After the school year ended, I could assess our failures from a slight distance. Our first mistake, I think, was expecting that Raffi would be as excited about online school as we were. We’d been so eager to see his wonderful teacher and his classmates that we hadn’t paused to think about how jarring it would be for Raffi, who had only recently learned that the people in the TV set weren’t tiny puppets. Previously, he’d experienced online interaction only via one-on-one FaceTime sessions with his patient, indulgent grandma and grandpa. So we had unrealistic expectations of Raffi’s ability to sit in front of a screen that wasn’t playing Wild Kratts.
Raffi had unrealistic expectations too: He was used to being able to talk to his classmates directly, to hug them and hold hands with them and fight with them. “X stepped on my hand on the playground on purpose,” he told us repeatedly that spring, not angrily but in the bemused tone of someone nurturing a grudge into full flower. This eventually became a tone of nostalgia: If only X would step on his hand again! He was used to being able to sing and speak in a chorus. He had no prior experience of muting himself. Arguably, this was a good time for him to learn that valuable skill. He would argue that it was not. He would argue, I’m pretty sure, about anything if he thought it might distract you from making him do something he didn’t want to do.