SHEILA STORTZ BERG is an actress, musician, substitute teacher, and mother of three boys. While her professional life has been temporarily put on hold, she’s helping her boys get through their school work at home.
This is her Quarantine Chronicle.
How are you doing?
Last weekend we started homeschooling and really hit the ground running. I had a plan and a schedule and we were gonna do this thing, and I feel like we were energetic and happy to do that for the first week. Then reality set in the second week, and thinking about doing it again—“Oh, we’re doing this again this week?”
I definitely this week had a couple down days, things weren’t going right. It was just like, “Oh, this is really, really hard,” but I pulled out of that, and I feel like that’s how it’s going to go from everybody, that roller coaster of emotions.
How old are your kids?I have a 7th grader who is 12, a first grader who’s 7, and I have a Pre-K student who is 5. My oldest is pretty independent in schooling; they have iPads and stuff anyway. He goes to STEM Academy at Bartlett, and he knows what he’s supposed to do regarding school every day. It’s been more about corralling the little ones and figuring that out.
The other thing that’s been interesting, you’ve seen everyone talk about the Zoom meetings, and the kids and teachers are trying to figure that out. My 7 year-old is on Zoom, and they’re doing great now, but the first day, they didn’t know how to mute and unmute. It was bonkers. I hadn’t done one so he was asking me. Thankfully, my husband has done Zoom meetings, so he knows what’s going on.
Then my 5 year-old started doing Zoom meetings. They’re not teaching any curriculum; they’re just using it to get together.
How are your kids handling this?They were real excited to get on the Zoom meeting. My 7 year-old especially was thrilled to see his teachers. My oldest had been doing Zoom too, and the littlest hadn’t done one yet and he was like, “Mom, why can’t I see my friends?” He FaceTimed one of his little friends, and then his teacher set up the Zoom, but they definitely miss their friends.
Thankfully, I have three boys, so they do have each other to play with, which is great. But we are totally isolating—we don’t play with the kids in the neighborhood. We go on walks and bike rides around our neighborhood, and we might see someone from a distance and wave and chat for a second.
That’s got to be hard on you, too.I’ll FaceTime my good friend that lives down the street. I can talk to her from my driveway, but it’s nice to see her and talk a little more personally. People still have life stuff going on, issues we would talk about with friends, things that are hard anyway, so things you want to talk about and need this face-to-face you can’t get from a driveway.
What has it been like having to teach your kids?My oldest, I haven’t had to do much of anything. For my littles, it’s definitely been interesting because my 7 year-old is a perfectionist and I think he probably reacts differently to me than he would his teacher. So he’s working on something and gets real frustrated and erases it and wants to throw it away, and I’m like, “No, do you do that in class? I don’t think so.” That’s been a little difficult for me to see and then figure out how to help him through that.
These are additional stresses that my perfectionist kid, who is used to the plan and the program and knows what is going on, this is all throwing him for a loop.
How’s everything going with you?I’m a substitute and a staff singer at St. John’s Episcopal, and I’ve lost those. I was in the middle of a show at Savannah Theatre; we got through two of the three weekends. I sing with an early music group called the Goliards, and we had a little spring tour happening in North Carolina and that got canceled. It’s weird to not have things to look forward to. I think that’s what it is. Spring is a really busy time for us because there’s soccer and this and that. While maybe there was a second of, “Oh, we get to breathe,” I think not having those things to look forward to is difficult. It’s hard when you wake up and every day is the same.
The kids ask when they go to bed, “So what’s going on tomorrow? What are our plans tomorrow?” That’s a normal thing they would ask, and they still ask it. At first, I was like, “Nothing is going on!” And now I’m trying to be more like, “Well, we’re going to go pick up the crab trap tomorrow!” Or, “Well, tomorrow is Friday so we’re going to do family movie night.”
That’s the thing that’s hardest for me too, and as a musician, planning ahead. I’ll plan my month out with my subbing gigs and my rehearsal gigs, and just wi[ing that calendar.
It’s hard to talk about sometimes, too, because the people in the medical field and frontline stuff and I’m complaining because I don’t have something to do? That’s not important, and I understand that. But when it comes down to here in this household, it’s learning to be real content with what you have and what’s going on. That’s what we’re trying to show to the kids. What can we do with what we have?
I think everyone is feeling this collective sadness.That’s what it is. It’s a sadness. And we don’t really know when it’s over.
You can do anything for 30 days. Even when we were rehearsing for Sister Act, we were like, “We can have this crazy schedule for five weeks. It’s five weeks.” Having an end period is nice, and I think that’s what makes this extra difficult for us all is that, of course there’s projections, but we don’t really know what that means for us.
What would you want people to take away from your story?
I think our teachers and administration have been doing an awesome job of letting parents off the hook. I started real gung-ho and had a little schedule. I’ve been in the classroom, I’ve subbed for lots of their classes, I know how their classroom goes, but I was like, “We’re going to make it similar.” And while that’s great and I’m sure we’ll circle back to some of that, it’s okay to not do that. It’s okay to do the minimum. It’s okay to not even get to it.
This isn’t homeschool. This is schooling at home in a crisis. There’s a difference. I did homeschool my oldest for one semester back in third grade, and I have a lot of friends who do homeschool, and this is different.
We need to give ourselves grace and our kids grace. With their hierarchy of needs, education is there, but it’s not second or third or fourth.