Expat Living reader SUNANDA VERMA reflects on her experiences of schooling at home.
So, it is a Thursday. The second last day of the school week; the second week of online schooling. The younger one has art next on the timetable. She must research a landscape artist from her home country and find three interesting things about the artist and their art.
She uses the study table in our bedroom. It’s big enough to keep her ‘really have to’ multicoloured sticky notes, hand-drawn rainbow-covered blue notebook, a huge fuchsia file, a transparent folder, an azure sleeve, pencil colours, markers, water bottle, pencil pouch and more.
The school decided to give students their ‘digital devices’ to take home for the term break, just in case they had to switch to home-based learning because of COVID-19. The first half of the term break was all excitement: 22 voices boomed alive as soon as a call was accepted. We had hamsters, siblings, chips, carrots, soft toys, slime, paintings, pups, kittens peering through screens. High-pitched squeals broke the silence that was getting louder as the virus lurked around us. Then, two days before school was to reopen, the Circuit Breaker was announced. The excitement of beginning a new term was diverted into discovering four daylong workable work areas at home.
Studying side by side
I worked in the study (as usual) for the first week. It became her most frequently visited spot. So, I decided to move in with her. I am now parked at the well-used kiddy table. Its top has aged beautifully, taking a hue of cream from years of extensive productive use. Playdough, pasta, pesto, pencils, paper, pudding have all been rolled and smeared on this table. Its legs are cobalt blue. The chair, a sunny yellow. The chair is meant for bottoms a third my size. Sitting on it ensures I move and reset every few minutes.
She has discovered an artist. A woman who has made paintings of many women, she tells me. Curiosity carries me to her table. Several windows are open on the screen. None of them have any element of landscape art. Women, girls, people fill those frames. “Landscape?” I ask. “Landscape,” she answers, arms lightly resting on her waist and a grin that follows accomplishment. “Are you sure this is landscape?” I ask. A strong inhalation and a stronger exhalation follow. She puts out her hands, one over the other and then takes them about 30 centimetres apart, vertically – “Portrait,” she says. Then she has her two palms facing each other, about 30 centimetres apart, horizontally – “Landscape,” she emphasises. A smirk escapes her lips; a laugh, mine.
Maths is becoming complicated, she sighs. It’s about vertices, edges, faces, cubes, cuboids and pyramids. The triangle cushion, lollipop jar, and 30-day challenge cube are all being put to good use. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking at things with a new eye.
I leave my sunny yellow spot for a bit. I see two cupcake moulds filled with pale aqua liquid, a black overused plastic stirrer, a worn-out white pipette, a pair of indigo purple swimming goggles and our fast depleting precious collection of hotel toiletries around the washbasin. “What’s happening in here?” I call out. “I am turning shampoo into soap,” she answers. “We can use it when we run out of soap.” Soap follows toilet paper, after all.
End of the day
School’s over. She and her friend (through kindergarten and now up to Grade 3) are playing a National Geographic Gemstone quiz . The video at both ends is on. She reads out the questions and her friend answers. “Where would you go if you won a free plane ticket?” she asks. “Where would you go?” asks her friend. “Hmm… South Africa.” “Okay, I’ll take that too.”
Her friend smiles through the video. “No, really, where would you go?” she asks again. “Okay, I’ll take Brazil. I think I’ve been there. It’s in Canada, right?” “Is it, really?” she turns towards me, a frown riding her forehead. “No, lah, it’s not! Brazil’s a country in South America,” I say. “Oh! never mind,” she says and turns back to the screen. Another few clicks and, “Hey, you are a diamond! A diamond!” she announces animatedly. Arms go up in jubilation. “Oh man! I’ll now have to live in a cave; no wait, a mine!” Giggle. Jiggle. Laughter. Joy.
For dessert we have a surprise. Reaching for it, I open the freezer door. Occupying centre stage are two cupcake moulds. “I put them in the freezer,” she says, “so the soap will be ready sooner. Just in case…”
Eyes light up at the sight of dessert. As if on cue, loose strumming of the ukulele spills into the room. Husband’s playlist is now on Israel Kamakawiwo’le’s ‘Over the Rainbow’.
We will get through this, unmasking every tiny hidden joy.
Sunanda writes on diversity and inspiration. She is also the author of the Namaste! Series books.
Here’s more information about living in Singapore.