers and peers via a two dimensional screen.

It’s been a helluva bumpy ride, with many bruises and dents along the way. But they have held on tight and through sheer determination (theirs,  school teachers and of course their parents!), no-one has let go.

This was the school year of more melt downs than the days of the terrible twos. It was the year of wearing ugg boots for home school lessons and playing online games in a digital playground with their friends on the other side of a screen. There have been many new lessons along the way. My kids have learned the joy of a fresh hot toastie for home school lunch. The luxury of an extra sleep-in when there is no need to factor in time to get to school. They have become experts at working out how to fix the internet when the wifi goes a bit wonky, and the importance of having the mute button on if you don’t want the whole class to hear you singing to yourself! They have walked the dog more than ever before and given the trampoline the workout of its life. They have learned that routine in one’s day to day life is essential for mental health and that getting outside every single day is a non negotiable no matter what.

My children have learned how to adapt to school sports lessons that involved games with no physical opponents. They have excelled in creative ways that would never have been presented to them in a pre-covid school environment, like searching for cactus plants in their local neighbourhood to use for garden lessons, choosing pantry objects for a still life drawing in art class and finding maths patterns in everyday home life. They have been fortunate to have the most incredible cohort of dedicated teachers who have fostered an environment for online learning (both academic and emotional) that has ensured these kids have excelled and thrived, no matter the situation.

My kids have learned that the kitchen pantry is not open 24/7 and recess and lunch is the only time when food will be served. They have been involved in creating their own exercise goals with weekly take away treats at the end. They have watched the daily news and contributed to family discussions about the pandemic, and in doing so have developed their critical thinking skills to decide what they agree with or don’t, and how to interpret media with a big dose of scepticism. They have gained acceptance of the nature of a democratic society in which they live;  where one has to abide by the rules, even if you don’t always agree with them.

They have discovered ways to meet up with friends, both online and offline, playing video games, neighbourhood walks within a 5km zone and bike rides at the park, even online zoom birthday parties! They have kept up practising their dancing and basketball and footy, often having to motivate themselves to put aside the feelings of never-ending ground hog day and the unanswered question of when will they get to perform on stage or play a match against another team.

These kids have learned the most essential life skill of dealing with disappointment. They are old enough to understand the world around them and we have not hid the truth from them. They have learned to accept the uncertainty of life as we now know it. They have resigned themselves over and over again to ongoing restrictions on their childhood freedom and the abyss of the unknown ahead with no firm end in sight.  And every Shabbat when we take part in our family tradition of donating a coin to tzedakkah and expressing what we are grateful for, they have empathised with others who have suffered so much more during this time of COVID-19.

I have watched these kids grow up significantly in the space of a mere few months of their lives. They have learned the art of emotional balance. The ability to have self awareness to recognise and own their real feelings of anger, fear, disappointment, boredom and so much more. And this is where they have excelled. For they have learned to acknowledge these feelings and then decide what approach they want to take. And time and time again they have shown the resilience to move on. To embrace and live the mantra that life is 1% what happens to you and 99% what you choose to do about it. Don’t get me wrong. This has certainly not happened every day. There have been many days of complete apathy and listlessness and loss of hope. But ironically as the restrictions have dragged on these days have got less. For they have refined these newfound life skills and realised that no-one has taken away their ability to choose their own attitude. And this is where I have seen the magic happen. The days they go for long walks or bike rides with friends and when I kiss them good night they say “mummy, today has been a really good day”. The times we sit as family at lunchtime and chat about our days. The endless puzzles we have done and forgotten games we have played. The Netflix documentaries we have watched and new family rituals we have created.

I wish this pandemic had never happened, I mean who doesn’t! But it has, and I have witnessed a silver lining in the way my children have developed new-found life skills. They don’t know this now, but one day these habits of fortitude are going to serve them so well. For life ahead will throw many more curve balls their way. Their brains and minds have been moulded by this experience and will help them immensely with future challenges .

The house feels so much quieter this morning and I am already missing them terribly. But I am so bloody proud of what they have achieved during this exceptional year of their school of life.