An Education in MisAttunement

Lesley Glenner

Below is my raw, unedited journal entry that I wrote to help me process the feelings that came up for me during my son’s first day of remote learning. At the time, the feelings were ungrounded, coarse, and unrefined. In the time that has passed, I have found ground and coherence, but continue to seriously struggle with some deeper questions around the integrity, meaning, and efficacy around online learning for my kindergartener. As a fellow traveller, I’m deeply craving meaningful conversation with parents for sense-making around this issue we are all interfacing with in our own ways. Cheers to the beautiful messiness of the process. 

What I didn’t expect during online learning with my kid: An Education in Mis-Attunement

 

Today our 5 year old had his very first day of fully remote public school. In his half decade on this planet he has always received high-touch childcare, whether it be through us — his parents — or an au pair, a small in-home Montessori-inspired childcare, or a nature-heavy Waldorf preschool. As a therapist, my number one priority and value has been to see to it that our son receives adequate social-emotional development in his early years and more precisely that he gets the opportunity to receive the most valuable relational foundation: Attunement.

Attunement is a fancy word for the extremely natural experience of “feeling felt” by another. More simply, it’s Love in action. This quality of feeling known is more than soothing for humans, it’s life-preserving. Children and animals can literally die (failure to thrive) in the sustained absence of love. (Read more in my blog: On Attunement.)

So, imagine my heartache when, after a 2 hour zoom call on the first day of kindergarten in 2020, I realized that the thing that felt so ‘off’ was precisely that.

Let me set the scene for you:


Its 8:37am and my son is nervous and anticipatory for his first day of school.

He’s rocking back and forth in the wooden kitchen chair at the dining table that is now his ‘office’. His hair is brushed, which is rare these days (can you say feral summer?) and he’s wearing an adorable short-sleeve hipster white and black button down collared shirt. He’s had a wholesome breakfast of scrambled eggs, Colorado peaches and peanut butter toast. He’s so loved and surrounded by his favorite stuffies who joined him as his classmates for his big first day and he is all set.

 

At 8:40 we login and to the Zoom Room.

We arrive in the e-class and a song is playing, its a song he knows and he cheerfully sings along. I say, “do you know this song?! That’s so coo!”,  and he smiles his warm smile. Its hard to see the teacher, she’s sharing her screen and in the small iPad screen is difficult to find the gallery view right away. The other kids are logging on and the chime sounds with each entry. Nobody is on mute and the chaos feels stimulating but already a bit chaotic and I check my watch. 8:41am. The teacher begins by announcing that some kids names are not showing up under their video and so she don’t know if they are ‘safe to be here’. Parents fumble to try to correct the issue. One logs out and seems to never log back in.

After about 4 minutes of tech troubleshooting the teacher begins by asking the children to think of some good class rules.

My son looks up at me and says, “sharing is a good rule, right Mom?” “Right, Sweetie, that’s an important one.”  He smiles into the camera and says with gusto, “sharing!”. But he’s been muted and nobody can hear him. He looks at me, I return his gaze and smile and shrug.

The teacher is calling on kids one by one by pulling popsicle sticks from a cup with names and asking them to unmute themselves before talking. They don’t know what mute means and their parents or caregivers are reaching over and un-muting and then sometimes remembering to mute again after their kindergartner has shared a suggestion for a class rule. This takes about 15 minutes. Jude’s name is not on a popsicle stick and I type into the chat box that Jude is present. To make sure she doesn’t skip him I tap the icon to ‘raise hand’. She calls on Jude and he answers cheerfully, “I think sharing is a good rule!” She gives him her attention and asks him if he has siblings at home. “I will!” he announces proudly. She says, “oh good! Then I’m sure you’ll be great at sharing with your baby brother or sister”. She smiles warmly. He tries to respond but has already been muted. I smile at him and silently mouth the words, “good job”.

 

They write their names, Jude doesn’t know yet if he is righty or lefty.

