Families Reflect On An Exhausting Year Of School At Home

Mar 12, 2021

Schools across the country are beginning to resume in-person classes. The return marks one year since the coronavirus pandemic catapulted students and teachers out of their classrooms, and dropped them in front of their home computers. KNAU checked in with three families to see how they managed this past year. 

Kayla Gundrum and her 7-year-old son, Odin
Credit Kayla Gundrum

Kayla Gundrum and Odin

Kayla: I’m Kayla.

Odin: I’m Odin.

Kayla: I really refer to our situation as the Spring Break that never ended. We left for Spring Break last March and had a really nice little local trip through Williams and Sedona. And then that Friday when we came back is when things started shutting down. I haven’t really been to the office since then.

Odin: I’m probably missing my friends, and recess, and doing activities in the class, mostly.

Kayla: I am a single parent full-time. We are together pretty much all the time now.

Odin: It’s kind of harder, and it’s not as fun as doing school at the school. It’s a little busy at the school which is nice. But it’s kind of nice to be home and having breaks and stuff from school.

Kayla: In some ways, it’s a little easier because I don’t have to get a kid up and prep him for school and get out the door by a certain time and get to my office for meetings at certain times. As a single parent, I kind of struggled in the afternoon to leave the office and get to the school to pick him up anyway. So, that’s become a little bit easier for me. But, it’s also really eliminated some boundaries. I don’t have a boundary between my professional life and my personal life, my parenting life.

As a single parent, always my biggest fear is that I could die and leave this little person all alone without his strongest and biggest safety net. I don’t think I’m a person who seeks validation, but there are times when where it’s just like, ‘Man. I am undervalued for how much I have to do.’ One thing that I tell myself in the moments where I’m feeling like it’s a lot, is that there are a lot of balls in the air. We all have a lot of balls in the air, and some of them are glass, and some of them are plastic. And, sometimes it’s ok to let those plastic ones fall and let them bounce around a little bit, and then pick them up when you’re ready to have more balls in the air again. But, as long as those precious glass ones are being taken care of, it’s ok to let things fall.

The Ziegler Family

Martin: Hi, my name is Martin Ziegler. I’m an essential worker. I work for the public firsthand from all walks of life in the city. So, I work full-time, and I work here with Mama watching the kids as much as we can. We stay pretty busy and pretty tired.

Vanessa: I’m Vanessa Ziegler. I’m a stay-at-home mom, technically. I have Zoe, who is 6, Mitchell is 4, and Rosalyn is just shy of 2 years old.

Martin: You’re not really a stay-at-home mom.

Vanessa: No, I’m a stay-at-home mom and I also clean a bunch of houses, usually with all 3 kids. And on top of that, Zoe has her online learning. So, we have a tight schedule.

Martin: I try to watch the children to give her some time to go out and work without them. Then, I have to leave the kids with her and go work all night. So, the only real sacred time is usually when we sleep.

The Ziegler Family
Credit The Ziegler Family

Vanessa: My days are pretty entertaining with these guys all day. Actually, they have tablets so they can call their grandma, aunts, uncles, whatever they want. They’ve actually been doing that a lot.

Martin: That’s a worry of mine. These guys have gotten more into wanting to be on their tablets all the time. Zoe doesn’t have much to compare it to because she was in kindergarten. And now, first grade has just been online. But, she seems to excel. I think she does really well.

Vanessa: She’s doing well with the online school, but I will say I think her anxiety is up. I notice she gets a little nervous when she talking. But, I will say with the anxiety, and so does Martin, and we’ve seen it in her. She gets nervous and lonely.

Martin: It’s something we have to deal with, and it’s something I’m keeping an eye on. The other two are either too young or…

Vanessa: They’re almost too little. They get bored. They’re like, ‘Ok Mom. When is coronavirus over? Can we go to the store? Just normal every day. You know they used to get a Happy Meal and go to the playground, and they can’t do that anymore.

Martin: Like she said, it’s been pretty stressful. We’re tired, but we’re not the only ones. Everybody’s in this together.

Leah Persichilli and Miles 

Leah: My name is Leah. I am the mother of two school-age children: a sophomore in high school – a 16-year-old daughter – and a 12-year-old son, Miles, who is a 6th grader. Miles was born with Down Syndrome. He is a super smart and super active kiddo that takes a village – really – to raise.

Leah Persichilli and her 12-year-old son, Miles
Credit Leah Persichilli

For a kid like Miles, it’s a real learning experience to be around his peers and to learn what’s appropriate behavior, what are appropriate boundaries. That has been nearly absent for the past year. It’s been really difficult to try to make those connections. I don’t think he is necessarily depressed, but I do think that what I’ve seen mostly in Miles – and I’ve spoken to a lot of other parents, moms especially, in our disability community – is there’s been a regression. Not just academically, which I think most parents will say their kids have regressed academically and they’re not keeping up – which at this point I’m not really sure what that looks like – but I think I’ve seen regression with some of those behaviors that we worked a lot of years to eliminate or grow through. If you’re a parent of a kiddo with a disability, you know, that can be heartbreaking. It creates a fear in me that this is something we’re not going to be able to work through again. I start to get scared that at this stage of the game or at this age we shouldn’t be seeing this behavior.

Over the course of this past year, I think it’s sort of been like a cycle of grief as far as trying to figure out how my days go. Mostly, I would say we’re exhausted. You know, I mentioned how many people it takes just to get Miles through the day and how big our village is, and I have friends whose village is twice as big; they have kids that have toileting needs or transferring needs, they use a wheelchair as their primary transportation. Those moms, I mean…if I think I’m tired, those moms are beyond exhausted. You know, as desperate as I’ve felt, I’m still grateful. I have a husband, he has a job, but if you took one Jenga piece out of there, we would collapse.