Connected \\ May 5, 2020

(Home) Schoolhouse Rock

My 13-year-old son Morgan was born at PEM — I mean, not literally, but he has grown up there during my 19 years working with the museum. Just after the Boston Marathon bombing, he danced alongside my husband (who was in a Nick Cave Soundsuit) in a homemade soundsuit of his own. He was on Crane Beach helping to hand out Strandbeest tattoos and he was the “star” in our Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style television commercial. PEM is his museum and my colleagues that know him, know this.

4 photograpgs in a grid , two of a child dressed up in colorful soundsuit costumes and two of Nick Cave's soundsuit dancers

Morgan in his soundsuit dancing at PEM. Photos by Kathy Tarantola and Allison White/PEM.

A handdrawn message on a piece of whit paper, Sometimes Morgan's office

Office life at PEM. Photo courtesy of the author.

There have been days when school was closed due to snow or we had an appointment scheduled in Salem, where Morgan would come to “work” with me. Once he was settled into his space for the day (be it an empty office, intern station or buddied up next to someone), with enough drawing materials, snacks, electronics and Wifi to keep him busy, he would be in heaven. My colleagues would find drawings on their desks throughout the day of the various things that he was into at that particular time – Grease, KISS, Minecraft, etc. He also wanted everyone to know whose office it really was … you get the picture.

These days the PEM staff, like most, have found ourselves working from home. For the first few weeks of quarantine our school district was not set up for online learning, so Morgan had a few weeks of vacation time. We urged him to learn or improve on “something… anything...” until school started back up — guitar, skateboarding, BMX, painting — to help pass the time, and he did. Anything to take the place of school.

A boy wearing a helmet riding a BMX bike with the back wheel up in the air

BMX vacation improvement! Photo courtesy of the author.

Perhaps I should more clearly state that Morgan is not a huge fan of school. If you asked him, he would say he hates it. He struggles, mostly in math, but perseveres and would be on the honor roll – if not for that math grade. Morgan was a dancer for many years, he loves to sing and do theater, but at the same time hates being the center of attention. Growing up at PEM and learning about the different exhibitions has shown him how to express himself freely through all aspects of his art.

A young boy standing in front of a red cloth covered table, poses behind a large empty frame

A work of art. Photo courtesy of the author.

Online learning in our district officially started on April 6. We had a bit of a rough start getting used to the new routine and distance-learning schedule. His teachers have been amazing since they left school, always checking in and seeing how they can be of virtual assistance. Do not get me wrong. We still argue about “why you have to go to (online) school” and “why there are so many assignments.”

At-home science assignment, hand drawn figures with talking bubbles

At-home science assignment of Morgan’s. Photo courtesy of the author.

One of his most recent assignments was to create a scavenger hunt. It involved all of his classes, and then we (my husband and I) had to find the object that he had hidden … an I “heart” PEM button!

Treasure hunt assignment. A hand drawn treasure map

Treasure hunt assignment. Photo courtesy of the author.

Our days are fairly scheduled now. My meetings start at 9 am and his at 9:30. I mostly hear from him when he is hungry, looking for a suggested activity (of which he never agrees to!), or asking how loud he can play music. It is almost like he has left seventh grade and is an independent college student now.

I am incredibly thankful for Google Classroom and daily updates from each of his teachers. It allows us to allow him to be independent, and it also affords us the opportunity to get involved when we see anything labeled as a “Missing Assignment.” Some things never change!

A boy sitting on a bed wearing black clothes and a bright yellow knit hat is typing at his laptop computer

Morgan at work. Photo courtesy of the author.

A boy wearing a bright pink shirt with matching pink socks is sitting on a kitchen counter playing a guitar

Guitar time. Photo courtesy of the author.

I know that I may have it “easy” on the homeschooling side of things, but having an only child during this time has been the hardest part of our experience. I am such a social being and one of four children. I encourage Morgan to reach out to his friends (he always has an excuse for not doing it) and I ask my “mom friends” to have their children reach out to him. Seeing a friend, even from six to 10 feet away, is so important. My heart fills each time I am able to see someone I care about, and it carries me until the next time. I hope that he will someday understand this feeling and be more open to reaching out to others. To help break up the isolation, we have been part of a few birthday car parades and took a long drive along the Gloucester shore the other day.

Looking ahead to Mother’s Day, I am already wishing that I could spend the day with my mom and sisters as we usually do, but I know that is not in the cards this year. On the plus side, I have been able to see my mom a few times over the past few weeks, but only through the car window when she picks up her mail and no hugs since early March. Mother’s Day will be much like every other day lately, a quiet day at home with a few family video chats.

A woman and young boy in a polaroid photo ayyached to a yellow paper that has the words "Art & the 80's" painted on it

Years past. Photo courtesy of the author.

A close-up photo of a woman and her son smiling into the camera, a selfie

We are in this together. Photo courtesy of the author.

As I sit and write this, Morgan has been down in our “music studio” playing guitar and singing for over an hour. I am doing my best to stay busy and positive, and I hope that he sees that.

I know he will be OK. I know we will all be OK.

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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