Jennifer Esperanza | Beloit, WI
Our youngest, who’s nine years old, had taken to getting ahold of his Nintendo Switch first thing in the morning, to meet up with his friends over a game of Fortnite. My teenager started to neglect his math homework in favor of YouTube videos. I was frustrated that they weren’t adhering to a daily academic plan, but my husband and I didn’t have the time or mental energy to police our kids’ screen habits all day.
I’m an anthropology professor, and I’ve spent years designing assignments and class activities to engage students. Yet I thought back to my childhood and recognized that I watched an obscene amount of TV as a kid. My parents—like many immigrants—were too busy working multiple jobs to pay attention. I was raised largely by my grandmother, who lived with us. “Lola” (as grandmothers are called in Filipino culture) had no formal education. She could neither read nor write, nor did she understand much English. Lola’s priorities were pretty simple: to run a household, make sure my brother and I wore clean clothes, were well fed, and were healthy. Any other responsibilities, like keeping us entertained or educated, were left entirely to the public schools and TV. I watched everything: televangelists, cartoons, soap operas, sitcoms, talk shows, movies, and the news.
Channeling Lola’s hands-off approach, I’ve forced myself to let go of my expectations for my kids. My teenager has begun tooling around the basement, making things out of old household construction materials. He created a hologram projector using some old plexiglass, Scotch tape, and a cell phone, using a tutorial on YouTube as his guide.
My nine-year-old still manages to keep up with his Spanish. He translated the ingredients from a Spanish recipe I came across into English. Sometimes, when I eavesdrop during his games of Fortnite with his friends, I hear them checking in with one another through this crisis—showing humor, compassion, and empathy.
Looking back, I see that my social science education was inspired by episodes of the Phil Donahue show and the CBS evening news with Connie Chung. My obsession over the novels of E.M Forster began with a film adaptation of ‘A Room with a View’ on the Bravo Network. I’ve realized that some of the most important lessons my children will learn from this crisis are the things I had no hand in planning. Just as Lola left my days unstructured, when I’d look through the encyclopedia to learn more about something I’d seen on TV, I’ve decided to let my kids do the same. To allow them to see where their minds take them. To trust in the journey of where their video games, movies, and YouTube tutorials might take them.
-Jennifer Esperanza | Beloit, WI
Jennifer’s story is part of Love Wisconsin’s Covid-19 series. Through this series we are featuring shorter stories to offer a time capsule into life in Wisconsin during this extraordinary time.