Homeschool was frustrating - but now I have Empty Home Office Syndrome

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Look, I'm not saying there was actual dancing in the street, but when we packed the kids off to full-time school again this week, after a thousand days and nights of lockdown, I may have celebrated with a kind of verbal jig - a garbled cross between "Woo hoo!" and "Free at last, free at last, Google Classroom almighty, free at last!"

And yet now, less than a week later, against both my will and my bold predictions, I am suffering from Empty Home Office Syndrome. For reasons I am struggling to explain, I actually miss having an eight-year-old girl interrupt my work day at least nine times an hour with the same, rote-repeated phrase:

"I need help, Daddy."

I don't know if you've ever had that nightmare where you find yourself back at school, horrified to discover that you somehow didn't finish and you have to endure it all again, but I've been living out that bad dream on an endless rotation for weeks, and there's no escape, because the school is in my house.

I'm not saying everything about home schooling was a carefully curated form of intellectual torture, because there were parts of it I would have enjoyed - like the creative-writing lessons - if they hadn't been keeping me from the work I'm supposed to do for a living.

I also foolishly assumed I would enjoy the English lessons, until I realised that a cruel teacher, who somehow knew what an annoying git I'd been at school, had decided to torment me by setting work that I would find impenetrably difficult to explain, even to my endlessly keen to learn daughter.

When she brightly informed me one morning that her Year Three class was going to be discussing rhetorical questions, I found my only response was to ask,"are your teachers on drugs?" Followed by, "is there any eight-year-old in the universe who knows what rhetorical means?"

The next day, English managed to get worse, by forcing us to explore the use of perspective in the medium of film by watching Lost & Found , which turned out to be so deeply tear-jerking that you could hear my daughter's classmates crying all over the suburb, without even opening a window. (Seriously, click the link at your peril.)

The thing that made me cry, through frustration and repetition, was trying to explain maths, which proved to me, finally, that teachers are beyond human when it comes to their levels of patience. Indeed, maths made both my daughter and I weep, usually after I'd shouted the phrase: "But we did this yesterday, how can you not know it?" at her.

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As for history, I now know far more about the First Fleet and what the conditions were like for convicts on their onerous journey than the poor wretches did themselves, because I swear this is the only subject my daughter has been forced to learn for months. And yet… yesterday afternoon, when she bounced up to me and asked if I'd ike to know something she'd learned about convicts, I could barely hide my excitement - even though it turned out to be about rats and hammocks again. It hit me that I was really, truly missing watching her learn, and being a part of that journey, every day.

I knew I would miss having her around, just as I do immediately after the end of every school-holiday period, because she's a person I love spending time with, bathed in her unquestioning adoration. I thought that my office would suddenly feel empty, and almost alarmingly quiet, without her littering the area with her works of comic art, her "box constructions", and all the paraphernalia they require, not to mention the lengthy explanations each one comes with.

Even one of my blokiest friends - the kind of guy who hangs his kids upside down by their ankles and shakes them to see if laughs, or tears, come out - had quietly admitted to me last week that he was "going to miss having the little shits around", so I'd expected a bit of Empty Home Office Syndrome, missing the physicality of her, and the volcanic bubbling of giggling all day.

But missing homeschooling - that thing which I'd come to despise the most about lockdown, even more than closed pubs and the creeping dread of disaster - has truly blown me away. And it's bad news for my daughter, too,because I fear I'm about to get heavily into her homework.