Striving for Normalcy in the Time of COVID
Writer Sheila Grant profiles Christi Pingree, a behavioral health professional who took a leave of absence when her children's school closed.
DOVER-FOXCROFT -- Life has changed dramatically for families in the Piscataquis region, and around the globe.
“I get to get out of the house by myself, and that’s about as much celebrating as I’m doing today,” said Christi Pingree on April 2, her birthday, while picking up pre-ordered groceries. The couple, who will be married two years in June, have two children, Jarad Pingree’s son, Kieran, 9, and Christi’s daughter, Jelena, 9.
Pingree, a behavioral health professional, took a leave of absence when the school closed, even though she worries about her clients while she’s away. “My workplace is pretty understanding, and in my opinion, family comes first. I don’t want my kids shuffled around, especially at a scary time, an uncertain time. I want them to have stability, a strong routine. We do a whole school day and try to keep it as normal as possible,” she said.
Jelena enjoys being home schooled, but Kieran doesn’t like it as much and misses his friends, Pingree said. Finding materials hasn’t been an issue, as the school sends homework, coloring sheets, links to word searches and other educational games. Art projects are also available online. School begins right after breakfast.
“We do things in the same order every day,” said Pingree. “We knock out the hard stuff first, then go on to the easier things. If we can’t do recess, we do what I call movement – we put ‘Just Dance’ on the Wii to get all their wiggles out.”
Pingree said she “never aspired to be a homeschool or stay-at-home mom, and I was right! This is not for me. I only work when they are at school. I take them to the library once a week, and I’m at every sports thing, but I like to get out and work, and I like having my free days here and there, too.”
Financial concerns and COVID fears
Pingree was a little apprehensive when she took her leave of absence. Then they found out Jared would also not be working. Jarad just finished work as a background investigator. His new job, forensic analyst at the Maine State Police crime lab, is on hold.
“This is a little scarier because we don’t know how long this is going to go on for,” she said. “I don’t know if this will be a month or three months. I had heard with mortgage companies, if you needed to miss a payment or three, they would put it on the back end of the loan.” But when she called, she was told that they could take months off, but would owe back payments in addition to regular payments once they resumed.
Fortunately, the couple’s income tax refund arrived recently. “That was a load off,” Pingree said. “I felt like the timing was pretty darn good. I think we’ll be okay. We’ll be fine.”
Typically, Pingree shops at Sam’s Club and Walmart, supplementing with trips to Shaw’s and Will’s Shop n Save. Now, “I don’t want to go in anywhere. I pull in [at Walmart] and call and tell them I’m there, and they bring it out to the car. I don’t touch anything or talk to anyone. I wash my hands when I get home and I scrub everything down with antiseptic wipes, then I wash my hands again,” she said. Postage stamps are ordered online, as are photographs. Arrivals from Amazon get wiped down, too.
Pingree is also uncertain how safe takeout food might be. “Everyone decides how much risk they want to take. Everyone has their ideas, but to me, it’s just not worth it. I am perfectly capable of preparing our food. To me, better safe than sorry. That’s just my personality.”
Mental health matters
Talking to the kids about what’s going on can be tricky, Pingree said. “I don’t want to lie to them that it’s all sunshine and rainbows, but I don’t want to scare them, either. We tell them that everything is going to be okay, that we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves, and just following [recommendations] to keep ourselves healthy.”
Pingree, who works part time, misses having a few hours to herself while the kids are in school. “I really, really miss having time to myself one or twice a week,” she said. Fortunately, her husband helps her carve out a couple of hours to watch TV by herself, and she helps him find time for a nap once in a while. Jarad Pingree, a veteran, is missing pain management treatments normally received through a VA hospital in Boston.
Pingree said she misses attending church in person rather than via Facebook Live. And she misses dinners with her in-laws, who live nearby. “It’s been kind of weird and hard not to be able to do that. Yesterday, my mother-in-law put some masks in the mailbox, and waved through the window,” she said.
“I try to keep things as normal as possible,” Pingree said. “Other than that, we are just kind of winging it and doing our best like everyone else and hoping this thing will pass.”