In this special three-part series, Northeast Ohio Parent magazine concludes its coverage tracking the back-to-school experiences of four Ohio families: the Mions, the Hopkinses, the Hawks and the Rawsons.
In this final segment, the four families discuss the dynamics of coping with their new normal of school, work and life, along with how they help their kids navigate the mental stress during these times. (Click to view part 2 and part 1 of this series.)
Mion Family Update
Various schooling options
“Right now, I’m talking to you from inside my car where I know the kids won’t be playing and running around,” Sara Mion says as she begins our phone interview.
Like many parents balancing school and career during the pandemic, the Medina mom and preschool teacher is juggling many roles, and sometimes the family car is the only place to find solitude. She returned to the classroom in September after a 10-year hiatus from working. As a family, it’s taken a lot of learning to respect one another’s boundaries and give one another intentional space, Mion says.
The Mion family is implementing a traditional homeschooling program for their elementary-aged daughters, a district-provided online learning platform for their two middle school boys and in-person preschool where Mion teaches for their younger son. Since the pandemic began, Mion says she has noticed a shift in her children and a collective realization that household tasks don’t just magically get done — that it takes a team approach.
The older children earn money by babysitting their youngest siblings and pitch in by tidying up the kitchen, folding laundry and performing other duties that mom and dad typically shouldered in pre-COVID-19 life.
And while the family is still busy, it’s a different kind of busy that’s more about finding balance and taking stock of what’s important and what serves one another, Mion says.
Her two homeschooled daughters are doing a supplemental writing assignment using the “American Girl” book series that features the fictional stories of girls growing up in various time periods. Her daughters have invented stories for a doll who is growing up during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“They wrote that the girl had said, ‘See you Monday!’ to her friend at the end of the school day, and then that she never saw her friend again on Monday,” Mion says. “They are remembering their own experiences and what life has been like. It’s a good outlet for them to turn it into a school assignment.”
The family also has taken learning on the road, visiting the Serpent Mound, a prehistoric effigy in southern Ohio, and going to parks for hiking, running and outdoor play as part of physical education requirements.
While it has been difficult for the family not to see many other people and to remind their youngest children about social distancing (“I wish it’s something they didn’t have to think about,” notes Mion), the pandemic has taught the family many positives.
“It’s a time to slow down and do things as a family that we didn’t make time for before or have the time to do before,” Mion says. “We’ve had more game nights, movie nights, and right now my kids are inside tasting popcorn seasonings because on Fridays we now do popcorn night, and they’re picking out what we’re having tonight. We’re focusing on the things we didn’t have time for while still acknowledging the normalcy that we miss.”
Hopkins Family Update
Virtual school option
After direct exposure to COVID-19 at elementary schools in the Willoughby-Eastlake City School District, Superintendent Steve Thompson closed all buildings and transitioned the entire student body to virtual learning in October. Extracurricular activities also were suspended during that time; however, some resumed. Teens Juliana Hopkins, 15, and her brother, John-Michael, 13, have been enrolled in remote learning since the school year started. (At the time this article was printed, the school district voted for students who were in-person classes to return to the school building on October 26, however, parents were given the option to keep their students virtually.)
“I’m relieved because everyone will be safer, but I’m also worried that we’ll go at a much slower pace because everyone is virtual, and there will be a learning curve for the students who went in-person before,” Juliana says.
Having everyone in remote learning will bring a greater sense of camaraderie and belonging, says John-Michael, who has battled feelings of isolation and boredom during his time as a virtual learner.
“Remote learning feels the same every day,” he says. “It’s not as active. I will say that I have gotten more comfortable with it, except there is a lot of work that comes with it. Now, with everybody going to school in the same way, everybody will feel the same way and they’ll know what we’ve had to do.”
Their mom, Sally, a longtime art teacher at Memorial School in Cleveland, says her family members are doing the best they can since the pandemic changed schooling. They frequently “check in” with one another and spend their days in different areas of their home to help break up tension and cope. Being all together under the same roof weighs on her.
“Let’s face it, as much as we love each other, we need time and space apart,” Hopkins says. “We aren’t getting that. My concern is that although we have separate workspaces, we end up in that same space for the duration of the day into night. For example, John-Michael is in his bedroom during school hours. He comes up for air for lunch and dinner and then retreats to his room for homework and down time. There is not enough movement and change of scenery. He does have karate three times a week, which offers him a new space, but that’s only three hours a week.”
So far, at least, the weather has been nice enough for the family to be outside in the fresh air some of the time, but Hopkins says she’s concerned about what will happen when winter weather sets in.
“How will we manage the constant indoors? They say people suffer from depression during the winter months because of the lack of sun and exposure,” she says. “How will that affect us this year?”
