“My mind was at a frenetic speed for three months,” she said, even with her husband, Charles, a federal employee, at home and helping with the kids’ distance learning.
When school ended, “I literally couldn’t think.”
Spring was a scramble for parents, figuring out how to manage work, the health of their families, and the education of children at home doing online learning.
Summer has been clouded with worry about the coming school year. And the school year is practically here. Will the fall be like the spring again? Do parents dare to send their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic? What if they work outside the home and the children have nowhere to go? How long can families keep going like this?
The unknown is agonizing for parents used to having some control over the family schedule. And the stress of trying to decide how to manage it all is taking a massive toll on parents of children of all ages.
“For us, as an African American family, everything going on with covid, the disparities related to covid, the civil unrest related to the George Floyd murder. … I’ve been dealing with all of that with my kids and my staff,” Choula said. “I just recently said, ‘I can’t do this in the fall.’ ”
Choula said her children’s Catholic school is, at this point, offering several options for families: a hybrid schedule, with students going to school some days and learning from home on others; 100 percent distance learning; or 100 percent in-school learning.
Choula and her husband “really prayed on it and looked at the science and numbers, and we both agreed that we needed to keep them home,” she said.
As tough as that will be, she is grateful that she can telework, which many of her neighbors can’t do. And yet, the unknown is creating a lot of tension for her.
“I tend to be a planner,” Choula said. Not being able to map out the family’s future is very anxiety-inducing for her, and it was making her feel sick. “I was asking my husband, ‘Am I having a heart attack? A stroke? Is it covid?’ ”
Choula said she is meditating, taking more walks and trying to get more sleep. Most of all, “I’m learning to be comfortable with not being comfortable.”
That could be the mantra for the entire school year, as parents try to help their children learn via Zoom or similar platforms — connecting with new teachers and dealing with the technology (or just getting access to the technology) — while trying to do their own work.
This unprecedented struggle is threatening to families for many reasons.
“Changes in routines and habits are really tough for us,” said Parker Huston, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “When that gets thrown off for anybody, it takes a lot more mental energy to get up and say, ‘What do I have to do today?’ And we have to spend a lot more time thinking about it.”
Katie Angerer is a music teacher at a Catholic school in Baltimore County. She has three children: a rising senior who found distance learning too easy, a 7-year-old who has multiple disabilities, and a firecracker of a rising kindergartner who needs plenty of attention and outlets for her endless energy.
None of Angerer’s children will have in-person classes in the fall. To complicate things, she has been told to report for duty full time at her school. She remarked on the futility of having in-person music classes during the pandemic, noting that she could not let her students sing, hold hands or sit in circles. And she absolutely cannot bring the virus home, she said, because, for the 7-year-old, covid-19 “would be a death sentence.”
So for now, Angerer’s husband, Charles, will manage the school day and put his dream of starting a business on hold. He’ll continue to teach music lessons online after Katie gets home to take over child care. And she will do everything she can to try not to get the virus.
“One great advantage of being a special-needs mom is I’ve learned how to roll with the punches,” she said. “Things are never going to go as planned.”
It’s that feeling of not having control that is driving Lisa Davis and her husband to consider a major life change. When they learned that their 8- and 5-year-old daughters’ schooling would be in-person only part of the time, “I felt devastated,” she said.
With both parents working from home, and an almost-2-year-old girl also in the mix, life has gotten chaotic. A living room full of toys has become a living room and a kitchen full of toys. The family lives in a Pentagon City townhouse, in Arlington, Va., with no yard for the girls to play in, Davis said.
“They’re like feral cats,” she said. “They’re just wandering the house if we’re hunkering down on [work] calls. It’s just not good for them. They’re just too little.”
And so, it looks like they will pack up the minivan this month and relocate to Davis’s childhood home in Lincoln, Neb., where they enrolled the older girls in school. There, the girls will have a backyard, a grandmother to help them and, most important to Davis, a school that is meeting in person. At least for now. If the schools there go remote, at least she’ll have her mother to help, she said.
“They’re still pretty young, especially my kindergartner. And even though her teacher did such a good job,” Davis said, “anytime I leave them unoccupied, the cleanup takes as much time as if I just did [the activity] with them.”
Laura Boyer — a single parent whose daughter, Katelyn, is 11 and just finished fifth grade — faces a different kind of stress. For her, no school means no work and no income.
Her daughter has multiple rare disabilities and is prone to infections, so even if Boyer had the option of sending her to school, she wouldn’t. But Boyer works as a substitute teacher — a flexible job that she can do and still tend to her daughter’s needs — and there is no work for her.
“I’ve been doing it for years, and I love it … but no school means no work,” Boyer said. Even if she could work, she said, she wouldn’t leave her daughter or risk bringing the virus home to her.
Boyer has been supporting the two of them on unemployment benefits, but that ends this month. “Whatever I have socked away has to last indefinitely,” she said. The stress is “incredible.”
Boyer also said she can’t allow herself to get sick, because she’s all her daughter has, although she has taken steps to provide for Katelyn. “I had a will made up. I got life insurance. I got a special needs trust made up for her. That’s what I [did] with the Cares Act money . . . set up that safety net for her.”
Meanwhile, her daughter is thriving at home. Boyer set up a schedule for Katelyn in the spring, and she did very well, even winning an award from her public school.
“She’s calm and very relaxed now,” Boyer said. “I’ve learned a lot about her in this pandemic, in a good way. I didn’t realize how stressed out she was at school, she was coming home so exhausted. Now all the stress is on me.”