FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — With schools and workplaces closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many Flagstaff families have spent the last months together around-the-clock as their households took on new roles as school, day care, office, gym and more — all at once — to get the family through the pandemic.
“Some days are better than others,” said Kelly Lalan, who works for Health Choice Arizona and is the mother of 2- and 5-year-old girls. “You’re doing two full-time jobs at the same time, so obviously you’re not going to be great at both all the time.”
Lalan and her husband, Jake, kept their daughters home from daycare starting the week before spring break and they’ve been home ever since. They now have a daily schedule including about an hour a day to complete workbooks sent home by the school as well as time for crafts, walks, video chats with relatives and games.
Morning chores have also been instituted to keep the house as organized as it can be with four people there all day.
“We do dishes!” exclaimed Lucy, 5, delighted by this new skill she has learned during her time at home.
In Jessica Sargent’s household, similar schedules are a necessity to get everyone through their daily tasks, especially those needing a computer.
Between Sargent, her husband and their two daughters, who are in fourth and sixth grades, the family’s two computers are regularly in use for work meetings, completing homework assignments, and meeting virtually with a teacher or class.
By the afternoon, though, the girls are done for the day and the family fills much of the time with outdoor activities. Although originally attempting to do all optional lessons provided by the schools — even projects from the library, art and P.E. teachers — the family is now focusing mostly on math and language arts to keep their youngest, in particular, on track for next year.
“Over time, we’ve loosened up a little bit and put more reliability on my daughter to monitor her own learning because it’s so much to handle as a parent,” Sargent said, noting it feels like summer arrived early, especially with the family now spending more time outdoors.
Beyond scheduling, the two families have made extra efforts to keep up a few pre-COVID traditions. For the Lalans, it’s Wednesday night pizza nights at Fratelli Pizza, where they would usually meet with a group of friends and their children. Although they can no longer meet face-to-face with these friends, the family continue to pick up pizza every week and chat with them on the phone.
Sargent’s family initially worked to keep up the morning runs that happen at Sechrist Elementary School. Though the activity was previously led by a teacher, Sargent’s husband stepped in to take on the role for the first several weeks of the stay-at-home order, leading the girls in a few laps around the school field and a few additional exercises every morning.
With their kids being around more during the daytime, though, both couples have found work days are longer as they attempt to put in hours when their children are asleep.
“To provide the emotional comfort and support they need in their academic life as well as me trying to maintain my own job was pretty hard,” said Sargent, a senior lecturer at Northern Arizona University, whose semester has now ended. “I could balance maybe working a little bit later at night or super early in the morning with what the kids needed, but it was definitely exhausting.”
Lalan said her eight-hour workdays are now spread out over about 16 hours, especially when her curious daughters notice one of their parents is in a meeting, so the couple takes it an hour at a time, often switching who is working and who is parenting.
“We each get to freak out one time a week and leave the house quietly by ourselves,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t really go anywhere, you might just drive around for five minutes and then come back.”
In the end, though, Lalan said the social distancing with her family has been equally rewarding, from being able to watch her youngest daughter’s vocabulary quadruple to seeing how the sisters’ relationship is developing.
“We get to wake up every day together and we get to have lunch together every day. That’s both the best and the worst part,” Lalan said.
Being at home has also strengthened parents’ — and their children’s — appreciation for teachers.
“I can’t say enough great things about the teachers’ flexibility and adaptability,” Sargent said. “I just feel so fortunate to be able to work from home, have access to technology and be able to intellectually support my children with what they need. We’re plugging away and we’re excited for this school year to be over and see what happens in the next academic year. I think the kids would give anything to go back to school.”