The teens stay connected by texting, gaming and video chatting with friends and keeping in mind that their situation is temporary. Hopkins gets support from educational groups on Facebook and her teacher coworkers, who connect through texts, calls and virtual meetings. Teaching during a pandemic has forced everyone out of their comfort zones and given her school family the opportunity to grow as educators, she says. The constant support provides much-needed relief, but the family still has tough days like everyone else.
“We also know that this new normal is always changing, so it’s hard to adjust to a normal that doesn’t stay the same,” Hopkins says. “As a mom and a teacher, I have to remind myself to stay positive. There are certainly times that I feel overwhelmed and struggle, but I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I think people get frustrated in the ever-changing status of COVID and the unknown of what’s yet to come.”
Hawk Family Update
Hybrid and remote options
At press time, the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools were surveying families, asking them whether they would pursue full-time, in-person classes if given the choice. In October, Chagrin Falls High School had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 20 high schoolers quarantined, says parent Carrie Hawk. Her daughter Celia, 16, would pursue going back full time, while Theo, 14, would continue his studies virtually. Celia’s school schedule has her dividing time between in-class instruction and virtual learning at home on the computer. Both teens have grown and matured in the time since school began, their mom says.
“Celia has gotten more independent and braver with her driving,” Hawk says. “For example, on the way home from school, she’ll stop at the library without asking me if she can. My son definitely has his schedule down and has the ability to be where he needs to be without being reminded.”
The family members have different parts of their home they retreat to, she says.
“I’m lucky that our teens still like us,” she says, jokingly. “We haven’t had hard times in that way. We get along well, and we all have distinctive places at home that we’ve carved out for ourselves. My kids will shut their bedroom doors or go down to the basement to watch a movie. We don’t come together for dinner anymore … we have enough together time all day.”
Their time at home has made the days stretch longer and has changed the way Hawk divides her time working and parenting. If she steps away from her home desk midafternoon, she’ll pick up where she left off with work later in the evening. She’ll also work a few hours over the weekend if she wrapped up a workday early during the week.
“I think this time is both a curse and a blessing,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to wake up, have coffee, do some work, do a load of laundry, and then get back to work. But then there’s the distractions, like at lunchtime knowing the kids are going to ask me what’s to eat. My son does his virtual schooling at the dining room table, and every once in a while I’ll hear him sigh just out of frustration and I immediately go into my mom role, thinking how can I help him, and that weighs on you.”
Carrie follows Facebook groups like “Camp Quarantine” for parental support and has recently begun getting together with some fellow mom friends, but it’s not enough.
“I don’t feel the schools have been great at providing support for the noneducational part of school to the all-virtual kids,” she says. “There’s really no time factored in where the kids can just get together to have a virtual hangout. The social support hasn’t been there for the adults, either, but it’s easier for me as an adult to handle that. It’s harder for the kids.”
Rawson Family Update
Virtual school option
Stephanie Rawson is starting to second guess her choice to do remote learning with her daughters, Mayla, 13, and Lilah, 12. The girls are in gifted, accelerated classes and the workload is mounting. Tension is building among parents.
“This semester has been hard,” Rawson says. “The amount of work that is falling on their shoulders is upsetting.”
The arrival of colder temperatures also concerns Rawson. Like many families, the Rawsons spend some of their time socializing outdoors with a limited number of friends. She worries her daughters will feel trapped inside once it’s too cold to be outdoors. Lilah has an autoimmune disorder that prompted the family to sign up for their school district’s remote learning program. When it comes to socializing and finding support from others, the family has been selective.
“There are two families that we have decided to include in our close social circle,” Rawson says. “I feel like the very limited contact that we have with them is helping, but I’m scared that once the weather turns that we will be limited. I honestly feel for my sweet girls. At ages 13 and 12, they should be surrounded by friends and at school. I know that they are missing out on some very important social milestones right now.”
As Northeast Ohio Parent magazine’s time with the family draws to a close, Rawson concludes that the last several months have taken a toll on her family.
“I hope that we have more information regarding the virus soon because we are ready to move on,” she says. “I am ready for this mess to be over.”
Sara Macho Hill is a journalist living in North Royalton with her husband and three daughters. A contributor to Northeast Ohio Parent magazine, she also serves as a staff reporter for the Royalton Recorder local newspaper, writing feature articles and penning a parenting and family lifestyle column. She enjoys reading, spending time with her family at the Lake Erie Islands and exercising at her local YMCA. If she’s lucky, she catches a 20-minute power nap each afternoon and frequently spends her time reheating the morning coffee she was too busy to drink.