He gets frustrated. The teacher reads Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, he laughs when all the letters tumble out of the coconut tree. Its been nearly 45 minutes and now they are drawing a face. Jude raises his hand but the teacher doesn’t notice. I decide not to hit the ‘rise hand’ button this time. This is the fourth or fifth time that Jude has tried to engage but been unintentionally ignored.  Jude’s mood wanes. His face clouds over. My heart sinks and I rub his back. He is done and wants to leave the table.

It’s 9:42.

I tell him he can’t leave. He slithers off his chair onto the floor and starts making sad doggy noises.

I gently coach him back into his seat and he fights back tears. I rub his back again and tell him he’s doing great and it won’t be too much longer. The class is still drawing. Jude puts his chin on the table, then has an idea. He gets his stuffed animal from the chair beside him, a white mouse puppet and cheerfully squeaks it in front of the screen. No response. He stops squeaking but continues bouncing the mouse in front of the screen. No response. I say to him, Judey, it’s not time for sharing. He puts down the mouse and puts his chin back on the table. 

The next hour continues in the same vein. But Jude stops trying. I make a few jokes and he perks up, smiling his world-stopping smile.

It’s 10:15 and my own body feels restless.

I’m feeling done. My legs want to stretch and my eyes need a break but I don’t dare leave Jude, we are in this together. Jude slithers off his chair again and starts to wrestle with the dog. I call my back. He starts to complain. At some point the teacher acknowledges that it seems like everyone is getting tired and that we’d do the goodbye song next but first another 15 minutes of orientation to the Seesaw application for later assignments. Jude is beyond done. I am beyond done. I keep my mood light in support of Jude. At 10:40 the call ends.

By 10:42 Jude and I are outside and walking to the park.

We both need to ground and regroup in the fresh air. We hold hands as we walk to the park and I ask him how he liked school. “Not *so* good,” he says.

At the park I feel restless and sad. I have a heaviness in my chest and when my husband calls to ask how it went I burst into tears. I cry again when my mother calls to ask how it went.  I justify my watery ways by reminding myself that I am just so empathic and overly sensitive to these sorts of things but know that’s not the real reason.

By the time my husband gets home its lunchtime.

I announce to him that I am not able to really be an adult after this morning and he gives me a hug. He asks Jude how school was and Jude bursts into tears. “Nobody listened to me and everybody interrupts me!” he wailed. “Nobody wanted to hear my words and I didnt get to talk!” he wails some more. My husband holds him while he cries and I cry from the safe distance of the kitchen sink. 

————-

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I felt irritable and overwhelmed and just bothered overall. I felt I needed a shower or a walk or a drink or a scream. I prepared Jude’s lunch and let myself simmer.

After the afternoon session my husband and I had a moment alone. He asked how I was feeling and let it all come out. What came out was initially a jumbled mess of complaints and sadnesses… but next I blurted, “He didn’t learn anything today except mis-attunement!” With those words a lightbulb went on.

Jude had experienced no less than 8 missed moments in 2 hours, none of them acknowledged, none of them repaired.

I’m not saying that the teacher is to blame. I’m sure she was overwhelmed and overstimulated herself having to teach 15 5-year olds by video.  I am not saying is that this format is inappropriate for our 5 year olds but 2 hours is above a 5 year olds capacity to pay attention. I’m sure the first day is not a good indicator of how the year will go. I’m sure my own dashed hopes of what kindergarten should look like is coloring my experience. I’m sure I could lean harder into trusting the resilience of our kids. BUT right now this is just really heard amd I’ll spend the day helping my son to metabolize those myriad misses so he can show up fresh tomorrow.

Lesley’s Longmont private therapy practice is centered on conscious parenting.

The greatest dedication in my life is to my child, Jude, who enters kindergarten this year. Additionally, after 9 years in private practice seeing both couples and individuals struggle with wounds from their own parenting and issues around raising their own children, I’ve found that helping clients to parent in a more conscious and securely attached manner absolutely lights me up. Following the thread of what is most alive in my personal and professional lives helped me crystalize the idea to introduce conscious parenting as the focus of my practice. ~ Lesley Glenner

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